Backblaze Backup Review

Backblaze Backup is a cloud backup service that’s popular with many Mac users. I decided to give them a try and took advantage of their trial offer.

Backblaze LogoI was doing my yearly backup review and decided to take a look at Backblaze. Backblaze is popular among Mac users although they also have a Windows client. I took a look at the Mac version.

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.

Backblaze Trial

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

Backblaze main panelThe main panel gives you an overview of where you stand with backups. By default Backblaze will continuously backup changed files. Clicking the settings button will display six configuration screens.

Settings

Backblaze settings panelThe 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

Backblaze performance panelPerformance 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.

Schedule

Backblaze schedule panelNothing much here. I used “Continuously.”

Exclusions

Backblaze exclusions panelThe folders can’t be removed from the exclusion list but you can add other folders to exclude. I left the folders as is but I did remove DMG, ISO and SparseImage files from the file type exclusions.

Security

Backblaze security panelThis panel is primarily informational but it’s also where I entered my private encryption key.

Reports

There’s three report panels that are informational.

Restores

Backblaze restore panelThe restore panel is informational and shows the three restore options.

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

Pros

  • Low Cost
  • Easy to Use
  • Fast backup (no throttling noticed – limitation seemed to be my connection)

Cons

  • 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.

 

SuperDuper! Backup to Synology NAS (or any NAS/Home Server)

I wanted to schedule an regular complete system backup with SuperDuper without having to connect an external drive. My Synology NAS became the destination.

At one time I only used SuperDuper! (I’m dropping the exclamation from this point on) to create a backup image to an external disk that’s directly attached to my Mac. Because I don’t keep my external drive connected to my Mac I wanted a way to have a full image backup done automatically every night. This way I’d always get a full image backup without me needing to actually do something. I decided to use my Synology NAS for this, although any NAS or home server share should work.

I use my Synology DS1511+ NAS as my repository for everything backup. I created a new share on the NAS since no existing share was really suitable. I’ll use one share for all my SuperDuper images so that they’ll be easier to find and manage. I called it “SuperDuper” (imaginative, I know). My ID has read/write access to the share.

I could keep the drive mounted all the time and simply schedule SuperDuper to do the backup every night. But I dislike having my backups always connected to the computer they are protecting. SuperDuper will automatically mount the share if it’s not mounted. This was recent news to me, learned as I was creating a macro to auto-mount the share and found that SuperDuper was doing it already. This is SuperDuper 2.7.2 and OS X 10.9.2, both the latest versions at this time. I created a Keyboard Maestro macro to unmount the drive when SuperDuper exits.

Continue reading “SuperDuper! Backup to Synology NAS (or any NAS/Home Server)”

OS Quest Trail Log #81: What I Use – March 2014 Edition

I’m long overdue in updating what I use. This covers the hardware and software I currently and includes Macs, Windows and Synology devices and their related software.

It’s been over a year since I recapped what I use so it’s past time for an update. The timing is also good since I’m about to begin re-examing the way I do things and this will get me going. Not too much has changed in over a year, which means either what I use is pretty solid, or I’m complacent, or I’m lazy. I’d like to think it’s because they’re solid choices.

Server/NAS

Windows Home Server

It seems like there was always constant change in this area. So I was a bit surprised to see that not much has changed.

Even though Windows Home Server 2011 is a dying product it won’t drop off support in April 2016. My server has been solid and I don’t have any plans to replace it until I need to, or something clearly better for me comes along. It has four 3TB drives (no RAID) for data storage and a 160GB drive for the OS. It’s an HP MicroServer with a AMD N36L processor and 8 GB of RAM. The server is used primarily for video files and other files I want long term storage for but don’t use frequently. The only add-in is Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011.

Synology NAS

Synology feature image tile - blackThings have been stable here too. My Synology DS1511+ NAS was reduced to 1 expansion bay and a total of ten 3 TB drives back in October 2012 and that’s where it still stands.

The DS1511+ is dedicated to backups. The WHS box does a backup to it using Cloudberry Backup via a ISCSI connected drive. It serves as a Time Machine backup destination for all my Macs. Until I retired my web server it backed up to the Synology NAS using rsync. My other Synology NAS boxes also back up to it.

The Synology DS212+ NAS that I added in May 2012 is still going strong. I did swap the two SSDs with two 500GB Western Digital Velociraptor drives in a Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). In this case the SHR is just a mirror. This runs my Synology applications and serves my critical data files from an encrypted share. Synology applications include CloudStation, Photo Station, Audio Station and Video Station, all of which have mobile apps.

My original Synology DS212J is still used for testing and experimentation.

Both the DS212+ and DS212J are run the latest DSM 5 beta which has been reliable. I need stability from the DSM 1511+ so it’s still on DSM 4.

Desktop & Laptop Computers

This is where there have been the most changes, and where the most changes are likely to occur in the near future.

Synergy is used for mouse and keyboard sharing between my desktops and the laptop when it’s at my desk.

