How to easily backup (and restore) using Backblaze or CrashPlan

Backing up with Time Machine? That may not be enough. Time to think about offsite backup, too

Time Machine or another similar tool for OS X should be your first line of backup defense for your Mac. You should always have a way to recover if you delete an important file or if your hard drive fails. But backup hard drives can go bad, even the one in Apple's Time Capsule. What's more, if you have a major catastrophe, like a major robbery, house fire or natural disaster, you may not be able to restore from that backup. What do you do then? One solution is to use an offsite backup service. Backblaze and CrashPlan are two of the more popular services available for Mac users.

What you'll need

  • Your Mac
  • An account with either Backblaze or CrashPlan

To back up using Backblaze

  • Set up a new account and download the software from Backblaze.
  • Follow the installation instructions.
  • Backblaze will immediately begin to back up your hard drive. The initial backup can take days or weeks depending on the upload speed of your Internet connection. To change the speed, select Backblaze preferences... from the Backblaze menu then click on the Performance tab. Uncheck Automatic Throttle and set Manual Throttle to the setting you'd like.
  • Preferences also allows you to adjust Backblaze's schedule, security level and exclusions list (you can exclude specific folders and files or entire file types, if you'd like). You can also view a report to see what's been backed up.

Backblaze status

Backblaze performance

To restore using Backblaze

  • Click on the Backblaze menu and select Restore Files...
  • Log in to the Backblaze web site using your user ID and password.
  • Depending on the size of your restoration, you can either restore over the Internet by downloading a compressed .zip file, or if you want to pay extra you can order a USB flash drive or a USB hard drive. Whole drive restorations can be faster and more convenient if you're mailed a drive, depending on the size.
  • If you want to restore a portion of your drive, just drill down until you find what you're looking for, then click the Continue with Restore button.
  • Backblaze will email you as soon as the archive is ready for download. For smaller files it's usually immediate.

Backblaze Restore

To back up using CrashPlan

  • Set up a new account and download the software from CrashPlan.
  • Follow the installation instructions.
  • CrashPlan will begin to back up your hard drive. As with Backblaze, the initial process will take days or weeks depending on the upload speed of your Internet connection. You can change the speed of backup by clicking on the CrashPlan menu, clicking on Settings, clicking on the Network tab and changing the "Limit sending rate" settings.
  • CrashPlan's settings also offer you a wide array of options, including file exclusions, encryption options and more.

Crashplan network settings

To restore using CrashPlan

  • Open the CrashPlan application.
  • Click on Restore.
  • Select the file or folders you want to restore by clicking the checkbox in front of their names.
  • Click on the Restore button.
  • By default the file will be restored to the Finder desktop.

CrashPlan restore

That's all there is to it. Either way, with Backblaze or CrashPlan, you'll always be able to replace lost files and restore a hard drive if something goes horribly wrong.

Why use either of these services? As I made the case at the start, something can go wrong with your Time Machine backup. And if it does, and you need to restore something, you're screwed unless you have a secondary line of defense. Accidents happen, as do fires, burglaries and the occasional "Acts of God."

What's more, if you're on the road for an extended period — on a business trip or vacation, for example — and away from your usual means of backup, it's good to know that you have another system that you can set and forget, and use in a pinch if you need to recover a file or a drive.

Backblaze pros and cons

For my money, Backblaze offers the superior user interface and is way easier to use (and prettier to look at) than CrashPlan. Also, Backblaze by default excludes things like apps, which will dramatically bulk up your first backup and slow you down. I consider that a plus, because I can reinstall most of those if I need to.

Backblaze punts your restore to a web site, which I find a bit disruptive; I wish they'd integrate restoration like CrashPlan does. But my major beef with Backblaze is its pricing structure. It's $5 per month per computer. That sounds great if you only have one computer, but I have a whole house I'm trying to back up. My wife and three kids all have their own computers, and I have a second Mac that needs backing up too. That'd be $30 per month, which is a lot more than Code 42 charges for CrashPlan's family subscription.

CrashPlan pros and cons

CrashPlan offers very sophisticated settings, but it suffers from a really lousy user interface. It's needlessly complex and techy. What's more, it's dependent on Java to work, and some of us would prefer to run a Java-free system. The developers have promised a new app but have yet to deliver it. CrashPlan does have an integrated restore feature that Backblaze lacks.

CrashPlan also offers a family subscription. If you're like me, and you're looking for an offsite backup service the whole house can use, CrashPlan makes sense. You can back up up to 10 computers starting for $13.99 per month. If you buy annual, biennial or quadrennial (that's right, four-year) subscriptions, you get a hefty price break.

