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Stop us if you’ve heard this one: You should be backing up your Mac.
OK, OK, you’ve heard that one before--we all have. But a huge number of
Mac owners use notebooks, and backing up to an external drive isn’t
always convenient. Online backup services let you back up to an
off-site server (which romantics also call “the cloud”) over any
Internet connection, meaning you can keep your files backed up over
Wi-Fi, no wires required. Your data is encrypted for safety and stored
in a secure location until you need to access it--or you stop paying
your bill, whichever comes first.
Besides being incredibly convenient, some of these online data-backup services include other features, such as synchronizing and sharing files between two or more computers, accessing your files through a Web-based interface, displaying a gallery of your photos, backing up external hard drives, and so on. We’ll help you compare five Mac-friendly services, to find the right cloud for you and your precious bits and bytes.
Set-it-and-forget-it Backblaze really wants to back up your entire hard drive, although you can exclude anything you want. It automatically excludes applications, disk images, the operating system, and temporary files, both according to where they are located (nothing in the Applications or Library folders, for example) and what their file extension is (no .log, .iso, .exe, and others). You can’t include anything that Backblaze excludes by default, but you can expand the list of exclusions. Backblaze will never back up a file larger than 4000MB, but you can nudge that ceiling down.
Backblaze defaults to backing up all your files, but you can exclude certain folders or file extensions here.
Backblaze lives in your System Preferences, with a
status/shortcut icon in the menubar. Its Settings window has a slider
where you can throttle the backup speed, request a reminder if you
haven’t backed up in a certain number of days, and view a log showing
everything scheduled for backup, plus a list of recent activity. To
restore, you log in online, where you can browse your backed-up files
and request a ZIP file to download (you get an email when it’s ready),
a DVD mailed to you (4.2GB max, and you’ll pay a whopping $99 for it,
including overnight FedEx), or get your files on a USB hard drive
(500GB max, $189, also including overnight FedEx). Four weeks worth of
changes are included, and you just “roll back” the date in a drop-down
menu to find older versions of files. Backblaze even dates the files in
the browser, which is a huge help.
Files you delete from your Mac are deleted from Backblaze after 30 days. You can back up external drives (except for Time Machine drives), but as with Mozy (see p38), be sure to reattach the drive within 30 days of removal, or Backblaze will think you deleted the “missing” files and trash them from your backup. You can’t back up network volumes, although it did offer to back up our iDisk, since that appears on our Mac as a local volume and then is synced periodically to MobileMe’s servers. (Which is why we, naturally, declined to back up iDisk.)
After you choose a set of files to restore, Backblaze prepares a ZIP archive and emails you a link when it’s ready to download.
Your data is kept safe on Backblaze
by 128-bit AES encryption throughout its encoding, transfer, and
storage, in a secure storage facility with biometric security, a raised
floor on seismic pedestals, and other cool-sounding stuff. In the
Settings you can opt to add a personal encryption key, but Backblaze
doesn’t have a copy, so you can’t ever lose it, or no one will be able
to recover your data.
We liked Backblaze’s thoroughness and the ability to restore our backed-up files to any computer. If you only want to back up a few folders, the interface is a little trickier than Carbonite’s (see facing page), since you need to exclude folders from the default set. Carbonite lets you start with an empty backup set and then add folders. And Backblaze won’t let you totally exclude your main Macintosh HD volume, so if you only want to back up your external drive and not your main one, you’re out of luck.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Backblaze is affordable, attractive, and reliable. We especially appreciated its thorough documentation, down to a list of every file and process it puts on your machine and why.
PRICE: $5/month per computer. Discount: $50/year per computer.
REQUIREMENTS: Intel processor, Mac OS 10.4 or later
Web-based restore of backups can be done from any computer. Reasonable cost.
Intel Macs only.
Similar to Backblaze, Carbonite lives in your System Preferences, with an icon in the menubar for checking backup status, pausing a backup for 24 hours, or launching the System Preference. By default, Carbonite backs up your whole hard drive (excluding applications, operating system files, and temporary files, just like the other services reviewed here), but the file browser is clear and easy to understand, making it a snap to assemble a custom backup set.
If you click the Automatically Manage Backups button, Carbonite backs up your whole hard drive. Or you can manually select your backup set, as we’re doing here.
Carbonite excludes any file over 4GB, as well as any video file by default, but you can add them to your backup set manually. You can’t back up external drives or network volumes. You get unlimited storage, though, so go ahead and back up the entire 4TB in your Mac Pro that we’re so jealous of.
Click Get Info when browsing your files under the Restore tab to see more about the file.
Once the initial backup is done, Carbonite keeps an eye on things and backs up changes automatically. If you need to free up system resources, you can pause Carbonite, which stops the uploads but keeps monitoring your drive for changes, or you can disable the app, which stops it completely. But we didn’t notice any lag or system sluggishness on our 2.4GHz MacBook Pro while Carbonite was doing its thing.
backed-up files, just click the Restore tab in Carbonite, choose which
files to restore and where you want them saved, to their original
locations or anywhere else you like. Each Carbonite subscription is
tied to one computer (you can purchase subscriptions for additional
computers using your same log-in). You can transfer your subscription
to a new Mac by logging in to Carbonite.com, and clicking Restore. This
walks you through installing Carbonite on the new machine, and the app
starts in Recover Mode, which freezes the backup part so that Carbonite
doesn’t think all your files are missing because you erased them. You
can’t change your backup sets during that time, but when you’re done
restoring, you just change the main Carbonite status from Recover Mode
to Enabled, and your backups resume. A handy Restore Assistant can even
copy all the files from your Carbonite backup to an existing or new
user account on your new Mac.
Carbonite has Remote Access to let you view and download your files from a browser, but we had trouble getting it to work. Your files are supposed to be available soon after they’re backed up, but ours didn’t appear. Carbonite.com said that new users might need to wait 24 hours for Remote Access to kick in, but several days later, we still had nothing.
Backed-up files you delete from your Mac are removed from your Carbonite backup after 30 days. And if you tell Carbonite to stop backing up a particular file, it’ll hold on to it an extra 72 hours, in case you change your mind. The service doesn’t support versioning, only keeping the most recent iteration of any file. And you can’t schedule backups, although the company plans to add that function in the future.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The price is right for unlimited storage, and we like the convenience of controlling everything from System Preferences. The service is similar to Backblaze, but doesn’t match of all Backblaze’s features, lacking support for versioning and scheduling.
PRICE: $54.95/year per computer. Discounts: $99.95 for two years; $129.95 for three years.
REQUIREMENTS: Intel processor, Mac OS 10.4 or later
Affordable, unlimited storage. You can pause or disable the app to free up resources. Restore Assistant transfers your data to a new or existing user account.
Intel Macs only. No support for versioning or scheduling. Can’t back up external drives. Video files excluded by default, but you can add them back in.