Mac OS X

Black Apple logoMy MacBook Air was replaced just days ago with a late 2013 MacBook Pro. The MB Pro is a 13″ Retina Display with 16GB of RAM, a 2.4GHz I5 cpu and a 256GB SSD. While the CPU is a step down, I found I rarely needed the CPU horsepower but I was severely memory constrained. The Air maxes at 8GB and that wouldn’t have been enough for me.

My desk has a late 2012 Mac Mini with a 2.3GHz i7, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB Fusion drive. It was just moved to be front and center on my desk so it’s hooked to my primary monitor which is a Dell S2340T monitor. It also drives a second monitor, a Acer H223H 23″ monitor.

Windows 8.1

Windows LogoMy Windows hardware remains the same but now runs Windows 8. The drives have changes. There are now two SSDs in RAID 0 as a 500 GB system drive and two more SSDs as a 500 GB RAID 0 data drive. I recently added a 2 TB spinning drive for file storage. The RAID 0 (scary RAID) is provide by the on-board controller and has been surprisingly reliable. Backup is to the WHS server using the connector software. The ancient Apple 20″ Cinema Display is now attached to this Windows box and the universe hasn’t exploded.

Future Considerations

I moved the Mac Mini to be front and center on my desk, replacing the Windows 8 desktop because I’m considering going “all-in” with Macs as my desktops and laptops. Part of this is because I want to free up the desktop hardware for other uses. The desktop hardware is the most capable hardware I have for some server testing. It helps that I’m finding myself more productive on the Macs.

Portable, Mobile and Media Devices

My Windows RT came and went. I liked it, a lot actually. But it was still rough around the edges and I found I wasn’t using it much anymore. I may get a replacement in the future but for now it’s gone.

I still have the third generation iPad and also don’t use that very much. It never leaves the house. It’s primarily used for viewing videos from Amazon or from my Synology NAS. I also use it for viewing reference books on my desk through Kindle reader.

I have a Nexus 7 with AT&T wireless and this is the tablet that leaves the house with me. I ended up using very little AT&T data but I like having it available without needing to tether. I also gets a lot of use around the house. Except for Amazon it used the same way as my iPad. There are a few additional apps on it that I’ll cover in future posts.

Nokia Lumia 928 next to the iPhone 4SMy primary phone is an iPhone 5S on Verizon. I still have my Nokia 928 Windows Phone which is also on Verizon. I like the Windows Phone OS but the apps are frustrating. It’s not the lack of apps, but the quality. I don’t know if they’re buggy because they are hard to write or because not enough resources are dedicated to writing the apps. For example, I need to constantly bookmark the audio books in Audible because it frequently forgets where I am. The frustration drove me back to using the iPhone as my primary phone.

I have a Microsoft Wedge Mobile keyboard that I use primarily with the Nexus 7 although it works with the iPad and iPhone too.

You can see the iOS apps I’ve tried on Applr although I’ve only begun to review the apps and favorite the ones I like.

My TV is still the same Vizio 42″ and the DVD player is the same LG BD670. My TV viewing has changed from basic cable to a digital antennae for over the air broadcasts.

Home Network

I still run pfSense on an HP MicroServer and it’s still reliable. The HP ProCurve Gigabit Managed Switch that could do link aggregation was destroyed in a water pipe break and wasn’t replaced. Basic NetGear Gigabit switches are currently used.

The Netgear WNDR3700 router still does wireless duties. It’s dual band and I have both a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz wireless network. The 5 GHz network gets less interference so it’s the network of choice whenever possible. A D-Link DAP-1522 serves as a wireless bridge to my workbench.

My ISP is still Comcast and they’ve been reliable as long as I don’t have to talk to a person. It seems every human interaction requires a follow-up or three to fix a new problem. Luckily these interactions are rarely needed.

Software

I’m finding Mac apps are allowing me to be more productive. So I’ve been tentatively moving away from my focus on cross-platform apps. This has just begun so we’ll see where it leads.

Productivity & Communication

I use Google Apps for Domains for most of my email. I do use Microsoft Outlook.com for one heavily used email.

My primary browser is Google Chrome but I use Firefox too. With my emphasis on using OS X I just started trying Safari as my primary browser. It’s improved over my last attempt but the jury is still out.

LastPass is my password manager. I have a Microsoft Office 365 Home subscription and it’s my Office suite.

I have several cloud services but primarily use three of them. Synology’s CloudStation is my private cloud. There’s no Internet storage but all my devices can get back to my Synology NAS and sync over the Internet.

Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) also gets a lot of use. My phone photos get saved to it automatically, my Office docs use it, and I use it whenever I do want offsite storage.

I use a free DropBox account for apps  that require it for syncing.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Drive haven’t caught on with me although I do use them in cases where they integrate well with an app or service.

My finance app has switched to Quicken. It’s the least annoying of my choices. This is mainly because it can easily do online updates of all my accounts. I’ve skipped this year’s upgrade and will consider alternatives again when support runs out with their 2015 release.

