Carbonite – Online Backup

I’m taking a look at Carbonite Backup as my next backup solution. In short, it seems almost perfect. (Almost – because there’s no Mac client although they say one will be coming in early 2007.)

It’s the cheapest backup solution out there, $50/yr or $90 for 2 years with unlimited storage. (I just noticed today that Mozy changed their pricing structure and is now very competitive.) The software installation is quick and easy. Other software software and service vendors should take the hint. There’s a 15-day trial with no credit card needed. My only complaints are with the terms of use, which I mention at the end of this posting.

I signed up for the free trial by entering an e-mail address and picking a password. Then I downloaded the software for installation. Right away it was clear Carbonite paid attention to details. Rather than a generic “How to download” screen it saw I was using Firefox and provided screen shots showing Firefox specific info. (Just to be sure I went into IE and sure enough, IE screen shots).

The install was easy, the only option in the installer was to change the install location. Before the install began I was warned a reboot would be needed although I didn’t need one. At the end of the installation I was asked what I wanted to back up:

  • My Documents & Desktop
  • Manually select backup later
  • Just backup everything (documents and data)

The first option is the default and “strongly recommended” so I pick it. After the installation completes I’m brought to the tour page. There’s animated tours or you can read the info on a tour page,

Naturally, with unlimited storage at a flat rate there has to be limitations elsewhere. Here they are:

  • Won’t back up external or network drives, only internals
  • Doesn’t back up system files, executable and other program files. These files can be individually selected for backup. (Literally, you must select by file.)
  • During the trial period music and videos aren’t backed up
  • Files larger than 2GB aren’t backed up.

Broadband upload speeds are typically much slower than downloads so that first backup will probably take days. My upload connection is rated at 384kps. The My Documents directory on my Windows PC is a relatively small 350MB (after exclusions) and that does backup the first night without a problem.

I went to add a directory off the root of the drive and couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to pick the directory. I move the directory to My Documents and it soon gets included in the backup. I can go up to the drive level and pick the entire drive. So far the sub-directories aren’t included but I also suspect they won’t be added until the current backup finishes or I reboot my PC which forces the backup to look for files before it starts again. For now I’m letting the backup run.

I’m now backing up about 10GB. My backup has been running about 38 hours and is 35% done. But this is based on the upload speed so our times will vary. I did some speed tests prior to starting the backup and again before resuming it after stopping it for the day. My tested speed was around 310kps. When the backup was running the utilization was around 240-260kps so it appears Carbonite uses slightly less than the available bandwidth. When I used the PC doing the backup the utilization dropped a bit. Carbonite does say it releases resources when your using the PC. I also accessed the Internet from my Mac and there was no noticeable impact, although my usage is usually on the download side of things rather than an upload that would compete with the backup.

Some Observations

  • If you have EXE’s you want to back up be sure to select them. While backing up programs isn’t recommended (usually better to re-install) there might be EXE’s you want backed up. If you get software via download it’s usually a single EXE. You may need these if they are not readily available for future downloads. You may have purchased the software or you want to be sure the specific version is available for compatibility with your data files.
  • The instructions make it sound like any directory can be selected for backing up by right-clicking on it and selecting “Back this up”. This hasn’t been my experience so far. Although it works for any file. I suspect once my entire C: drive is selected I’ll then be able to add or remove any directory.
  • Carbonite will limit restores per month ” to avoid abuse”. This seems reasonable to limit their bandwidth costs. They do say they can be contacted to lift the limit in special situations.
  • Carbonite will kp a file for 30 days after it’s deleted so it can be restored.
  • Carbonite only keeps the latest version of a file, it does not keep historical version.

My Only Complaint

My only complaints are related to the terms of use. The clause “Carbonite occasionally will provide automatic upgrades to improve your Carbonite experience, although these upgrades may not be consistent across all platform and devices. You agree to accept and to take no action to interfere with such automatic upgrades, scanning, and related services.” in the terms of use gave me pause. While I agree bandwidth is a significant cost for them and if they can optimize it’s use they should be able to update their software. It’s also software I would want the latest versions for. But these sounds a bit heavy handed. Especially when also combined with “Carbonite may change the Terms of Use at any time, without notice to you, and in its sole discretion. The modified Terms of Use will be effective immediately upon posting on our website and you agree to the new posted Terms of Use by continuing your use of the Carbonite Products.”

I guess it comes down to how much you trust the company. The terms of use seem to give them the right to make updates to your PC. And since they can change the terms of use anytime they could easily change their privacy policy or decide to collect a great deal of information.

There software and website tone seems rally user friendly so I might tend to give them a break on the terms. I’m just really annoyed at what seems to be a general trend in licenses where vendors can do anything to your PC but are responsible for nothing. The tone of the terms seems to be in direct contrast to the tone they set for their service.

There are configuration options to “Allow Carbonite to collect program quality information” and to “Upgrade Automatically”, so these can be turned off. So it appears the programmers appear to have gotten the “be nice” message but the layers didn’t.

They are probably industry standard, or at least common in the industry but that doesn’t make it right. At the very least they should send changes to the terms of use to the e-mail address for the accounts.
The Mozy terms of service state that they may or may not notify us of changes but do say they will attempt it my sending an e-mail address for the account.

FYI – I noticed Mozy recently changed their pricing and are now competitive with Carbonite. It’s now unlimited backup for $4.95 a month, one month free with a year prepaid. Mozy’s a few cents more but all else being equal I’d go with Mozy due to a terms of use that at least tries to acknowledge that they don’t own the PC that their software is on. I detect a rant coming on here so I’ll stop now. I’ll let you know how the Carbonite backup goes.