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REVIEWED by Eric Byron
Who is Crashplan for?
CrashPlan is an online backup service that will continually backup up your files. CrashPlan starts at $2 per month for 10 GB and goes up to a family plan that’s $8.96 per month for unlimited storage and up to 10 computers.
The services for personal use are categorised under CrashPlan+ but there are also services for businesses under the titles CrashPlanPro and CrashPlanPro-e (enterprise).
All of the plans offer a free 30-day trial which is a bit unfortunate as most other services will offer, at the very least, a permanent free version for personal use. This is especially annoying as the free trial is actually lacking in features, meaning you can’t really “try before you buy”.
Sign up, Plans and Pricing
The time it takes to get started with CrashPlan depends on which service you’re going for. The Plus plans won’t take much time at all. But the Business and Enterprise versions will want a bit more information than just your email and chosen password. If you’re trying out the free version you actually sign up through the desktop application itself.
When you open the application for the first time CrashPlan automatically selects everything in your user folders but you can adjust this if you want and select exactly what needs backing up.
There are also a large number of options available. You can schedule when and how often you want the backups to run. The default is for it to run continuously. If you want a little extra security you can add a second password or choose a custom 448-bit key for encryption. Once these changes have been made you cannot downgrade back to regular security. And if the key or password are lost, CrashPlan cannot get these back for you.
CrashPlan is highly customisable offering features unique to this service. For example, there are many different ways in which you can choose to backup your files. You can ask CrashPlan to send them to someone else’s computer as well as uploading them to the Cloud. Alternatively you can invite friends to backup to your computer.
CrashPlan also makes use of attached drives. If you have one hard drive with all of your family videos on it, you can attach it to your computer and let CrashPlan backup everything on there too. This doesn’t have to be done all in one go either. Crashplan has no problem picking up a job that it was halfway through with 2 weeks ago.
Business and Enterprise
The Business plan is designed for multiple users/ computers (up to 200). To help keep an eye on everything, CrashPlan provides and admin account with web management tools, activity reports and even email alerts.
The Pro-e plan offers multiple services such as evaluations, training and consulting. However some of these features are listed under “Pro services add-ons” which implies that these will probably cost you extra.
It is a light piece of software that doesn’t take much space on your system, and it also goes easy on your computer’s other resources when it’s running. As a bonus, if you feel your machine slows down significantly while using the program, you can reduce the CPU power alloted to Crashplan, which should do the trick. Keep in mind, though, that your backups will take longer as a result.
Preparing your first backup
Isn’t it exciting? You can finally start your first backup and I guarantee you, it feels great once that process is over and your data is fully backed up. When I did my first backup it came with a great feeling of relief. Yes, it’ll take some time to setup, but it is well worth it. Five years ago, even local backup was a real pain in the butt, let alone off-site backup which wasn’t affordable for the consumer anyway.
Website & Support
On the website you can access your account. From there you can restore your backed up files and there’s a calendar to restore previous versions of files. You can select single or multiple files and clicking “restore” will provide a link to download a zip file. And that’s it. There isn’t an option to view your files.
Elsewhere on the website there are a large number of useful pages. There’s an FAQs page, user forums, videos, Step-by-Step guides and pretty much anything you would need for getting started or solving a problem.
If you require technical support there’s an email, live chat, online forms and phone numbers for US and Australia. They do have a Twitter account but it’s purely for promotional purposes.
Take It Mobile
The mobile app isn’t available on the free trial, which is really unfortunate if this was going to be a big part of what you would use the service for. Especially since some mobile apps can be awkward to use and it would be shame to pay money for something that didn’t work how you wanted it to. The mobile app itself is free but only with the paid accounts.
The app is available on iOS, Android and Windows phones. The layout is simple enough and from the app you can select files to download. After the file has been downloaded it can be viewed within the app and sent to another program if you wanted.
It’s worth noting that you can’t view before you download something. This could prove to be annoying when wanting to download a photo that hasn’t been named properly yet.
Pricing and Storage Limits
For Plan+ there are three options. 10 GB for $2 per month. Unlimited for $3.96 per month. And Family is unlimited storage for 2-10 computers at $8.96 per month.