Backup & Security Software and Services

As I mentioned, I run the Cloudberry Backup on my Windows Home Server. It backs up to both offsite to Amazon Glacier and locally to my Synology DS1511+ NAS. For my Macs I use Arq Backup for offsite backup to Amazon S3 and Glacier and Time Machine for local backups to my Synology DS1511+ NAS. My Windows machines, both physical and virtual, use WHS backup. They don’t store critical data so there’s no offsite backup.

I also use CrashPlan on my Windows Home Server for redundant offsite backup.

I use Microsoft Security Essentials on my Windows PCs, including virtual machines. I use Malware Bytes on my main Windows PC. I don’t use anything on my Macs and rely on safe computing habits. I do use ScriptSafe and NoScript in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. I haven’t found a comparable add-in I like for Safari.

Digital Media and Entertainment

I dropped my Netflix subscription after it went unused for two months. I liked the online streaming and some of their exclusive shows but just didn’t use it.

Video is from my own DVD library or Amazon Online Video. My DVD library is ripped to files and sits on my WHS. I copy some video files to my Synology NAS to simplify viewing on my devices. I also use VLC Media Player for viewing. Slysoft AnyDVD along with Handbrake to rip and transcode my DVDs. MakeMKV is used on the few Blue-Rays that I have.

I have Amazon Prime and do view Prime Video. I also buy some TV series through Amazon Video which is considerably cheaper than a cable TV subscription.

My photo management is messy at the moment. I mainly use Aperture to organize and touch-up photos I’ve taken since they are raw files. JPGs and others usually just get saved in a folder structure. Synology Photo Station is used to manage and view pictures in those folder.

Misc Apps

Evernote is my primary information organizer. Pinboard is my bookmarking service. I no longer use Sumatra PDF for viewing PDFs, I find both the Windows and OSX native viewers fine for my needs.

LogMeIn is still my current remote access tool although the free version is going away. My free version extension is up in July and I’ll switch to something else before then.

VirtualBox runs my virtual machines. It’s free and good enough for my needs.

Path Finder is my file manager of choice on OS X. Transmit is my FTP client of choice and is also Mac only.

That about sums it up in just under 2,000 words. I suspect applications will be changing in the next few months but hardware should be pretty stable for the rest of the year unless things start breaking.

The OS Quest Trail Log #76: What I Use – October 2012

It’s time to update what I use since my May posting is a bit outdated.. This covers the hardware and software I currently use. This includes Macs, Windows and Synology devices and their related software.

It’s been 5 months since I last wrote about what I use. Now’s a good time to recap what I currently use since I expect some big changes between now and the year end. Not much has changed with the  iPad apps I use so I’ve updated th original article. Changes are mainly removing apps I no longer use. Likewise, there haven’t been any changes with what keeps this website running other than version upgrades to keep things current. Now it’s time to update the big list. What I use in the home.

Servers/NAS

I continue to be addicted to servers and hard drives. I actually reduced the number of spinning drives from 28 drives spinning 24 X 7 down to fourteen. This doesn’t include a couple SSDs in a NAS.

Windows Home Server 2011

My WHS 2011 has been a solid, steady performer so there haven’t been any changes. My main home server is HP MicroServer running Windows Home Server 2011 is at the center of my home network. It has four 3 TB drives for data (no RAID) and a 160GB drive for the OS. It has an AMD N36L processor with 8 GB of RAM. The only add-in I run is Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011 to backup to Amazon S3 and locally. I also use CrashPlan for additional offsite backup.

Synology NAS

There’s been some changes here. I have a Synology 1511+ NAS with two expansion bays. There are fifteen 3 TB Seagate Barracuda ST3000DM001 drives. I’ve done some digital cleanup so one of these expansion bays is kept powered off to save electricity. This NAS is dedicated to various backup functions. My WHS 2011 box backs up to it via an iSCSI drive. It serves as a Time Machine backup destination for my Macs. I also backup this web server to it using Rsync. Finally, it syncs files with my other Synology NAS as a backup for them.

I added a Synology DS212+ NAS back in late May. This has two mirrored (technically Synology Hybrid RAID) 256GB SSD drives in it. This is used as a file sharing and application server. I have an encrypted file share for personal file storage. This is basically anything that isn’t media or old file archives. I also have Synology CloudStation set up on it for syncing files among my devices. PhotoStation is also running as this NAS is now my primary photo storage location. I’ve also just begun testing Audio Station on it.

I still have my original Synology NAS, a DS212J NAS which has been relegated to testing and experimentation.

Small Business Server 2011 Essentials Windows Storage Server

I’ve retired my Western Digital DX4000 which had been running SBS 2011e Windows Storage Server 2008 R2

Desktop & Laptop Computers

No hardware changes here, just a OS upgrade on the Mac side to Mountain Lion.

Mac OS X

Measured by the time I use it, my primary computer would be my mid-2011 MacBook Air with Core i7 processor and 4 GB RAM along with a 256 Gb SSD drive. It runs OS X 10.8 Lion.

