Backblaze – The Basics
Backblaze is cloud backup. They offer “unlimited” backup but there are restrictions if not limitations. Pricing is $5 per month but is discounted for 1 year ($50) and 2 years ($95) prepaid commitments. Pricing is per computer.
Only locally attached disks can be backed up. This obviously includes internal drives and also includes firewire, USB and Thunderbolt attached drives. Network attached drives are not backed up.
There is a long list of folders on my Mac that cannot be backed up, even if I wanted to. The important ones in this list are “Applications” and “Library” (the system-wide library folder). So Backblaze cannot be used as a full system backup. On the positive side, everything that would be specific to a user can be backed up.
There’s also a long list of file types that are not backed by default although these exclusions can be removed:
wab~, vmc, vhd, vo1, vo2, vsv, vud, iso, dmg, sparseimage, sys, cab, exe, msi, dll, dl_, wim, ost, o, qtch, log, ithmb, vmdk, vmem, vmsd, vmsn, vmx, vmxf, menudata, appicon, appinfo, pva, pvs, pvi, pvm, fdd, hds, drk, mem, nvram, hdd
On the Mac you may want to be sure sparseimage files are backed up depending on how you use them. I kept virtual machine images excluded because I didn’t want to use the bandwidth to backup constantly changing files. I did remove the ISO exclusion since any ISOs I have don’t change once they’re backed up.
Backblaze will delete files from cloud storage 30 days after they’re deleted from the computer. If a external drive is disconnected from the computer (or turned off) the files will be deleted from the backup after 30 days. I wasn’t able to test this during the trial period but it appears there’s now a warning message a couple weeks before the files from the external drive are deleted.
In a true “trust no one” philosophy I can set my own encryption key. (I do have to trust that the Backblaze software is not secretly sending them my encryption key.) If I lose this key I lose all ability to restore the files and Backblaze can’t get them back. Despite this risk I require this for all my cloud storage that contains my financial and confidential records and keep the key in multiple locations.
I took advantage of their two week trial to take a look at the Backblaze software and service. The registration, download and installation was straightforward so I won’t repeat it here. Once installed it began backing up using the default settings.
Backblaze installs itself as a preference pane. The options are (click any image for full size)…
The Main Panel
The computers online name is automatically generated and is based on the Mac’s name. I have only one drive so it’s the temporary data drive. I changed the warning from the default 7 days to 1 day. If it’s failing I want to know right away.
Any attached hard drives are listed. Check the ones you want included, uncheck the ones that you don’t.
Performance lets you throttle the bandwidth used during the backup. I found the Automatic setting worked well. The estimates varied widely during my first backup so the estimate seems to be based on a narrow slice of time. I had no problem streaming Amazon or Netflix while the backup was uploading. This isn’t too surprising since the data is going in opposite directions. The uploads did slow down during the streaming.
There’s three report panels that are informational.
Web Restore Test
Naturally, a backup is no good if you can’t restore the files. So I went through the process of a web restore. It’s a straight-forward process, although a web restore may not be well suited to restoring gigabytes of data. I only picked a couple files for the restore and they were ready in a matter of minutes.
You do have to enter your encryption key on the restore web page. So you have to again trust that Backblaze won’t remember your encryption key. You also need to trust that there’s no coding errors that will compromise the key. This is probably an acceptable risk for most people. It also seems that the files are decrypted on the server side before they are put into the zip file. It’s also seems that if you request that the files be sent to you on disk that they’ll be sent already unencrypted on the disk which seems like a bigger risk.
The web restore process is shows in the following screenshots.
Backblaze is a nice easy to use Backup service. It shares similar limitations to other “all you can eat for one price” backup services. I can see why it’s so popular but I’d prefer a backup service that can be used for long term storage without having to worry about whether or not the drive is still connected. So this became a non-starter for me.
The service is designed to backup data. I didn’t try restoring any complete OS X package files. For example, a Bento database. In the case of iPhoto and Aperture libraries (which are also library files) Backblaze will look into the library and backup the photos. But it won’t backup thumbnails. While not backing up thumbnails isn’t a problem, this less than everything approach does concern me. I’m more comfortable when I know exactly what’s happening with my backups.
The low price of Backblaze backup and ease of use will appeal to most people and for good reason.
- Low Cost
- Easy to Use
- Fast backup (no throttling noticed – limitation seemed to be my connection)
- Web restore cumbersome for large restores
- Large restores (beyond web capabilities) costly and delayed by shipping.
- Private encryption key has some potential holes (required before restore so files are shipped unencrypted or stored unencrypted on the Backblaze server)
Pro/Con (depends on your point of view)
- Like all cloud backups, potentially limited by your internet connection for both speeds and data caps.
- Not a full disk backup, still need a second backup solution for a full system.
- Deletes backed up files 30 days after the local files vanish.