The pricing for the business option is clear at least and is actually a good balance between simplicity and customisation. Just type in either how many computers you need or use the slider to select what limit you want, starting with 50 GB and ending in 4 TB.
If you’re going by number of computers, the storage is unlimited so it might take some playing to figure out what you want and what your best value option will be.
Just to give you something to compare to (because the options are practically endless) Backblaze is $4.17 per month for Unlimited on 1 computer. CrashPlan is $7.49 for the same thing.
For CrashPlan Pro-e (enterprise) things are a little different. Because this service is designed for companies with 1000+ computers, you will need to fill out a form in order to get a quote. Evaluations are also available.
What makes Crashplan special?
Crashplan is indeed special, and we’ll cover the ‘why’ in just a moment. Let me first ramble a little on the importance of having multiple backups. If you’ve “been there, heard that,” please bare with me a second. Many people think it is enough to back up their data to an external hard drive; but this is actually not the case. As unlikely as is it might seem that your external hard drive can also fail or be exposed to other damage — like water or fires — it can and has happened. That’s why off-site backup is so important: you need to store your files somewhere else so as to make sure that whatever external source led to the loss of your data, it will only have effected the machines in your home or office.
This off-site backup is exactly what Crashplan allows you to do, in not only one, but three different ways:
Backup in the cloud
Crashplan Central will transfer your files into the cloud (i.e. onto Crashplan’s servers) wherever they happen to be located. They will also keep your files redundant, making multiple backup copies on their end as well.
Backup to another machine in your network
Crashplan also allows you to backup to an external hard drive or even to another machine in your network. FOR FREE! You can download and use their software without having to pay for it. Only Crashplan Central will cost you money.
Backup to a friend
Have you thought about finding something like a backup buddy? Probably not. No worries, I haven’t either; but the idea of peer-to-peer backup is great. We will be talking about this feature in detail a little later.
Three backup locations for triple security
Crashplan stays remarkably true to its name: it provides you with a thorough data crash plan that is well thought out and goes right along with my philosophy of having multiple backups — even if you aren’t paranoid about your backups like I am.
Backup in the cloud with Crashplan Central
Let’s start by talking about the cloud backup that is only available to paying customers. Don’t worry though, you can test Crashplan for 30 days free and then decide if this is something you want to commit to for a longer period of time.
Backing up your files with Crashplan is far from rocket science. The most important part is choosing which files to backup. If you have an unlimited plan (which I strongly recommend) you can just backup everything. In fact, if you have the unlimited plan, this is Crashplans standard setting. It’ll take your User folder and scan the whole file system; and when you click on “Start backup” it’ll backup the entire selection.
One of the questions I get all the time is: how does a backup service prioritize which files to backup first? Well, this is different depending on which provider you look at. Crashplan always backs up the files with the most recent changes first. Therefore, it ensures that you never lose a file that you’re working on right now (you can disable this feature in the options).
On a slightly techy note: if you are working with a virtual machine and you feel like the backup never is never complete, it is recommended that you create backup sets for larger files. Just go into Settings -> Backup -> Backup sets and enable it.
The standard backup doesn’t allow you to prioritize files; however, you can create multiple backup sets and set the priority accordingly to tell Crashplan which files and folders to backup first. Yes, this is a little complicated, but it isn’t usually necessary. In the end, I think Crashplan made a pretty safe bet on backing up the files with the most recent changes first.
Online backup – no caps, no throttling Activate Offer
Backups to Crashplan Central can take weeks depending on your internet connection and computer configuration. Take a look at how much time it will take to backup my 700GB:
A whopping 2 weeks for 700GB
For this review I’ll only backup a 1GB test folder to speed things up. If you only want to backup individual folders or files — like I had to for the test — click on “Change” in the Files section of the Backup tab and you can select which files and folders you would like to backup.
Backup to another machine
If you don’t want to pay for Crashplan’s cloud offering, you can download the client anyway and use it to backup to another machine in your local area network (LAN) or an external hard drive. The good thing is that it is a) free and b) automatic — so you don’t have to remember to move your files into your external hard drive.