My desk has a late 2009 Mac Mini with a 2.66 GHz Core Two Duo, 4 GB RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. It’s connected to a old 20” Apple Cinema Display. I use Synergy to share the mouse/keyboard that’s on my Windows 7 desktop PC. It runs OS X 10.8 Lion.

Windows 7

My home built desktop is a Windows 7 Pro PC with with a AMD Athlon II x6 1090T processor and 16 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD drive. There’s also a 160 GB Velociraptor drive along with two 7200 rpm 1 GB drives. The SSD and Velociraptor are the primary drives while the 1GB drives are used primarily for Virtual Machines. Data is kept on my Windows How Server. For graphics it has a Radeon HD 6870 video card connected to a Acer H213H 21.5” monitor. I’ve been planning a monitor upgrade but never pulled the trigger. With two monitors on my desk going bigger would cramp things on my desk (or require wall mounts or stands) and I use the laptop more these days.

Portable, Mobile & Media Devices

No changes here since May, so to recap…

My phone is a 64GB iPhone 4S on Verizon. I’ve been with Verizon as long as I can remember (my least objectionable telecom) and had an iPhone since there’s been one on Verizon. My iPhone is also my podcast and music player. I also have tethering on this phone.

I have an 64GB iPad 3rd Gen, also on Verizon. I only use the data plan a few months a year, such as when I’m on vacation or on extended business travels. Since tethering is currently free with the data plan I dropped my iPhone tethering for awhile to see if the iPad data was worth it. It wasn’t beneficial enough for me so I dropped the data plan and went back to iPhone tethering. I already covered the iPad apps I use.

I also have a Kindle Fire that’s mainly used for Video and short reading sessions. My Kindle Reader is used for longer, leisure reading sessions.

I have a LG BD670 Blu-ray player connected to my TV. It has built in wireless. I can view Amazon video using an app (bad, bad UI). There are other apps but I don’t use them. I can view video from my Windows Home Server over wireless or plug in a USB stick or drive.

The TV is a Vizio 42” TV that was inexpensive and works great. My only complaint is it’s annoying tendency to reboot when I’m watching something so it can apply a firmware update.

Home Network

Things have been stable since May, so again, no changes here.

My router is pfSense 2 running on an HP MicroServer. It’s reliable and I like it. This is connected to a HP ProCurve J9450A Gigabit switch. The switch supports link aggregation which I can use with my Synology 1511+ in addition to being a managed switch with a lot of features I’ll never need. It was the lowest cost Gigabit switch I found that did link aggregation and I’ve been happy with it’s performance.

For my wireless network I use a Netgear WNDR3700 router. I don’t use it as a router (since switching to pfSense), just a wireless access point. It’s dual band so I have a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz network set up. I use the 5 GHz network whenever possible since it’s less common and therefore has less interference from nearby apartments. I also have a D-Link DAP-1522 Wireless Bridge on my workbench so I can plug in non-wireless computers.

My ISP is Comcast. They’ve been reliable and performance is good. I’ve bumped against their data cap a few times thanks to backups but recent news has them finally re-evaluating the caps. It does seem that every time I actually have to talk to a person it causes a problem and an outage (new modem, moving, etc…) but luckily they’ve been reliable so I rarely have to talk to them.

Software

Since I run both OS X and Windows I gravitate to cross-platform apps and web apps. Back in May I was using Wakoopa to track my actual app usage, but that service has been shut down.

Productivity & Communication

I primarily use Google Apps for Domains for my email. I moved one account to Microsoft’s new Outlook.com. I no longer use Mailplane as my mail client, sticking to the web browser now that GAFD does a good job of handling multiple logons.

My primary browser is now Google Chrome. It’s back to being temperamental again so I’m spending more time back in Firefox. LastPass is still my choice to manage passwords and secure notes. I’ve been a LastPass user since the early days and subscribe to their premium service. LastPass works on all my browsers and iOS devices. I no longer use XMarks (or anything else) to sync bookmarks.

I make occasional use of Skype and I do use Twitter.

I moved from Office 2010 to the Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium Preview. I’ll probably subscribe when it goes to production although that depends on pricing.

Windows Live Mesh and Skydrive have been replaced by Synology CloudStation. Skydrive is still around but not used much. Dropbox is also used for those times it’s the only choice. Both my Skydrive and Dropbox accounts are the free subscriptions. I also have a Spideroak account (free subscription level) that I wanted to like for cloud storage but it had problems syncing OS X package files (Bento specifically) so I haven’t trusted it on the Mac side.

My finance/checkbook app has switched from YNAB to Money Dance after a terrible upgrade experience. Money Dance also runs on Windows and OS X.

Backup & Security Software and Services

I use Amazon S3 for critical files. I pay a bit more than I did in May, just under $7/mth now with over 60GB on S3. Amazon is one of the few services I trust to not lose my files. They’ve been doing it awhile and they’re truly “cloud”, with the files stored across multiple data centers.

Cloudberry and CrashPlan remain my backup solutions for Windows Home Server 2011. Cloudberry for local and critical files to Amazon S3 while CrashPlan is for bulk offsite backup.

