Review of CrashPlan for computer backups

I've been using the CrashPlan automatic backup system for my home computing devices for almost a year now, and I offer up this review.

Prior to using CrashPlan, I have to admit that my backup strategy for home computers left much to be desired.  Over the years I had tried various combinations of home-grown scripts and syncing tools that broke too easily or didn't offer enough flexibility in recovery, crusty third-party software that seemed to take hours to configure and then never quite did what I expected or didn't work with all the different devices I used, and even elegant tools like Apple's Time Machine backup system that still didn't offer me the off-site redundancy I wanted in case of physical catastrophe.

The end result was that my backups were happening infrequently, and in ways that did not necessarily guarantee the ability to restore what I would need in the event of a system failure or worse.  For someone who preaches the importance of backups to my friends, family and clients all day long, this was an embarrassing state of affairs. Then, one day a friend's laptop was stolen from his house, and as I listened to the stories of what was lost because of an incomplete backup and imagined what I would possibly lose if the same happened to me, I knew I needed to look for a better system.

That's when I found CrashPlan.

Minneapolis-based Code 42 Software has really hit the ball out of the park with this tool, which I've been using the "Plus" version of.  They can do a better job of selling you on their features than I can (and I'm not affiliated with them or receiving any remuneration from them for this review), but let me list out a few of the things I love about CrashPlan:

  • It works seamlessly with Linux, Mac and Windows systems.  This may seem like a simple thing, but it's something many backup tools could not offer until recently.  Thanks, Java!
  • Multi-destination backup.  I can (and do) backup simultaneously to a combination of attached external hard drives, other systems on my home network, and the CrashPlan Central data center. This gives me maximum survivability for any number of disaster scenarios - theft, natural disaster, accidental file deletion, upgrading to new hardware, etc.
  • Easy setup with finely tunable settings.  I had the first backup running on CrashPlan within 20 minutes of deciding to use the tool - it was very easy to get setup.  I've since added other systems with the same level of ease, made possible in part by the fact that CrashPlan ties your systems together with a single user account.  But I have also since tweaked settings related to when CrashPlan backs up, how much processing power and bandwidth it takes up, when it notifies me about failed or past-due backups, etc.
  • Strong pre-copy encryption.  I resisted using online backup services for a long time because I didn't like the idea that a third-party would have so much access to my personal files.  CrashPlan addresses this as well as anyone can, I think, by encrypting your data while it's still on your machine and then sends it off to their data centers.  What's more, they use an encryption protocol called Blowfish, which because of its open-source, unpatented and royalty-free nature, has been analyzed and accepted by industry experts as very strong.
  • Great tools, great interface, regular innovation.  Another thing that may seem trivial, but the CrashPlan folks clearly took the time to think through what a great user interface for managing backups should look like.  From their website to their desktop tools even to their mobile device apps, they care about the user experience in a way I haven't seen elsewhere in this category.  They also seem to listen to their growing user base to find new features and updates they can implement to make the product even better.

There are a lot of other features to consider, but I won't try to go into all of them here.  The bottom line is that, at least at the moment, there's nothing I would change or improve about CrashPlan.

Let's not forget about price.  I'm paying $120/year for backing up up to 10 devices with unlimited disk usage in the CrashPlan Central data center.  If you want to get started with CrashPlan for FREE, you can, and this allows you to setup a backup configuration using unlimited devices on your own network; the fees (starting at $25/year) kick in when you want to use their online storage CrashPlan Central or to get direct support from their staff for any questions you might have.

I've had computers fail on me before, I've been a part of trying to handle stolen laptops, and I know that the hassle, stress and potential lost productivity can quickly add up to more than $120 no matter how you measure it.  For the enterprise backup systems we use at Summersault, the hardware and personnel costs we incur to keep them running are measured in thousands and tens of thousands of dollars over time.  CrashPlan has already helped me restore some lost files and was invaluable in recovering from a laptop crash a few months ago.  Paying CrashPlan $120/year for reliable backups is now a no-brainer.

Are you just hoping nothing bad happens to your computer and its data?  Are you still struggling with backup solutions?  Please consider CrashPlan as a backup tool that could save you a lot of pain.

One thought on “Review of CrashPlan for computer backups

  1. Thanks for the post Chris. I currently have a seagate attached to my main computer - but do not back up my laptop. I have been thinking about this for sometime. Thanks for the review - I'll be sure to check it out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.