All you have to do is install Crashplan on the target computer and activate it for incoming connections.
Back up to a friends’ machine
A very interesting and unique feature among online backup provider, the ability to backup to a friends’ machine regardless of where this friend is located is definitely something Crashplan has going for them. So if you have a friend in Germany who happens to have 200GB of free storage space on her machine, she could go ahead and allocate any percentage of that space she wanted to you, and vice versa.
All it takes is a simple email invitation, and she can grant you access to her machine for file backup. Obviously, your files are fully encrypted, so your friend won’t be able see them. This peer-to-peer backup sharing allows you to have another off-site backup without any additional cost.
One thing I like about Crashplan is its ease-of-use coupled right alongside the feature-richness it provides for more advanced users. Somehow they’ve managed to get it all under one roof without overwhelming my grandma when she does her backup of our family photos.
If you are a more experienced user, you can make use of several backup settings. Normally, Crashplan will backup your files continuously: whenever there is a change in one of your files, the new version will get backed up immediately so that even if your PC goes out in the next few seconds, you’ll have a backup of your file.
Schedule your backup when you are at work
You can schedule your backups during certain times of the day. Let’s say you’re at work from 8:00 to 18:00: you can have your backup run during those times, saving your bandwidth and resources for when you’re at home and need to use them.
There are also other interesting options that you might want to take a look at. For example, you can exclude files with a certain extension. Let’s say you don’t want to back up movie files, using this feature you could go in and tell Crashplan to exclude all files with “.mp4″ extensions, which would probably accelerate your backup significantly.
You can also choose whether or not you want to back up files that are currently open, or enable or disable compression of your files. Data de-duplication is one of the most important parts of any online backup software: it will detect duplicate bytes in your files and only upload the bytes that have changed. This speeds up the backup immensely. You can, but shouldn’t disable that option unless you experience tremendous performance issues.
A great way to speed up your backup is to seed the files. How does that work? Well, if you want to backup to a friend’s computer, you can prepare an external hard drive and meet him for coffee at his place. Just plug your hard drive into his machine and setup the Crashplan software for a seeded backup. From now on, you’ll only need to use the Internet to back up the files that have changed.
If you don’t have a friend who lives closer by, you can also have Crashplan send you an external hard drive, copy your data onto it, and send it back to them. They will make sure that your data gets moved onto their servers in a matter of days. While making a seeded backup at your friend’s house is free (unless you invite him to a coffee for doing you a favor) Crashplan will charge you $124.99 for a 1TB hard drive that you have to send back to them — and this service is only available to US customers.
Crashplan backup security
You shouldn’t take the security part of your backups for granted. That’s why it pays off to think a little bit about encryption and data transfer security, and do thorough research on what differences there are between the different providers. If you want to ease the pain of ploughing through each and every provider, you can take a quick glance at the major differences by looking at my online backup comparison table.
Crashplan’s security features are up-to-date and provide good overall security. Locally, your files are encrypted with a 448-bit blowfish encryption; and you can also specify an additional security key other than your account password to protect those files. Put simply: the longer the key, the harder it is to decrypt your data. You need both the blowfish key as well as your private password to do this. More information on blowfish can be found here.
I do recommend setting up a private key in addition to your account password; however, I do this with a big warning! Don’t lose this key EVER. You won’t be able to restore your files. Even Crashplan won’t be able to do anything about it because they won’t have access your data either.
Crashplan sends your files securely via an SSL connection — the same connection used by major institutions such as banks — and then stores your data on their servers.
Restoring your files with Crashplan
When the day finally comes when your PC just won’t start, you’ll thank me for this review because all of your files will be backed up and ready for you to retrieve. That’s why the restore part of online backup and restore is so important.
Your data needs to be correctly restored
It is very important that your online backup service provider restores your data without flaws or errors, because you don’t want any more stress after a computer crash. That’s why, if I were you, I would do several ‘test restores’ of your files to make sure that everything works all right.
You want your data fast
There is nothing worse than a slow restore when you need your files as quick as possible. Obviously, this depends on your internet connection, but the provider’s servers do also have a major impact on restore speed.