For Mac backups I use Arq Backup which backs up to Amazon S3 using a Time Machine metaphor. It’s a well thought out, great piece of software. I don’t keep much data on my Macs so this is mainly for settings and when I travel with my latop. I also use Time Machine on my Macs with the Synology NAS as my destination.

I use Microsoft Security Essentials on my Windows PCs and nothing on my Macs. I use the NoScript add-in for Firefox and NotScripts for Chrome to limit what web pages can do. I also have a copy of MalwareBytes but that’s mainly because I’ve needed it for other PCs. For the most part I rely on safe computing habits rather than software for security.

Digital Media & Entertainment

I stopped using iTunes Match shortly after signing up in May due to sync and other issues. I hate iTunes as an application but like it as a music manager. These days I mainly purchase music through Amazon but will still buy through the iTunes Store and even a few albums on sale through Google Play. I don’t use any cloud service for music beyond Amazon and Google for the music I’ve bought from them.

Video is either from my own DVD library or Amazon Online Video. I’m a Prime member so have access to their Prime Video library. For online video I’m generally looking for “something to watch” rather than something specific and Amazon Prime works for this. I only have basic cable (the real basic cable with over the air channels only) so I do buy videos I want through Amazon. I recently re-subscribed to the Netflix DVD service to expand my options. All this is still cheaper than a cable subscription.

VLC Media Player is my player of choice for Windows and Mac. I use Slysoft AnyDVD  along with Handbrake to rip DVDs from my library and encode them for playing on my various devices. I use Slysoft CloneDVD to make backups of my DVDs. I only do this for DVDs I own. This makes them more convenient to watch and protects me when a DVD goes bad (which they frequently do, especially the two-sided ones). It also makes it easier to store them since they can go in boxes and be stored in a closet.

I still organize Photos using a folder structure but I now store them on my Synology DS212+ NAS and use PhotoStation. Other photo management software can still access them since they are just files. I did upgrade to Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 but I’m still trying to get the hang of it. Acorn is still my primary editor.

I’ve been using Aperture for new photos I’ve been taking, I use a reference library that points to the photos on the NAS,

Misc Apps

I use Sumatra PDF rather than Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. I also use Evernote for information capture and storage. I use Instapaper as my read later service and PinBoard as my bookmarking service.

I use LogMeIn for remote access. I have the paid account from my Windows Home Server and free counts everywhere else. I may not renew the paid account when it expires in June.

I use VirtualBox for virtual machines on Windows. I run several on my Windows 7 desktop. I use VMWare for virtual machines on my MacBook Air.

 

CrashPlan Comes Through

I was recently asked if I still recommend CrashPlan. I do. And here’s two recent events that help me recommend it.

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backup

Just a quick article to sing the praises of CrashPlan. Greg recently posted a comment asking if I still use CrashPlan on my WHS 2011 box. I do. I also had two recent occurrences where CrashPlan features came through to help me out.

First, my iTunes sync to my iPhone started reporting sync issues due to missing music files. A little research showed it was individual songs from a few different albums and they were deleted around the time I was trying out iTunes Match back in June. I was able to use CrashPlan to restore the missing music files. Even though they were deleted from the computer CrashPlan keeps them around forever (or until I stop paying the bill).

Second, both my Cloudberry backup to Amazon S3 and the CrashPlan backup stopped working around the same time. After two days CrashPlan sent me an alert email because there weren’t any recent backups. Since Cloudberry didn’t have a hard error there wasn’t an alert. While not doing a backup isn’t good, at least Cloudberry caught the problem. For the record – simply restarting both backup jobs resolved the issue. I suspect the problems were related to thunderstorms that rolled through around the times the problem occurred.

CrashPlan is having a back to school sale through Sept 8th and are offering 20% off 1 and 2 year plans. Unfortunately (for me) it appears to be for new accounts only.

World Backup Day

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupIt’s world backup day. I was surprised to find it’s not a creation of a greeting card company or some other commercial entity. Even so, businesses have latched on with promotions on backup related products. According to CNet World Backup Day was created by:

…Ismail Jadun, a biology student from Youngstown State in Ohio who saw the need for it after reading comments on the lack of backup awareness on social news site Reddit.

There are several offers and links to backup how to articles on their site. But the unbeatable offer I saw cam through my email –  50% off Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server. It’s $14.99 through April 7, 2012. I use Cloudberry to create my critical backups. I do hourly backups of my critical data to Amazon S3 (Amazon S3 costs are additional) and then nightly backups of everything to a local NAS. In the past I’ve done backups to attached external drives.

I also use CrashPlan as a safety offsite backup. They don’t seem to be offering any discounts today (just a free e-book with sign-up) but they are relatively inexpensive if you have a lot of data you want to store offsite. They do have special offers occasionally which is how I signed up. Data caps and slow upload speeds limit its use for massive amounts of data, which is one way they get away with an unlimited data plan.

I guess the concept of World Backup Day is a good way to remind people, but backups should be a every day occurrence.

CrashPlan Upgrades to 3.2

CrashPlan has released version 3.2, a minor update. I also update my current CrashPlan backup status.