In the end, I strongly suggest that you give them both a try. It won't cost you anything; both Backblaze and CrashPlan offer trial plans. See which you like best and go with that one. They're both reliable services that work exactly like they're supposed to. Both services also offer an iOS app that lets you view your backups and even access your files when you need to.

What do you use?

Have I made the case for a secondary backup system yet or do you think it's a complete waste of time? Do you use something besides Backblaze or CrashPlan? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

How to easily backup (and restore) using Backblaze or CrashPlan

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Thanks for the review, but I just can't swallow the idea of having all my files on someone else's server. I use two backup drives with Time Machine and one extra kept at a relative's home that gets updated periodically.

Another program I really like is ChronoSync to keep two other drives I use for large files (audio, video, images) to free up space on my iMac. ChronoSync makes it easy to back up the back up.

Both BackBlaze and Crashplan allow you to encrypt your files BEFORE uploading them to their servers. This way, you have complete security and privacy.

With Crashplan, your backup at your relative's is encrypted. Your relative CANNOT see your files. If they click on the folders, it would look like gibberish. And they offer this for free.

The problem is that you likely don't update your offsite backups very often, so in the event of a disaster that kills off your Mac and your external TM backups, you only have the older backup at your relatives. To the degree that you do important work on your machine, you could lose a lot of stuff that's valuable.

Backblaze is $5/month. Honestly, if you do anything that's even remotely valuable that's a trivial amount of money to spend to have up to date, encrypted backups offsite.

You guys work for one of these companies or sumtin'?! ;-)

Just so you guys can relax, let me assure you I backup regularly to the offsite drives and the location is close and a place I visit regularly (one of those guys who sees his parents and niece and nephew weekly).

Plus, even if it was free, I wouldn't want all my data on those servers! Heck, the NSA probably intercepts your stuff during the transfer!

Yep. Carbonite's another popular one. For How Tos like this, I usually round up just a couple for the sake of simplicity, otherwise it drags on too long.

Unlike BackBlaze and Crashplan, Carbonite seriously limits your upload speed. So even if you have unlimited storage, you may never be able to backup your large 2+ TB hard drives within a year.

The only Apple option with carbonite is "basic" and that doesn't include externals. Just FYI

I am convinced of the importance of an off-site backup. But for systems like these, bandwith simply defeats their usefulness. I tried crashplan, but it never even finished the first backup. So I didn't continue after the trial. And I do have fast internet.

The key to CrashPlan is to tune it to only backup what you need. By default it grabs everything, but if you're rebuilding from the recovery partition, you don't need any of the system or library files; I don't bother with apps, either. So my initial backup was almost half of what CrashPlan first figured.

*** You can send BackBlaze and Crashplan a hard drive containing your data. This allows them to pre-load all of your data on their system. This enormously speeds up the backup since backups only involve incremental changes to the files.

When you want to restore, they also can send you the data in a hard drive - greatly speeding up restores.

I've not used Crashplan but Backblaze or any backup like this can take a long time even if you only backup your user folder. One tip - leave it backing up overnight and if there's a throttling option turn that off (i.e. leave it unthrottled) over night. Unthrottled, Backblaze did something like 34g per night so i was done in 3 nights.

I used crashplan for a while when my main desktop was a PC. At the time I only had an ADSL connection so uploads at 1Mbit/sec took over a month. I then replaced my PC with a mac and found my backup couldn't be adopted and a re-upload would be necessary. I wasn't too fussed until I realised that despite now having a 10Mbit fibre connection I was still limited to an upload of about 1Mbit.

I then switched to using Arq as my backup client with Amazon S3 as the storage location. The initial upload was done in 2 days :)

Arq isn't for everyone as it is a bit more involved, but it allows much more control over your data.

1. The problem of using Arq is that the more data you have, the more you have to pay. So the cost can be prohibitive if you have a 10 TB of data to store.
2. Also, BackBlaze and Crashplan will keep version backups so you can get earlier versions of your files. BackBlaze keeps a month's worth of versions. Crashplan keeps ALL of your earlier versions (a huge advantage). But doing this on Arq means enormously increasing the monthly price of your backup. It quickly becomes prohibitive.

There's obviously a point at which Arq and S3 becomes overly expensive. However at about $1 per 100 GB it can be cheaper for some users. If you have TB's backed up to a service I'd question how long a restore would take from some providers.

Great review. I may try crashplan. I am in backblaze now and no problems, but I only backup my "mothership" iMac. Our MacBooks we rely heavily on iCloud for storage, so not a big deal. Curious though. Does crashplan include external drives like backblaze does? IIRC, carbonite does not.