Again, I restored my 1GB folder to test if everything restored correctly, and also how fast it worked. You can watch my video, to see exactly how it works.
To restore files, just head into the restore tab. Crashplan will load your list of files that have been backed up successfully. You can then choose which destination you want to restore from. If you have a backup on one of your other machines in your local area network, go ahead and use that, since it will be a lot faster than restoring via Crashplan Central.
A very useful feature is the ability to search for files in your backup stack. Let’s say you have been working on your master’s thesis and suddenly your PC turns black and you cannot switch it on. Tomorrow is the deadline! What could ruin your career plans in a matter of seconds is now a piece of cake: just search for your thesis and restore it immediately without having to wait for a full restore of all your other files — you know, the ones that won’t determine your future.
The overall restore took a little longer than anticipated: 1GB took 30 minutes, which is not bad but didn’t impress me either.
Access your files via the web browser
Wouldn’t it be great to have all your files available whenever you need them? It’s happened to me a lot of times: I have been preparing a presentation for ages and then I forget to bring it with me to the presentation venue. Duh!
With Crashplan I can get access to my files wherever a web browser is available. Hey, it even works with Internet Explorer! So all I have to do is go online and search for my file; and in one click I can download it to the device I am working on.
Restore and download all your files from within the web client
The web client works much the same way as the desktop version. You can browse your files or search for a specific file extension or file name. But don’t forget that you need your private security password to access your files!
Access your files with your iPhone
As bonus feature, Crashplan offers its customers a native app for your Android or iOS devices. Watch my “in action” video to see how it works:
Crashplan Review: Bottom Line
The question with Crashplan is not what it can but rather what it can’t do. I tried to review all of the features that might be interesting to people but I am sure I forgot at least one or two. That’s why it’s so difficult to write good reviews about online backup services: everybody has different needs. So let’s have a look at what you can’t do with Crashplan:
No file sync
Crashplan is an online backup service only. You cannot sync your files among multiple devices. And while that is a downside, you can always combine a free 2GB Dropbox account with an online backup account at Crashplan. Granted, 2GB is not much, but certainly enough for the occasional file sync.
No file sharing
Crashplan lacks the ability to share your files with friends and family. That is a shame, but certainly no deal breaker; there are other services that do that for free. If you feel the need to file-share, you might want to take a look at SugarSync, which offers 5GB of syncing and sharing space for free.
But now lets focus on my favorite parts of Crashplan:
Unlimited online backup
Crashplan+ offers TRULY unlimited online backup. No caps: unlimited file sizes, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited data. Period. That alone could be considered reason enough to sign up. But hey, you can test Crashplan out for 30 days for free. And if you’ve paid and you change your mind, you’ll get a refund for the unused portion of your plan. Now that’s great service.
Restore deleted files – forever
Unless you tell Crashplan otherwise it won’t delete files that you have deleted from your PC. Forever. That is actually pretty incredible, because it means you can expand your hard drive without actually having the physical space.
Back up external hard drives
Crashplan allows me to back up to external hard drives for free, and they will stay backed up forever even if they’re not plugged in. Crashplan is one of the few provider that does this.
Crashplan is available for all major operating systems, which is a blessing if, for example, you are constantly switching between a Mac and a PC.
I could go on here, but I’ve already covered the most important parts in this review. I think backup and restore speed could be improved for European customers, but their focus group are clearly people from the US, so that’s a fact I’ll just have to live with here in Berlin.
I know I’ve pointed out very few downsides, but that’s because there aren’t many of them in Crashplan! If you read my other reviews, you know that I am always honest about how I think a provider performs, especially since I am a paying customer of all the tested online backup services. All in all, you can’t go wrong with Crashplan. Do yourself a favor, drink one less Caffè Latte at Starbucks each month and get a backup, finally.
Buyer Guides & Resource Center
If there is a very specific way in which you want to backup your files, CrashPlan will more than likely have the answer. And this doesn’t just apply to business owners but to home users and large companies as well.
Alternatively, if you want something cheap that you don’t have to play with, there are other services which won’t cost as much. It’s also disappointing that the free-trial doesn’t give you a chance to try everything especially when so many services are giving things away for free.