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupCrashPlan has upgrades to version 3.2. The details are here. There’s some new features of course, although none that I’ll be using. There’s also a few bugfixes:

  • Real-time file watcher now works properly on Linux installations with 3.x series kernels
  • Attaching an archive no longer adversely affects existing archive.
  • Setting up a backup to an attached drive no longer redirects to the local install path of CrashPlan.

None of those bugs bit me.

I run CrashPlan on Windows Home Server 2011 and Crashplan updated itself about 1AM this morning, shortly before it’s scheduled backup start time at 2AM. Not sure if that was coincidence or intentional preparation.

I like how CrashPlan has been “basically set it and forget it”. I have it set to send me an alert if no backup occurs in 2 days. Even though CrashPlan is a safety backup of stuff already backed up,  I don’t want the surprise of finding out I need it and there hasn’t been a backup in 3 months.

I haven’t given a status in awhile. I’m up to 363 GB stored with them. That’s more than Comcast’s data cap (250 GB) will allow me to restore in a month so if disaster strikes I’ll either need a couple months or some fast talking. So I haven’t been looking to add much more to the backup beyond changes of current selections.

CrashPlan is still on my recommended list for WHS backups, even if it’s not officially supported. CrashPlan related articles are here.

Backup Failure: Cloudberry – Synology Case Confusion

My Cloudberry backup started failing a couple days ago, saying it couldn’t find two file. It was a minor problem but it took some time to figure out. It was a lesson in mixing and matching file systems.

Frustrated Man tileHad an interesting problem with my Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server that took longer to resolve than it should have, even though it was minor. To set the stage, I use rsync to backup my website to my Synology 1511+ NAS running DSM 4. The web server and the Synology NAS both run Linux and a case sensitive file system (hint, hint). I then use Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server to backup those files to Amazon S3 (Paranoid? Yup). Cloudberry connects to the Synology NAS through a Windows type share.

When the backup failed I checked the logs like a good troubleshooter and the logs said that 2 files couldn’t be found. Both were cache files on the server that only get updated once a week and sure enough the problems started after the last cache rebuild. I tried accessing both the original and backup copies of the files by pasting in the long path from the logs. All the files were there.

I then deleted the backup copied of the files in case it was an access issue. Both files deleted easily. The next backup resulted in the same errors and the files weren’t replaced. So next step was to refresh the Cloudberry database. Maybe what it thought was backed up was out of sync with reality. These are time consuming processes to run, but only a few clicks of my time to start. Same backup error in the logs.

Since these were cache files (static copies of dynamic content to reduce server load) they weren’t important so I called it quits for the night. Naturally the errors were there in the morning. But this time I read the console status and the error was some paths were not accessible. The logs themselves still said the two specific files were missing.

An inaccessible directory with many files is different than two missing specific files. This time rather then cutting/pasting the path to the file I browsed directory by directory to the path on the web server. And there was the problem. I had two directories with the same name, one in lower case and one in upper case characters. The lower case name was the one being backed up and with content. The upper case one was empty. Upper and lower case are unique in Linux but not in Windows. And since Cloudberry was accessing the files through what it considered a Windows share it was totally confused as was Windows Explorer when I had browsed to it. Synology and my web server had no problems differentiating case. I went in through the Synology File Station software (it’s version of File Explorer) and deleted the empty upper case directory names. I did the same on my web server. The backup ran error free.

So it looks like my caching software created an upper case directory name for some still unknown reason. It hasn’t been changed in a long while so no clue as to why it did it now. If it repeats the problem in a week at least I’ll know how to quickly fix it. And if it continues it may be easier to exclude the cache directory from backups than it would be to find out why the directory is being created.

The OS’s and files systems don’t always play well together, sometimes I’m amazed they work at all.

 

Synology Data Replicator 3 – Windows Backup

I wrote about using Synology as a Time Machine backup destination in my previous article. This one will be about using the Synology Data Replicator 3 (DR3) software to backup my Windows PCs. Synology has a fairly large list of supported 3rd party backup applications, but DR3 is bundled with the Synology NAS so I’ll give it a try.

Image of Synolog DeskStation 212jI wrote about using Synology as a Time Machine backup destination in my previous article. This one will be about using the Synology Data Replicator 3 (DR3) software to backup my Windows PCs. Synology has a fairly large list of supported 3rd party backup applications, but DR3 is bundled with the Synology NAS so I’ll give it a try.

I’m running Synology DiskStation Manager 4 beta (DSM4) on the Synology DS212j. There isn’t a new Data Replicator software version for the DSM 4 beta so I’m using the version that was on the DSM 3 DVD that shipped with my NAS. I also checked the Synology website and it’s the latest version. For testing I have my Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) PC and a Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit) virtual machine.

The software installation is straight-forward and uncomplicated so I won’t post screenshots. The only issue I had was that the DVD menu (spawned by autorun) didn’t have the privileges necessary to run the install and rather than generate a error or other message it just ignored the click. Running the install directly presented the expected UAC prompt and all was well. The software is in the WindowData Replicator 3 directory on the DVD.

