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Review: Backblaze online backup service

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May 24, 2014

Gizmag takes a quick look at Backblaze, a cloud backup service that offers unlimited PC ba...

Gizmag takes a quick look at Backblaze, a cloud backup service that offers unlimited PC backup storage for US$5 per month

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Backing up your data can save important documents, digital purchases and years of memories. But even if you never have to restore a single file, backups can still give you peace of mind. Join Gizmag, as we review Backblaze, a simple and affordable service that backs up your entire PC.

There are two potential problems with backing up your entire PC to the cloud. For starters, it typically takes a long time to upload everything. One PC's hard drive can take a couple of weeks to fully upload – even with a fast internet connection. Then there's also the fact that your most important files are now sitting on some company's remote servers. You'd better pick a service with an eye or three on security.

Backblaze can't do much about the time it takes to upload data, but the service does make the process about as painless as possible. After installing the app, you simply let it run in the background. That's it. Sure, there are a few settings you can tweak if you like, but it really can be as simple as "turn on app, forget about it."

The Backblaze preferences screen on OS X

I tested Backblaze on a MacBook Air, and it worked like a charm. About 81 GB worth of data, along with another 20 GB or so on an external hard drive, backed up to the company's servers in less than a week. Any time I wanted to check in, a menu bar app was happy to show me the current progress – including the number and size of the remaining files. If I wanted a clearer estimate, a link in the app would guide me to the company's website, where I was told how many days the process was likely to take (the estimates were pretty close).

The app doesn't, by default, throttle uploads, so it can use your full internet bandwidth. If you like, though, you can set it to slow down the backups and clear the pipeline for your other internet activity. You can also pause backups, or even set them to only start manually or at scheduled intervals. I preferred the default "continuous" setting, which automatically backs up everything – even for new files, after the initial backup is complete.

You can throttle upload speeds if you want, but the default settings (no throttling) worke...

The Backblaze app requires next to nothing from you (well, apart from some money and bandwidth), but it's actually very smart on the backend. It automatically skips system files that were likely included in your operating system, as well as system-based file types that you aren't likely to ever need to restore. It also lets you manually skip any other locations or file types, if you want the backup to get a move on.

If you're a Mac user, Backblaze will also skip backups for any external hard drive partitions that already have Time Machine backups on them. This makes sense, but it actually was a minor inconvenience for me: I had a Time Machine backup on the same partition as some data that I did want Backblaze to upload. I moved it to a new partition, which took all of a few minutes, and it all uploaded from there. Problem solved, but it did take something away from the whole silent background backup aspect.

Some of Backblaze's promo materials

As far as security, Backblaze says that your data is encrypted on your machine with AES military grade encryption. It's then transferred, over a secure SSL connection, to disks in the company's data centers. The only way to decrypt the backup is with your email address and password.

If you want a little extra security, Backblaze gives you the option of encrypting your data with a local key that only you have. The obvious upside there is security; the downside is that if you lose this key, you can kiss your backups goodbye.

Backblaze gives you three options for restoring your data

If you do need to restore your data, Backblaze gives you several options. You can log in to the company's website and download a zip file of your backups. This is great if you only need to snag a few files or folders (you can pick and choose as few or as many as you want). But for entire drives this probably isn't going to be very practical.

That's where Backblaze restore drives come in. If you need 128 GB of data or less, you can pay the company US$99 to send you a USB flash drive that includes your data. For bigger loads, you can pay $189 for a USB hard drive (including up to 3 TB of your backups). The drives are then yours to keep and use however you wish.

So why not just buy external hard drives of your own and skip cloud-based services like Backblaze? Well, ideally you'll do both. Local backups are quicker to make, quicker to restore and probably cheaper. But what happens if your house gets robbed or burned down, and you lose both your PC and your backup drive? That's why it's good to have backups both in your home and offsite – whether that means a service like Backblaze, a bank's safe deposit box or the home of a trusted friend or family member.

The apps are free downloads, and the company lets you try the service for 15 days for free

Backblaze isn't the only service of its kind (CrashPlan, for example, offers a similar online backup service) but it is one of the easiest to use. At US$5 a month for each PC (including free external hard drive backups) it's also very reasonably priced. And the best part? Backblaze offers unlimited backup storage. There aren't any annoying caps, pricing tiers or penalties for uploading ridiculous amounts of data.

If your most precious data is only backed up locally, or not at all, then you can do much worse than setting aside $5 per month for Backblaze. The service is available now, with clients for both Windows and OS X, as well as a mobile backup-viewing app for iOS.

Product page: Backblaze

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
7 Comments

Have been using Backblaze for a year or so and it has been great, except for one glitch where backups stopped happening after an update. Once I noticed it and hassled them, they recommended updating to the latest version, which fixed the problem.

One feature you didn't mention is that there is a history system included, so older versions of files, back as far as 4 weeks, are available should you need them, an excellent option.

Mr T
24th May, 2014 @ 07:07 pm PDT

A much faster solution is to

1. Use a 2.5" external drive

2. Keep system/applications and data in two different partitions, and use eg. CloneZilla to clone the system/apps onto the external drive every time you make a significant change to that partition

3. Only back up data files you really need to the external drive and take it with you.

That way, in case you lose the disk, you can restore the system/apps partition in just a few minutes, and you'll also have a copy of your important data files.

Shohreh
25th May, 2014 @ 12:30 pm PDT

so how exactly do they guarantee my data to be 100% safe and out of reach from being confiscated by the real bad guys under that lovely piece of legislation called the Patriot-Act... If any of their data centers are located anywhere on USA Soil, I'm not interested.

Michiel Mitchell
26th May, 2014 @ 12:22 am PDT

@Michiel You don't, the government can request any/all of your data at will from any company that holds it generally without even needing a warrant. The only think you can do about it really is to use strong encryption.

Daishi
26th May, 2014 @ 06:17 am PDT

After a lot of research I tried out Backblaze for my personal pc. We only have about 100gig on our data drive, mostly family videos and pictures. We pay $50 a month for a 3Mbs connection in flyover country. After a month only about a third of the drive was backed up, so we cancelled the project. Until the US catches up to other developed countries in internet speed (and cost), cloud services simply will not work for a lot of people.

sunfly
26th May, 2014 @ 01:48 pm PDT

I've been using Backblaze for about 6 months from a couple of Macs. I've had a couple of technical questions, which they answered quickly and correctly. The two times I've wanted to retrieve a file from them (one was a prior version, as Mr T notes is possible), it was easy and quick.

That's not to say that I haven't submitted enhancement requests that haven't been implemented :)

(The biggest one: I'd like the ability to get the entire "ls -l -R" equivalent listing of the files in my backup downloadable as a file ... that way, I could check it against the files on my system.)

As a longtime developer of backup systems, and purchaser of many, I recommend Backblaze.

sieler
27th May, 2014 @ 01:29 pm PDT

I have been using Backblaze for over 2 years now with excellent results. I use it both on my home Mac and office Windows system. I have experienced data loss and complete hard drive crashes on more than one occasion, and each time I was able to retrieve all my data using Backblaze. One limitation is the limited bandwidth of file transfers. When backing up and restoring, Backblaze limits the transfers to about 0.5 MB per second, which means restoring a large amount of data can take many hours to a couple of days. If you are in a rush, you can get them to install your recovered data on a hard drive and mail it to you. I have not used the hard drive restore option so cannot comment, but their online recovery is second to none. If you are interested in trying Backblaze, here is a referral code that will give you a free month of service when you buy it: https://secure.backblaze.com/r/00f7lq

Paul Mallet
8th October, 2014 @ 07:57 am PDT
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