Review: Backblaze online backup service

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Gizmag takes a quick look at Backblaze, a cloud backup service that offers unlimited PC backup storage for US$5 per month

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Backing up your data can save important documents, digital purchases and years of memories. But even if you never have to restore a single file, backups can still give you peace of mind. Join Gizmag, as we review Backblaze, a simple and affordable service that backs up your entire PC.

There are two potential problems with backing up your entire PC to the cloud. For starters, it typically takes a long time to upload everything. One PC's hard drive can take a couple of weeks to fully upload – even with a fast internet connection. Then there's also the fact that your most important files are now sitting on some company's remote servers. You'd better pick a service with an eye or three on security.

Backblaze can't do much about the time it takes to upload data, but the service does make the process about as painless as possible. After installing the app, you simply let it run in the background. That's it. Sure, there are a few settings you can tweak if you like, but it really can be as simple as "turn on app, forget about it."

I tested Backblaze on a MacBook Air, and it worked like a charm. About 81 GB worth of data, along with another 20 GB or so on an external hard drive, backed up to the company's servers in less than a week. Any time I wanted to check in, a menu bar app was happy to show me the current progress – including the number and size of the remaining files. If I wanted a clearer estimate, a link in the app would guide me to the company's website, where I was told how many days the process was likely to take (the estimates were pretty close).

The app doesn't, by default, throttle uploads, so it can use your full internet bandwidth. If you like, though, you can set it to slow down the backups and clear the pipeline for your other internet activity. You can also pause backups, or even set them to only start manually or at scheduled intervals. I preferred the default "continuous" setting, which automatically backs up everything – even for new files, after the initial backup is complete.

The Backblaze app requires next to nothing from you (well, apart from some money and bandwidth), but it's actually very smart on the backend. It automatically skips system files that were likely included in your operating system, as well as system-based file types that you aren't likely to ever need to restore. It also lets you manually skip any other locations or file types, if you want the backup to get a move on.

If you're a Mac user, Backblaze will also skip backups for any external hard drive partitions that already have Time Machine backups on them. This makes sense, but it actually was a minor inconvenience for me: I had a Time Machine backup on the same partition as some data that I did want Backblaze to upload. I moved it to a new partition, which took all of a few minutes, and it all uploaded from there. Problem solved, but it did take something away from the whole silent background backup aspect.

As far as security, Backblaze says that your data is encrypted on your machine with AES military grade encryption. It's then transferred, over a secure SSL connection, to disks in the company's data centers. The only way to decrypt the backup is with your email address and password.

If you want a little extra security, Backblaze gives you the option of encrypting your data with a local key that only you have. The obvious upside there is security; the downside is that if you lose this key, you can kiss your backups goodbye.

If you do need to restore your data, Backblaze gives you several options. You can log in to the company's website and download a zip file of your backups. This is great if you only need to snag a few files or folders (you can pick and choose as few or as many as you want). But for entire drives this probably isn't going to be very practical.

That's where Backblaze restore drives come in. If you need 128 GB of data or less, you can pay the company US$99 to send you a USB flash drive that includes your data. For bigger loads, you can pay $189 for a USB hard drive (including up to 3 TB of your backups). The drives are then yours to keep and use however you wish.

So why not just buy external hard drives of your own and skip cloud-based services like Backblaze? Well, ideally you'll do both. Local backups are quicker to make, quicker to restore and probably cheaper. But what happens if your house gets robbed or burned down, and you lose both your PC and your backup drive? That's why it's good to have backups both in your home and offsite – whether that means a service like Backblaze, a bank's safe deposit box or the home of a trusted friend or family member.

Backblaze isn't the only service of its kind (CrashPlan, for example, offers a similar online backup service) but it is one of the easiest to use. At US$5 a month for each PC (including free external hard drive backups) it's also very reasonably priced. And the best part? Backblaze offers unlimited backup storage. There aren't any annoying caps, pricing tiers or penalties for uploading ridiculous amounts of data.

If your most precious data is only backed up locally, or not at all, then you can do much worse than setting aside $5 per month for Backblaze. The service is available now, with clients for both Windows and OS X, as well as a mobile backup-viewing app for iOS.

Product page: Backblaze

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