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5 online backup services keep your data safe

February 6, 2012 06:00 AM ET

CrashPlan

CrashPlan stands out from the competition in terms of the variety of options it offers users. To begin with, its client is available for a wide variety of computers, from Macs and Windows PCs to Linux and Solaris systems. There are also apps for accessing stored data for Apple iOS and Android devices, but not for BlackBerry phones.

There are also a number of different plans. The free version actually doesn't offer online backup, but instead allows you to back up to other computers -- for example, a system belonging to a friend, or a system at work. It's an interesting twist that can lessen the chances that your data will disappear, but might put it in too many hands. I'm not sure I'd want my data sitting on someone else's computer, although CrashPlan does encrypt it.

The paid versions allow you to back up your data to CrashPlan's online servers. The CrashPlan + service that I used offers unlimited storage for $50 a year; there's also a plan that limits capacity to 10GB for half as much, but both are limited to a single computer.

The unlimited family package gives you backup for up to 10 computers for $120 a year. The company offers a full-featured trial for 30 days.

CrashPlan has a central interface that shows the status of your backups and how many files are queued up; it also has places to click for restoring files, for determining where the backups will be stored and for making configuration changes. CrashPlan doesn't visually mark files for backing up as Mozy and Carbonite do. The software does have an excellent log that shows all tasks performed.

By default, the software gathers up key personal files like music, video and desktop files for backing up, but ignores Windows and system files. However, you can manually add any file type to the backup, including system files.

After its initial backup, CrashPlan continually looks for changes in your system's files and adds those that it finds to its next backup. CrashPlan does this behind the scenes as you use your computer; I didn't notice any slowdown of my system as a result. By default, the system will send backups every 15 minutes, but that interval can be changed; you can do an incremental backup at any time as well.

CrashPlan has a screen that shows a progress bar with an estimate of how long it will take to finish (except, of course, when it is working in the background). The service can also back up the contents of an external hard drive.

CrashPlan uses 448-bit key Blowfish encryption (the free version uses 128-bit Blowfish encryption). Unlike the other applications reviewed here, which have deadlines after which deleted files are removed, files backed up to CrashPlan and then deleted from your hard drive are never removed unless you do it manually, according to the company.

CrashPlan colocates its servers at several data centers throughout the U.S., but doesn't mirror backups.

Test results

Uploading backup data to CrashPlan's servers was slow -- it stopped several times during the process, once for a little over an hour. As a result, it took 4 hours and 7 minutes to save 321MB during the initial backup.

At a Glance

CrashPlan
Codefortytwo Software
Price: Free (backup to other computers only); $25/year (CrashPlan+ w/10GB online storage); $50/year (CrashPlan+ w/unlimited online storage); $120/year (CrashPlan+ Family w/unlimited online storage for 2-10 computers)
Works with: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Pros: Can back up entire computer; compatible with a variety of operating systems; service never deletes data
Cons: Slow transfers; doesn't visually mark files ready for back up

Archiving the entire C: drive took four days, 20 hours and five minutes, four times longer than the next closest service, Norton Online Backup.

I was able to back up the system's C: drive to a 250GB Western Digital external drive in 2 hours and 6 minutes, midway between Norton Online Backup and Mozy.

The service's ability to perform a 25MB incremental backup took just 1 minute and 3 seconds, the fastest of this gang of five. Like the others, CrashPlan searched for a lost file quickly, at 2.3 seconds, and restored it 35.6 seconds.

Bottom line

CrashPlan offers some innovative services and the ability to save your backups on other computers. However, uploading backups to CrashPlan is slow, which can be a problem.

MozyHome

With a name like MozyHome, you'd expect a warm and fuzzy backup service that's aimed at nontechnical types who don't want complicated backup choices. In fact, Mozy should satisfy the needs of technophobes and tech experts alike.

The service has software for Windows PCs and Macs (but not Linux systems). It also has smartphone apps for accessing archived data; the apps work on iOS and Android devices, but not BlackBerry phones.

The software can be accessed from a task tray icon, which leads to several windows for overall status, for settings and for restoring data. It all works well together and Mozy keeps a detailed log file of what the software has done.

Like Carbonite, Mozy shows what files are going to be backed up with small yellow dots and those that have already been backed up with green dots. This makes visually scanning for backup status easy.

Online backups can be scheduled for any time you want (for example, during lunch or overnight). The default backup settings archive video, music, document, email and contact files, browser favorites and financial records; however, it can handle individual files or the entire drive, including system files. It can back up data on an external hard drive. You can restore anything from a single file to the entire backup; files stay available for 30 days after being deleted.

Mozy recently announced its new Dropbox-like Stash service, which allows users to access active files from multiple computers. There is also a business version called MozyPro that offers a number of prices, depending on how many licenses you need and how much data you plan to store.

Mozy offers its users the choice of using either 448-bit Blowfish encryption or 256-bit AES encryption; its hardware is colocated at server farms in Europe and the U.S. Instead of mirroring data, Mozy uses Distributed Reed-Solomon error correction, which divides the data into 12 data blocks that are spread around its servers. Should a drive go dead, Mozy only needs nine of those pieces to recover the entire file.

Test results

Mozy's default backup stored 160MB of files from my test machine in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 54 seconds.

At a Glance

MozyHome
Decho Corp.
Price: $66/year or $6/month for 50GB; $111/year or $10/month for 125GB
Works with: Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android
Pros: Can back up entire computer online; backups can be done with an external drive; 2GB free service; marks files ready for back up
Cons: Doesn't offer unlimited storage

It was able to transfer and save the entire C: drive in 22 hours and 11 minutes, three days faster than with CrashPlan but six hours slower than with Norton Online Backup.

A 25MB incremental backup took 5 minutes and 7 seconds. I was able to search for a lost file in 4.6 seconds, the slowest time of the applications reviewed here but still acceptable. The file was recovered in 34.8 seconds.

I was able to back up the entire system to an external hard drive in 20 minutes and 17 seconds -- by far, the quickest of the group; the drive didn't need to be reformatted.

The company once offered unlimited storage; currently, it charges $66 a year for 50GB for one computer. Each additional system costs another $2 a month. There's also a 125GB plan that includes backups from up to three computers for $110 per year. Mozy gives you up to 2GB of storage space free, so if you don't have much to back up, you can do it on the cheap.

Bottom line

Overall, MozyHome does an excellent job of keeping your most precious digital possessions safe, secure and ready to be restored in the event of a computer disaster.



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