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Sorry, meant does it back up the external drives. Backblaze does, all but your Time Machine. (Looks like they do).

CrashPlan backs up the externals as well. Additionally, CP does not delete the files from their servers after the external is disconnected for an extended period of time.

This is timely. I have been batting the three majors around for a while and you're discussing the same issues I am fighting over: how long it will take to backup, encryption, externals being backed up, cost and interfaces. I need to do this. I have to fire my current offsite soon because they 1) suck and 2) my renewal happens in a month.

Seems like, price wise, 3 computers is the break even point between BackBlaze and CrashPlan. I'm happy with BackBlaze, and only care about the main computer, so will likely stay there for now.

I have been using CrashPlan for a couple of years now. I am a professional Nature and Wildlife photographer. I have 30 years worth of work archived - with the last 12 years being almost exclusively digital. That amounts to terabytes of files. I have redundant backups of my files with internal secondary drives and external drives (incl RAID). I also have portable drives with copies that I used to tote with me everywhere. This made me feel safe. But - all you have to do is watch the news and imagine what the hell would happen if one of these all to frequent natural disasters struck. I live in the west - in prime wildfire country. If I lost my home, I do not want to risk losing decades of work.

I too looked at the various options out there for cloud backup. Like others, I was concerned about having my precious files on someone else's servers. But, in the long run I settled on CrashPlan. I have been VERY HAPPY with their service, options and pricing. One feature, not mentioned in the article are "Seed Drives". CrashPlan will ship you a hardened drive(s) to complete your first backup set to for a set fee of $125. That is one small print sale in my business. You back up using their software to the seed drive and FedEx it back to them, pre-paid. They upload your data to their servers and notify you when the upload is complete. In my case, it only took a few days - instead of months if I had gone the upload route.

Once your initial backup set is on their servers, the software only uploads new files and changes to existing files. I have had NO PROBLEMS in the last couple of years with my backups and have given several CrashPlan subscriptions as gifts to friends.

It works with internal and external drives and as mentioned, you can backup to your own drives or the drive's of designated friends / colleagues for free. These features are included in the base pricing.

Yes - as was also mentioned, their interface is not the most intuitive but it works and works well once you figure it out.

All in all - I can highly recommend CrashPlan. Their mobile apps work very well and allow you instant access to your files from a mobile device. This is especially handy for a photographer who might want to show a file from the archives to a prospective client on an iPad for example while in the field....

CrashPlan has so far proven to be an excellent solution to keeping an off-site, cloud based backup set of my multi-decade collection of fine art photography....

I highly recommend that you backup, off site with whatever solution works best for you! Far too many don't and when faced with a catastrophic situation, find themselves without their precious data....

Excellent points, I too am a happy CP customer. Another nice perk is the drive they ship to you to get you started is free if you are a member of the armed forces.

Crash Plan
FYI Crash Plan don't have any limit on file size. Plus for more securety you can set Archive Encryption Key 448-bit encryption+ password.

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I have been using sugarsync for about 3 years now. I am a real estate agent and I like the fact that I have easy access to all of my "synced" files via my iphone app and I can quickly email them to a client right from my phone. I'm sure it works like the others. I selected which folders I wanted it to sync and the initial sync took forever. Now when you add or change a file within a synced folder it changes it at the sugarsync server pretty quickly and never slows down my machine. I also keep my machine backed up to an external hard drive as well (of course).

Mac OSX supports multiple Time Machine hard drives. Just plug in another external hard drive and use both. Time Machine can differentiate which drive needs what info backed up. Take that second drive offsite, and periodically bring it back.
Carbon Copy Cloner and Super Duper can do backups also.

the issue with this solution is that it relies on you remembering to backup to the second TM drive and take that offsite. All of the options we're talking about here don't. You can have the onsite backup and an offsite backup with no thought or effort.

Crashplan is amazing! Using this for a while now and I don't have to worry about losing anything :)

My wife and I use CrashPlan to backup the three family Macs. Backup has worked seamlessly and apparently flawlessly. Only hiccup was when we upgraded our machines to Mavericks. That upgrade broke the CrashPlan application. The fix, however, was easy. We reinstalled the CrashPlan app and all was good.

I signed up for Backblaze today! I hope it's the offsite backup solution I've been looking for, looking promising so far :-) Although, my upload speeds are lousy - so I imagine the first backup is going to take a significant amount of time.

I did a little more research on this, and found out that BackBlaze will not backup externals that are used as TimeMachine unless you turn off the TimeMachine part. They won't backup TimeMachine data either. That kinda soured me on that.