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.