When I started DR3 the first time I was prompted by the Windows 7 prompt to let Data Replicator 4 through the Windows firewall. Between this pop-up and the program itself there was a jumble of dialog boxes, one of which that said DR3 would have a problem because opening up the firewall failed. I cleared that warning and dug through the windows to find the firewall prompt and OK’d it. Everything ran fine after that.

The main program screen is shown below (click for full size):Data Replicator 3 main screen

Clicking the “Select” button runs through a series of dialog boxes to select the target Synology server and then the shared folder on that server. I selected my home folder on the server although you can choose any share the ID has access to.

Once the folder is selected I’d suggest going into options before doing any backup. The options are shown below:

Synology Data Replicator 3 options screen

The screenshot shows the default options. I decided to enable 3 file versions and 30 restore points. I also enabled deleting the backed up files when the local file is deleted.

The restore point option is similar to Apple’s Time Machine. It’s a point in time that has a copy of all backup files as they existed at that time. According to the docs these are not unique copies in each restore point, only one copy of each file is kept. This linking is well hidden but appears to be true. File properties through both Windows and Synology’s own File Station software show unique files and in fact show size totals for the backup directory tree as if they were unique files. But when disk space used is viewed through Storage Manager it’s obvious there’s only one copy per file. File Stations and Windows show over 27 GB of files in my backup folder but there’s less than 10 GB of space used on the entire disk (and that 10 GB is more than the backups).

File Structure On Synology NAS

Each PC and user combination gets a unique directory name that contains the backups for that user/PC combination. For example, my two PCs are:

Data Replicator 3 directory structure

The backups, snapshots and versions are in sub-directories of those directories.

Backups

The first screenshot at the top shows the main screen where the files to be backed up can be selected. It’s pretty standard file selection stuff. Even though some mail can be backed up, it’s mail that resides in files on the PC. I didn’t test any mail backup since I don’t use the supported apps.

Backups can be done three ways:

Immediate – the backup runs when you click the button

Sync – the files will be monitored and any changes will be replicated. You’ll be prompted to do a immediate incremental backup when you select sync. This is to catch and changes when files weren’t being monitored.

Schedule – Like the name says. Schedule a daily, weekly or monthly backup

Restores

Restores are wizard based and can be done by restore point. Any in progress backups, including sync monitoring, must be stopped before doing a restore. You can also simply browse the backed up files and pull out the one you want.

Using DR3 and Impressions

Data Replicator 3 isn’t the slickest interface out there, nor the quickest, nor feature rich. But as a file based backup program it’s not bad. The strongest features are the immediate syn and file versions.

DR3 does have some annoyances. Assuming syncing is enabled and set to start when windows boots, there will be a prompt to do a backup and then the backup progress will be on screen and can’t be closed until the backup is done. Turning off the consistency check avoids this, but at the risk of missing changes unless there’s a manual or scheduled backup done. This consistency check can take awhile for what seems like little data.

Cancelling an in progress backup causes the next backup to do a cleanup as it removes a temporary folder. This also takes awhile.

The restore points only seem to occur for the incremental backup. My DR3 restore points are all when I restarted DR3. Maybe when I run it longer and leave it undisturbed it will create a restore point. But I doubt it and it it does it’s undocumented.

The default backup selections cover the standard location for data files. If you save data in non-standard locations you’ll have to manually select them. The same if you want to back up programs. There’s no concept of file sets – such as a files of a certain type anywhere on the disk.

I save data on my Windows Home Server and have very little on my PC, so I have little need for the sync and version features. My existing Windows Home Server backup provides a bare metal restore along with file versions so I’ll stick with that even though it limited to once a day (or manual backups).

Considering Synology isn’t in the business of making backup software I expected the typical bundled software half-effort so a feature check box could be ticked. Instead I found Synology’s Data Replicator 3 to be a good (not great) software package that can do the job of protecting data files.

Cloudberry Continuous Data Protection

I enabled CDP for my “hourly” backup soon after installing the update. It didn’t work exactly as I expected but the differences didn’t affect the actual backups. I also did some additional stress testing to check out performance and this is what I found.

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupCloudberry recently added Continuous Data Protection (CDP) to their backup software, including Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server 2011. This seems like something I can use to replace my hourly backup so I decided to do some testing. I switched the hourly backup to use a CDP schedule instead. I use the hourly backup to move my most important files offsite (Amazon S3) soon after they’re created. I don’t use RAID so if I lose a disk the data needs to be restored from backup and the hourly backup was my solution. The new CDP option seems like a good fit.

I enabled CDP for my “hourly” backup soon after installing the update. It didn’t work exactly as I expected but the differences didn’t affect the actual backups. I also did some additional stress testing to check out performance and this is what I found.

Using CDP

The CloudBerry blog post said…

Under the hood the changes are captured instantly but the data is uploaded to Cloud storage every 10 minutes.

But I found that the backups occur or are checked for every minute. According to the logs they’re uploaded immediately.  The blog posts also mentions this is configurable although I’ve yet to find where this can be configured in the WHS add-in.

