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Apple backups in the cloud

December 10, 2009

One area in which I think Apple could really benefit its customers is by offering a backup solution in the cloud, perhaps as part of a MobileMe membership.

While Time Machine might be an excellent backup solution if you are physically near your Time Capsule, it doesn’t help at all once you’ve stepped out of your home and you begin traveling with your MacBook Pro. You could go hours, days, or even weeks without any backups at all… depending on how long you’re away from your home! If you go on a vacation or a business trip for 2 weeks with your laptop, you just went 2 weeks without any backup at all! This is obviously not acceptable for anybody who cares about keeping their data safe.

Sure, you could travel with a portable hard drive to backup onto, but:
(a) It will weigh you down a little bit more, and I like to travel as lightly as possible.
(b) It may not protect you in case of a theft. (This actually underscores the main reason for having an off-site backup to begin with: to protect you in case of theft or fire.)

Therefore, I have now turned to an online backup service in the cloud (in addition to my Time Machine backups), because this online backup service keeps my MacBook Pro backed up at ALL TIMES, even when I’m away from home. All I need is an Internet connection, and my data is backed up. Online backup services are wonderful because they are INEXPENSIVE (only $5 per month!) and they provide an UNLIMITED AMOUNT OF STORAGE SPACE (unlimited!) for your online backups. They even keep files that you’ve deleted off your Mac for up to 30 days, so you can still retrieve files that you accidentally deleted off your Mac.

I compared the 5 leading online backup services, and my #1 favorite online backup service is now backblaze.com, because it is totally Mac-like in its simplicity and ease-of-use. You install Backblaze once, it auto-configures itself for backing up your Mac, and you never have to worry about it again. Backblaze just hums along quietly in the background, always keeping your Mac backed up in the cloud. It is also 64-bit Cocoa-based Mac software that integrates with your Mac’s system preferences and menu bar. It seems like it was made by Mac lovers for Mac lovers. They have excellent customer service as well.

Coming in 2nd place was crashplan.com, but I found their software and website to be much more confusing & difficult to use than Backblaze, their customer service wasn’t as great, and I didn’t like having to launch their Java-based application every time I wanted to check on the status of my backups. (Backblaze, on the other hand, simply requires you to click on the Backblaze icon in your menubar, and your backup status is displayed right there.) However, Crashplan did have some very innovative and exciting features, such as enabling you to send in a hard drive with your files to speed up your initial backup, and enabling you to backup to other Macs or PCs for free.

Apple once dabbled in online backups by allowing the Apple Backup program to backup to an iDisk, but there are significant shortcomings with the Apple Backup/iDisk solution:

  • Apple Backup is no longer in development. It hasn’t been updated in over 2 years, there are no mentions of it on the MobileMe website, and it is difficult to even find the download link for it. Its scheduling features do not always work reliably in Snow Leopard.
  • The iDisk has a very limited size, thus making it impossible for many people (such as myself) to backup their entire home folder. Even if I upgraded to the highest MobileMe membership of 60 GB for $200/year, that still wouldn’t be enough for my home folder which is 120 GB in size.
  • Apple Backup does not make continual backups throughout the day — it must be scheduled.
  • Because of its limited size, the iDisk will fill up after many backups. At that point, all backups are halted until the user manually clears the iDisk by clearing out all the backups. This is problematic for two reasons: (1) all backups are stopped until the user realizes that something is wrong and then manually figures out what to do next; (2) after clearing the iDisk, the user leaves themselves in a vulnerable state because they have no more backup files on their iDisk anymore.
  • MobileMe’s lowest-priced membership is expensive: $100 per year. Most of the online backup services are $50 per year. (Although you can find MobileMe for only $72 per year.)

So my proposal is that Apple introduces a Time Machine for the cloud…. in addition to Time Machine onto local devices. The Time Machine system preference could be set to handle both types of backups: a local backup and an online backup. The online backup would be tied in with a user’s MobileMe membership, and it would backup their home folder to their MobileMe iDisk (but with no limit on storage).

p.s. Speaking of backups, what do I recommend for Mac-based businesses who want to backup a local area network of Macs? I used to love Retrospect 6 but they destroyed the program with Retrospect 8 (bug-ridden, horrible user interface, completely unreliable backups) so that program is no longer an option. Instead, I use the blockbuster combination of ChronoSync and ChronoAgent, which are 2 brilliant programs that work wonderfully and have an almost unlimited amount of customizability. You could also use Time Machine on each Mac, because Time Machine can back up to any hard drive attached to any other Leopard or Snow Leopard machine. Or, if you’re running Mac OS X Server on your server machine, you could set up portable home directories to keep all the users’ home folders in sync with the server. Then, you just need to worry about backing up one machine — the server — and you could use ChronoSync for that. Apple has detailed information on setting up Portable Home Directories in their User Management manual.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. ericla2nyc permalink
    December 10, 2009 12:48 PM

    What do you suggest for a dual-OS environment. I have Windows as a Boot Camp partition. I had been using Retrospect as back-up for both, but the person who set it up for me had both back-ups saved to the Mac partition of my external HD. Now I need to figure out how to do a restore. Given my experience, I’m giving serious thought to just cloning both partitions as a regular back up rather than using Time Capsule or another back-up.

