By April 10, 2012

Always have a backup: my review of online storage service CrashPlan

Late last month my home file server suffered a catastrophic meltdown, in which the power supply died. The power supply destroyed two hard drives, including my operating system drive, and damaged a third drive so badly I couldn’t read any data from it. The electrical problem caused the rest of the system to behave erratically, including the hardware RAID controller card that managed all of my hard disks.

After almost a week and a half of trying to recover my data, I threw in the towel. Almost 5TB of data was to be lost, including my CD collection I’d ripped to MP3, all of my Gibberish videos, my firearms training videos, and workout programs.

The one thing I wouldn’t lose, however, were our family photos — I’d saved them to online data storage service CrashPlan, and just need to start the restoration process.

CrashPlan+ overview

In October of 2010 I started paying for the CrashPlan+ service. It has a ton of features, including:

  • Upload files from your computer to their servers. Your files are safe if anything happens to your computer or your home.
  • You can also backup to other computers in your house or external hard drives, like a USB backup drive.
  • You can invite friends or family who are CrashPlan users to serve as “low-hanging cloud” storage. By that, I mean that you back up your encrypted data to their computers, and they back up their data to yours. I never used this function, but it’s a cool idea.
  • Automated differential backups based on the schedule of your choosing. This means only backing up files that have been added or changed. I backed up my photos every week.
  • The ability to restore individual files or a whole buttnest via a Web interface or a desktop software client. Larger backups (more on that later) require the use of the desktop client.
  • You can set CrashPlan to never really delete files, even if they are removed from your home computer. This may be good if you or a family member are a little too twitchy with the delete key. CrashPlan can permanently delete your files if you desire.

I chose CrashPlan over competitors such as Carbonite because of cost, features, and the lack of file size restrictions. Some competitors have storage limits, and I have uploaded over 50GB of photos. Some competitors only allow certain file types, and while I only upload photos to Crash Plan I could have probably stored all of my music as well.

The CrashPlan client backed up my photos quietly and reliably for 18 months. I felt compelled to write about how easy it was to be a CrashPlan customer, but felt like I could only tell half the story. After all, backups are only as good as the restoration process allows.

And then, The Meltdown™.


Put simply, the recovery of over 50GBs of photos was slow and easy. My CrashPlan downloads peaked at 8Mbps, despite my service from Charter reliably performing at 20Mbps. The restore took about eighteen hours, accounting for times when I had to pause the service to do other things on my computer.

As a matter of process, I recommend using a different computer from your main computer to do a restore. There was a lot of disk activity on my main workstation, which made it hard to do video editing, play StarCraft 2, etc. This isn’t the fault of CrashPlan or their software; rather it’s what happens when you write 19,000+ photos to a hard drive.

I complained about the speed, but at the end of the process I was just happy to have all of my photos back. Sure, I wish it would have gone a little faster, but all’s well that ends well.

CrashPlan is strongly recommended.

1 Comment on "Always have a backup: my review of online storage service CrashPlan"

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  1. Ajar says:

    I’m planning to use a NAS to back up my computer as well as Liza’s, and act as a music server as well. Your experience has me thinking that maybe I should consider something like CrashPlan+ as well, for stuff like photos where two copies on site in separate boxes may not be enough redudundancy…