Using CDP takes some getting used to because it changes the way the add-in reports it’s status. It would be less of a problem for someone not used to a regular schedule or is less concerned with checking the status regularly.

The screenshot below shows the status screen for my “hourly” backup several days after CDP was enabled.

Cloudberry CDP status screen

 

Some items of note:

  • The job status is always “running”. The status message uses the term “instant backup” when waiting for files to be backed up.
  • The “files uploaded” only shows the status for the last “instant backup”. If there was nothing to do then the files uploaded is 0. Checking the history shows that file uploads and purges are taking place as required. So while disconcerting, it’s only a cosmetic problem.
  • Since the backup just never ends there’s no email updates for success or errors. I used email to let me know if there was a backup error. The emails only go at the end of a job so even if there are errors (such as an open file) I don’t get an email. In fact, trying to set up an email status report for a CDP backup resulted in a error. This error read more like a bug than a message saying the feature was unavailable.
  • Rather than a 10 minute interval, a 60 second countdown begins when a “instant backup” is completed. Any waiting files are then backed up and uploaded to Amazon S3.
  • If I stop the backup by clicking “Stop Backup” it doesn’t restart. Rebooting the server does restart the CDP backup jobs.
  • Error handling is inconsistent. In my testing the backup would typically ignore errors created by open/locked files. These were valid and when the files where closed they would be backed up. So it was good the job kept running. But there was one instance where a file was moved after being flagged for backup but before it was backed up. This was a valid condition (an iTunes podcast download which downloads to a temp directory and is then moved). The backup job recorded this as an error but then stopped any additional processing. Since CDP backup plans don’t seem to restart on their own this is a problem.

Stress Testing

There wasn’t any noticeable impact changing the my hourly backup to use CDP. The HP MicroServers are relatively low powered and not capable of doing many intense tasks at once. The only add-in I run is the Cloudberry Backup add-in so I was a bit concerned it would impact streaming or other activity. There’s no noticeable load on the server while it’s waiting/looking for updated files. When there’s files to back up the load isn’t any more than the hourly backup and in theory may be less since it spreads the backups out over the hour rather than all at once. Most of the files in this backup plan get updated overnight through automated jobs (website backups, etc…) while the rest of the changes are data file changes. Still I decided to do some load testing.

I copied 121,000 files totaling 60 GB to the same drive I would be streaming a video from. I also copied that set of test files to a second drive. As a control I watched a streaming video while the files were being copied. I RDP’d into the server to do the copies so they were all local drive to drive copies. The streaming worked for awhile until a certain point where it first became slightly annoying until it eventually became unwatchable. At this time there were two file copies going on. One was copying from a directory on the drive (where the files were streaming from) to a second directory on the same drive. Another copy was running from a second drive to the streaming drive.

I have 7 backup plans. A full description can be found in my recent backup review but for purposes of this test I set all backup plans to use CDP. There were three backup plans that matched my test files so they began backing up while the other 4 just watched for files. Each of the test drives had a backup plan dedicated to them and would be doing local backups to eSATA drives so the backup wouldn’t be hindered by network or other limitations. So each drive would be backing up as quickly as the data could be read and written to disk. The third plan included all four drives in the server and backed up to a NAS. So this would be reading from both test drives but only one at a time.

Like the file copies my video stream started off fine and ran for awhile but then it became annoying as it would frequently stop and need to catch up. So no worse than a comparable file copy although still too annoying to be acceptable (while subjective, I doubt anyone would be happy). Not surprising since the backup is not much more than a file copy.

Once the backups were done and the backup plans were just watching I didn’t have a problem streaming and reading files off the server.  Deleting the test files and then letting Cloudberry update their status (I save deleted files for several days so they weren’t actually purged) didn’t affect streaming.

Summary

The good news was that my testing showed that CDP didn’t add any significant overhead above the actual file copies. The bad news is my server isn’t designed to handle a lot of simultaneous activity or file copies. Because of the way I have the shares and rives set up and the way I use the server I may not notice an impact even with CDP set on all plans. Two of the plans go to destinations that aren’t always online so CDP isn’t a good option for them and the other plans rarely have simultaneous changes. Still, CDP is far from a universal solution for me.

I’ve left CDP enabled for what was my hourly backup to Amazon S3 but I’ve returned all the other backup plans to their previous schedule. A lot of times there’s no need for immediate backup and I’d rather wait until all updates are made or a set of files is fully processed. Because of what I send to Amazon S3 I’m less likely to have issues and it’s been fine since being enabled. I do fel I need to monitor it more than I did when I used a hourly backup, if only to make sure it’s still running and that may end up being enough to go back to an hourly schedule if I don’t become more comfortable with CDP’s reliability.

[Update Dec 30, 2011]: I was able to configure email notifications for one CDP plan and it did send a notification when that plan ended with a failure. Unfortunately the CDP plans don’t restart on their own when an error is encountered so I’ve gone back to an hourly schedule for critical backups.