Mac Help: Online backups for huge archives

Welcome to Mac Help, our weekly column focused on helping you, our readers, with the trouble you're having with your Mac. In this edition we tackle the subject of massive amounts of personal data and how it can best be backed up.

Chuck Rossell writes:

I recently signed up for the Backblaze trial to backup the data on my iMac. To date, I have roughly 2.5 TB of info - mostly photos and video. After doing some research, I chose to go with Backblaze. I started the data upload, and based on their calculations, it would take 2.5 YEARS to back everything up. Really?! So I will have paid them $150 before everything gets backed up! Not to mention the amount of data I have will continue to grow. I'm not sure what to do at this point.

First of all, let me commend you for adding — or at least thinking about adding — online backup to your archival rotation. I think backing up to an offsite, online service is vital. I consider it a tertiary line of defense, however.

For primary backups, I recommend looking at Apple's Time Machine, which works equally well if you have an external hard drive connected to your Mac, or if you're backing up to an Apple Time Capsule or some other network-attached storage.

For secondary backups, I think it's a good idea to clone your hard drive or drives. That way, in the event of a primary drive failure, you'll be able to resume working with relatively little disruption to your routine until you can get whatever the problem is fixed.

Now we get into the third line of defense: Online backups. Backblaze, Carbonite and CrashPlan are all excellent systems. Online services all suffer from an inherent limitation: Bandwidth availability. With 2.5 terabytes of data to store, you have a lot of data to back up. Backblaze says that it takes their average customer about two weeks to get a complete initial backup. And I suspect that with 2.5 TB of data, you're far from average.

One thing you can do with any of these online services is to tailor what gets backed up online. If you're already keeping your primary drive backed up, maybe you don't need all the data on that backed up to the cloud as well (in Backblaze, that's done using the "Exclusions" tab). Maybe it'd just be a good idea to back up files that you don't have stored anywhere else. Backblaze does a good job of, by default, excluding system files, apps, caches, system images and other stuff that just takes up a lot of space, but that doesn't mean you can't ratchet it down even further.

One option to consider, depending on the service: A seeded backup. Backblaze does not offer this, but CrashPlan does: The ability to send them a drive with your backup data on it, to "jump-start" the backup process. It's a convenient way to get a lot of data added to your account really quickly, though it does require you to have an extra drive on hand that you can send to them for the initial backup. Even then, though, there are limitations: CrashPlan, for example, will only send you a 1 TB drive. Anything in excess of that has to be uploaded. But still, better 1 TB than no terabytes, I suppose.

Anyway, I hope this helps. And if you're reading this and haven't really considered a complete backup strategy, here's a guide to get you going:

Got a question about your Mac, or a problem that's been gnawing at you? Feel free to send it to machelp@imore.com and we might feature it in a future column!

