We know, we know: we’re supposed to back up. Yet it’s something that even some MacFormat writers neglect to do.
Despite our Macs being the home of thousands of personal and business files, many of us went for years without a backup. Everything from irreplaceable photos to invoices and tax returns could have been gone in the time it takes to say: “What’s that light flashing for?”
Then along came Apple’s Time Machine, which performed something of a miracle in getting us all to back up regularly. But it’s not the perfect solution. Suppose, for example, your house catches fire; rescuing the cat will probably be a higher priority than remembering to get either your Mac or that drive you back up to out of the flames – and rightly so.
Thanks to fast, always-on connectivity though, there is a simple solution: backing up your machine safely over the internet to a server somewhere well away from your house or office. And thankfully, there are services around which make this a simple process – perhaps not quite as simple to use as Time Machine, but more secure and capable of saving you in cases of real disaster.
In this test we look at six services which can help you back up securely over the internet: Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, DropBox, SugarSync and Mozy.
If they can get me backing up securely and regularly, they can probably do the same for you.
Products on test
Backblaze: $5 p/month
Carbonite: $4.57 p/month
CrashPlan: $4.50 p/month
DropBox: $9.99 p/month
SugarSync: $4.99 p/month
Mozy: $4.95 p/month
Backup should be hassle-free and in the background
Backblaze is designed to be almost completely invisible to users. Once installed, it works in the background backing up every file on your Mac, with a few exceptions – notably applications, system files, and single files over 4GB in size. There’s really nothing else for you to do.
CrashPlan’s interface offers more options than any other service, which is to be expected given that in addition to backing up online to its CrashPlan Central service, it’s also capable of backing up to a local hard drive.
Carbonite includes a very Mac-friendly restore assistant that walks you through getting your files back.
DropBox and SugarSync are designed mainly for synchronising files between computers, but can also be easily used for backup.
However, probably the easiest-to-use interface is Mozy’s. Not only does it let you specify files and folders to back up, but it also uses presets that let you back up things like Safari bookmarks, keychains, and iCal calendars.
How well does each package cope with a Mac?
Macs have peculiarities. Resource forks and packages, for example, are unique to the Mac, and not every service handles them well.
Backblaze and Mozy offer good levels of Mac-friendliness. Not only do they handle all the quirks of Mac files, like packages, but everything is easily configured – in Backblaze’s case through a System Preferences pane, while an application takes care of Mozy.
CrashPlan showed packages as folders rather than single files within its interface, but restored them correctly as packages. Carbonite, too, struggled a little with package files when viewed through its web interface, although they restored perfectly through the application.
Both SugarSync and DropBox have some problems with package files. Although backing up and restoring to the same Mac should work, since they treat packages as if they were folders, if a part of the package is changed on more than one machine it can cause issues.
How well do these products recover your files?
Backblaze aims to make recovery as easy as possible, even going as far as letting you recover data from a Mac to a Windows machine. You can also order files on DVD (for $99) or a USB hard drive ($189), which adds to your options.
Mozy, too, lets you restore from either the application or a web interface, or order DVDs. However, there’s a small quirk: if you restore via the web interface, you could lose some metadata on files (such as date modified). If you restore through the application, though, this isn’t an issue.
Recovering from CrashPlan or Carbonite is very easy too, with the option of restoring either from the app or through the web interface.
Recovery with both DropBox and SugarSync was incredibly simple too. When we installed the product from scratch, we just gave it our login details for the service and everything was sucked back down from the servers in a streamlined fashion – nothing was missing and everything worked.
Can you get to your files through a web browser?
All of the products on test enable you to access your files and restore them through a web interface, as well as their own client software.
Backblaze, CrashPlan and Carbonite’s interfaces are simple, but effective – although it’s worth remembering that none of them correctly display package files; showing them as folders rather than single packages is the workaround.
Mozy’s interface, too, is on the simple side – but it correctly displays packages. Both DropBox and SugarSync include additional features in their web interface, primarily focused on sharing files via email or web link.
Usefully, you can also get to older versions of files through DropBox’s interface – the number of older files kept depends on whether you’re using the free or paid-for version.
SugarSync’s web interface looks a little more spartan, but works perfectly well, and handily there’s a mobilefriendly web interface too. But DropBox and SugarSync win here.
Which product offers the best value for money?
The pricing for Backblaze couldn’t be easier. No matter how much data you store, it’s $5 per month per computer.
CrashPlan’s pricing is more complex, but still offers great value. A single machine can be backed up for $3.47 per month ($125 for three years), while a ‘family plan’ lets you back up all your household computers for just $5 per month.
Carbonite costs from $54.95 for a single year ($4.57 per month) to $129.95 for three years ($3.60 per month). Mozy’s pricing, too, is very simple: $4.95 per computer per year, with some discounts if you pay for a year in advance or have many machines to back up.
If your backup needs are limited, Mozy also offers a free 2GB account. DropBox offers free and paid-for versions. You can get 2GB for free, and there are two other options: 50GB for $9.99 per month, and 100GB for $19.99 per month.
SugarSync’s plans are flexible, running from $4.99 per month for 30GB to $24.99 per for 250GB.
What other services do these products offer?
CrashPlan is unique in this test, as it includes the ability to back up locally for free to either a hard drive or another computer, making it the only service in our tests capable of local and online backup. It also includes the ability to have status reports of your backup sent to you via email or Twitter.
DropBox offers its customers a sleek, fast iPhone application that lets you access your files from your phone. You can read – but not write – any file that the iPhone supports, as well as sharing any documents by sending a link through email. This is handy if you need to share your documents with someone, but don’t have a local copy available.
SugarSync leads the pack in the mobile department. Not only does the service offer a sleek iPhone application, but there’s also one for BlackBerry and Android.
All the products on test are strong, and all have their own unique features. DropBox and SugarSync, for example, are syncing products that can also be used for backup.
Mozy has its handy backup sets, and is arguably the most Mac-friendly. Backblaze is incredibly simple to use, because it autobacks up everything.
Carbonite impressed us, combining plenty of features for fine-tuning what you’re backing up with solid and reliable performance. And it does this without making the basics over-complicated.
If you’re looking for a single backup solution, then CrashPlan is a great option. It’s the only product capable of backing up both locally (handy for speed) and online (handy for security). If you use multiple Macs, then SugarSync is your best bet – you can combine backing up essential files with syncing them.
It just beats DropBox thanks to better price plans and features. But if backup is all you need, go for CrashPlan. It’s not the most elegant service, but its ability to back up every Mac in your home for $5 per month makes it a winner.