I have always loved TimeMachine ever since I bought an external hard drive. The interface is pretty cool. One day however, I could not recover a file from Time Machine. For some reason it had decided that there were no recent backup copies. After a bit of frantic nail chewing and a reboot TimeMachine found all it’s backup versions. But it did get me thinking that a single backup solution was not enough. After a few days research I decided to try CrashPlan as it looked like a perfect fit for my needs, where I have multiple computers and multiple OS’s (Mac, Linux and Windows). What initially drew me to CrashPlan was the ability to backup to different locations. CrashPlan is very flexible in this regard, you can backup to multiple external drives, backup to another computer you own, in addition you can backup to a friends computer or to CrashPlan’s cloud service. All of these services are free except for the cloud service.
The setup was extremely easy and the default setting for each OS seemed to be perfect for the average user. CrashPlan by default will only backup your home directory. Within no time CrashPlan was backing up my laptop as well as the other computers in my house. The interface allows me to easy see the backup state of all the computers. Some of the computers are dual boot, so I installed CrashPlan for both operating systems. Once installed CrashPlan will run automatically once per day. You can choose to get reports on the backup status of the computers or you can choose to get alerts for when a computer is not being backed up. CrashPlan simply runs in the background and you can configure how much CPU or network resources it can use. I do not notice it running at all.
As my laptop is for work I bought CrashPlan+, which does realtime backups and also now allows for data sets. Having all my backups under one roof did not give me a sense of security. I was thinking of the worst case scenario where I lose my home office and my backups. While the cloud service looks great I did not like the time that it takes to retrieve all your data assuming you had a catastrophic event that resulted in the loss of all local data. (CrashPlan will ship a disk to you, but takes a few days) As a result I persuaded a friend who lives 30 minutes away to get CrashPlan with the idea that we will be remote backup sites for each other. This way if I were to lose all my data locally I will still have a backup just 30 minutes away. The remote setup is straight forward, but I decided to seed a drive with my backup before attaching it to her laptop. As her laptop runs Windows and as I run a Mac I had to attach the external drive to a Windows machine in order to keep the NTFS file system on the external drive. I added the drive as a new backup destination and initiated the backup. By the next morning I had a new backup ready to be located remotely. At the remote site I helped my friend sign up for a CrashPlan account and had her invite me. When I attached the external hard drive to her computer I had to enter my CrashPlan user name and password and it immediately became available as a backup destination for my laptop. Within a few minutes it had competed a scan to compare my laptop to the new backup destination. I also added her as a person that could backup to my system. She had about 15GB of data and it took about 5 days for her data to be completely backed up to my system. I now have a secure remote backup solution. All the data encrypted as it is sent over the Internet and the remote backup is also encrypted for my account only. I did a few tests to confirm that backups were running to the remote destination and recovered a few files to confirm the backup.
I have been very please with CrashPlan. Since I started using the backup application they have had an update which was installed automatically. CrashPlan has now added a long awaited feature, data sets. The data sets option is only available in CrashPlan+. You can now have different sets of files that can get backed up to different locations at different time intervals. I find this very useful as I do not feel that I need to get a realtime backup of my files remotely. This saves on the amount of data that is sent over the Internet and some people have capped data plans.
I was even more impressed with CrashPlan when I offered to a do rebuild of my friends computer. Her laptop had been bought 6 years earlier and had had no maintenance . In addition she had many old applications cluttering the PC that she no longer used. I brought the laptop home and did a new install of the OS and then installed CrashPlan with her username and password. CrashPlan immediately recognized my laptop as a backup set and I was able to restore her files. I did tweak the data limits in CrashPlan to be unlimited while doing this to make the restore process faster. Once the laptop was rebuilt the final step was to start the backup process again. Here we were allowed to assume the name of another computer, which is really useful when doing a rebuild and you want to pickup where you left off with the backup process. This way CrashPlan only had to sync the differences between the old backup and the files I had restored. As all the files were already in the backup set this step went quickly. I returned her laptop, plugged in her external drive and my remote backups picked up where they had left off.
My only complaint I have with CrashPlan is the interface for recovering files and I have a feeling that it is a Mac only issue. When you try to recover a Mac application like any other file you are presented with a small drop down arrow which then shows you the different versions based off date that you can recover. Being an application it will most likely only have a single date. If you choose to recover the file by checking the checkbox next to the date the application will not be recovered correctly. I have a feeling that is due the fact on the Mac Applications are really special directories. If choose the application itself by checking the checkbox next to the application name it will be recovered correctly. The more I think of this it must be a bug. Any other file is recovered as expected. An alternative way to restore files is to choose a date by clicking a link below the file selector.
CrashPlan is great and is free for no commercial use. You can also get a 30 day trial of CrashPlan+ after which is simply reverts back to a regular CrashPlan install. You can find more details on their website.