20 Comments
  • 2.5 years to back up 2.5 tb? I'm just curious ... what Internet provider is being used?
  • I've used both Backblaze (9 months) and Crashplan (1 month). For me the java based application is a killer for Crashplan, along with its poor quality. I don't like Java applications and avoid them. Backblaze has a native Mac application and it works very well. I used the seeded plan from Crashplan and found it didn't work very well. When I did the initial load of Backblaze, it did not take that long (1TB of data) and though I would have liked that option from Backblaze, it turned out to be only a minor inconvenience.
    For restores, Backblaze does offer to ship your data to you on a hard drive.
  • I'm a Backblaze user as well — took about two weeks to back up my 450GB of stuff. Two suggestions: 1) Check your upload speeds with your ISP. If it's really low that might be why you're seeing such a long estimate. 2) Check your Backblaze settings and disable the automatic throttle.
  • Good suggestions.. Also, if they find their provider is offering only 1MB or less in upload, check to see if they offer a plan with faster upload speeds .. Even if it's temporary, a month or two at the higher speeds.. then once backup is done, downgrade.. Who knows, you might find you want to keep the new speeds.. :)
  • Check your upload speed at work. If it's in the 50Mbps range, just take your system to work one weekend and let it rip.
  • Assuming you can plug in at work, that is.
  • The other thing to consider when backing up to a cloud service, is how you handle recovery. I lost a 2TB volume full of pictures, but thankfully I had everything backed up with CrashPlan. The problem with restoring, was my ISP. Attempting to recover 2TB of data over the internet is futile at best. Thankfully CrashPlan has a solution where they can ship you a drive, unfortunately this costs extra. The lesson I learned was to have local backups, as well as offsite backups. Do both if you can afford it.
  • I have had a similar experience with Crashplan, although mine was maybe 2.5 weeks and not years. Since the system was non-essential, I just let it go. I use the local backup option with Crashplan, so I have a designated computer (old PC with a Drobo) that I back up all systems to locally and then they also backup to remote Crashplan server. Most of my restores are from the local server and I have only had to restore once from the Crashplan servers (it took about 3-4 days for all the data).
  • I know the provider's ability to accept the data affects upload as well. I thought Google Drive would be my go to for family photos and videos but that proved wrong. I have to use hotspots for work during the day so I was uploading from the time I got home until I left for work every morning and all weekends. My ISP sucks but need less to say that after two weeks I wasn't even 1/4 through the near 100GB I had to upload! After doing some research I found that Google Drive is one of the slowest for upload speeds. That got fixed with OneDrive. I got everything done in just over a week with the same amount of data to move.
  • I signed up with carbonate a few years ago. I only had about 700gb and uploading was ok, but downloadong when disaster struck was a complete joke, even though my connection was usually Rock solid with fibre and no issues were ever a problem except with them. - downloadinf was at a snail's pace. And support just blamed it on my computer (ur... A brand new imac..) it basically turned out to be a competent waste of money every paying to be with them. Never again.
  • I can't edit for some reason my v badly typed comment. Apologies to all! Hopefully the gist is clear. Hopefully Carbonite has improved since instead of paying podcasters to glorify it and race to bottom pricing. I've heard better things of Backblaze though never tried myself.
  • Hi! Yev from Backblaze here -> Peter and Derek both made good recommendations (Backblaze should be a component of an overall backup strategy, and the auto-throttle might be slowing you down a bit). One thing I'd recommend that Peter touched on (and Backblaze differs from other providers in this) is to exclude locations that you may not wish to get uploaded. For example, exclude your photos and videos at first in order to get mission-critical documents uploaded. Once those are done, let the photos upload, then the videos. It should help prioritize the backup a bit. I'd be curious what your bandwidth speeds on. Peter is right in that 2.5TB is not average for our users, but we do have many folks with over 1TB of data that can get it uploaded within a week or so. 2TB over 1.5 years leads be to believe you may not have great upload bandwidth, and if you wish to use an online component for your backups, it might be worth it to take a look at a plan with more upload capacity. But try the above methods first!
  • I did Crashplan and to get through my ridiculously huge (larger than 2.5TB) backups and get them to churn, I basically turned my computer to never sleep and never have the hard drives shut off for a few days and that sped it up a lot. I would say about a week and a half, because I just let my connection stay constant. I think one night I let my machine go to sleep bec it was hot as hell, but then I let it finish.
  • Another option. Copy your backup to an external hard drive and store it off site (a friend, parents, at work). Then backup only files modified after that date to the cloud. Make sure you update the hard drive regularly (once a month or so) to make sure the data can be read when you need it and the online backup doesn't grow too big. When disaster strikes you can instantly restore from the drive and download the remainder from the cloud.
  • Peter, asides from Time Machine and cloning, is it necessary to have be the recovery partition on external drive? If yes, in what circumstances is the recovery partition comes in handy? If no, why not?
  • The other thing to consider with terabytes of storage is how much it changes. If much of that is ripped media (music, movies, etc) and is archival and thus doesn't really change often, you can clone that to an external 3T drive and then place that offsite in, say, a safe deposit box. That gets you the "Oh crap my house burned down!" insurance of offsite backups for that data without the issue of streaming that much data. Seeded backups are, of course, the online equivalent.
  • Best thing I love about Crashplan is that I don't have to continually back up my external devices for fear of them being removed from the backup, like some other providers do, for whatever reason.
  • Don't forget about Transporter. I have a transporter disk at my office and one at home and they keep in sync. You can bring the one from home to the office of the initial copy, but then their system will just keep it done. Higher upfront costs, but you have control and can get whatever size disks you want. Http://www.Filetransporter.com
  • TRANSPORTER You own the space, you decide the redundant locations and how many of them there are. No monthly fees.
  • I've used both Crashplan and Backblaze. Backblaze was pretty quick for me. Crashplan so terribly slow. I ended up with Crashplan as they support NAS. Backblaze doesn't. I've been continuously backing up my 2.9TB of data for the past 4 months now and I'm just about 3/4 way through. Yeah, if you have lots of data. Best to have local backups handy.