  2. December 10, 2009 1:50 PM

    Cloud backup is one of those things that’s being touted as an excellent option for a lot of people, without taking into consideration the amount of bandwidth required and (most importantly) recovery time. Not only that, Apple (like most other Cloud service providers for personal end users) has not shown any major acceptance of their obligations when looking after the data from others. Sure, there’s the acknowledgement of privacy, etc., but as towards actually ensuring your data is available when you want it, if you check MobileMe EULAs you’ll be fairly disappointed.

    People wanting robust backup solutions that actually provide solid recovery foundations should steer away from the Cloud, and I’m just as happy to see Apple not providing such a service.

  3. December 10, 2009 3:02 PM

    so how does this work with iPhoto
    I noticed it said backblaze will backup everything under 4gb well mine is 50gb in size so I assume it wont work I also have files under a sharded folder so all users when logged in can access these will it backup those as well or only stuff in your home folder
    cheers

  4. December 10, 2009 3:11 PM

    so how does this work with iPhoto
    I noticed it said backblaze will backup everything under 4gb well mine is 50gb in size so I assume it wont work I also have files under a sharded folder so all users when logged in can access these will it backup those as well or only stuff in your home folder
    cheers

    PS good news Backblaze backups all your photos even inside iphoto so thats great news

  5. towny26 permalink
    December 10, 2009 3:54 PM

    One that wasn’t mentioned is Carbonite (http://www.carbonite.com). They are $54.95/year for unlimited space. They also integrate well into OS X as a System Preference and icon on the toolbar.

    3 clicks and they are backing up all your personal data (everything in Users folder).

    And to the guy talking about iPhoto. the iPhoto Library is really a folder that contains all of your photos. So unless your individual photos are larger than 4gb, it will get backed up.

    With Carbonite, if you want to backup that 20gb movie file, you can choose to do so, manually.

    I’m doing the free trial and so far so good. Takes a few days to upload the initial data (130gb for me). That is only a limitation of the ISPs, not Carbonite.

  6. December 10, 2009 9:01 PM

    Thanks for your comments, Preston!

    I agree that a cloud backup should only be thought of as a secondary backup, in addition to a robust on-site backup as well.

    As far as privacy, Backblaze encrypts all of your data on your Mac first before sending it to Backblaze over another encrypted connection. So your data is secure at all times.

    But yes, those end user license agreements are pretty ridiculous for ALL software products (not just cloud backups)… they all basically state the same thing, which is that they’re not responsible for anything if their software stops working. That totally sucks. Which is why we all need to have multiple backup strategies in place.

    Bandwidth can be an issue, but if you’re in a crisis situation and your last resort is to restore from your cloud backup, it would be better to wait for your files to download than not get your files back at all. Also, these companies also offer recovery via DVD and hard drive as well, shipping those to you through FedEx.

  7. December 10, 2009 9:03 PM

    Yes, as mentioned below by towny26, your entire iPhoto library might be 50GB, but each photo that comprises your library is well under 4 GB in size. So all of your photos will be backed up.

  8. December 10, 2009 9:04 PM

    Thanks for the info on Carbonite allowing you to backup larger files if you want. I did not know that!

  9. December 10, 2009 9:08 PM

    I address some ideas for backing up Windows partitions or Windows machines on a mostly-Mac network at the end of my blog entry here. To quickly recap here, you could always use DropBox (highly recommended) to keep your important files automatically in sync between all of your Macs, PCs, and iPhones… and then just back up the special DropBox folder on your Mac. You could also use CrashPlan which lets you back up files cross-platform from one machine to another. And you could always use ChronoSync which will let you back up Windows partitions on a Mac machine.

  10. December 10, 2009 11:17 PM

    I use Mozy for $5/mo, with a discount for annual subscription. 2gb for free if you just wanna try it. no limits.

  11. thehotrod11 permalink
    December 14, 2009 7:20 AM

    SugarSync is the best for me. It may cost more, but it delivers so much more. Automatic continuous backups, web access to my files from any computer, sharing my files with friends and family, and syncing my files between my Windows PCs AND my Mac. Been using it for about 2.5 years now. I love it. http://www.Sugarsync.com

  12. December 8, 2010 3:21 PM

    Scott,

    Well what can I say. I totally agree with you !! And I think many people are also of the same opinion. I don’t know what Apple is going to announce or what their plan is with the huge datacenter that they have just recently built. We actually are a new player in the online backup arena and I would love to get your opinion on our product. We have high expectation and are in the background working hard for our 1.0 release open to general public. It is called Dolly Drive http://www.dollydrive.com and it is a cloud storage for Time Machine.

    Yours best,

    Anthony Palermo

Trackbacks

  1. Apple backups in the cloud « Chicago Mac/PC Support
  2. Apple Backups in the Cloud | MacDaddyNews.com
  3. Bites from the Apple: Wrapping It Up « The Random Item
  4. Retrospect 8 problems? Forget it. Here’s the best backup software for backing up a network of Macs. « ScottWorld Blog: My Rants and Raves

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