Still searching for the perfect online backup

Crashplan has been working ok for me for the past year, but it still has some rough spots and flakes. It occasionally just gets stuck and there is no obvious reason why. A reboot sometimes fixes it, but not always. I really want to find a rock solid backup so I never have to think about it again.

The new year is here, so i decided to try BackBlaze. I *loved* their writeup on hard drive reliability. It is nice to see that they think hard about this stuff.  Their pricing model is also very generous at $5/mo for unlimited size.

Unfortunately Backblaze disappointed me.

The user interface is very simple – too simple in fact. There is no way to figure out what is going wrong when something goes wrong. It gives very unhelpful feedback. Does “Backup Paused” mean that I paused the backup – or it paused itself for some reason? Occasionally it would popup a box saying “Subscription expired” and take me to web web page showing my non-expired subscription. There is no way to tell it to not backup my C: drive, which on my machine is a small SSD boot drive with no data. Argh. But I think I could live with these annoyances if I had too.

But the real deal breaker came when I went to restore an older version of my Outlook PST file – which is probably the most important and most frequently updated local file on my system – and found that it was not in the BackBlaze backup at all.

A search for “Outlook” in BackBlaze’s support system brings up a page that assures

Will Backblaze backup my email?

Yes, Backblaze will backup your email if it is locally stored on your computer. Email applications like Outlook, Outlook Express, Apple Mail, Entourage, Thunderbird, Eudora will all have their email backed up.

Also, Backblaze will only backup the difference to the email database (PST, DBX, Database, etc.) and will NOT re-upload the entire email database.

My email is definitely stored locally on my machine, so i should be good. Maybe the backup was still running? The app window was clear in its message…

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Further, the app’s “What is being backed up link?” brings you to a page with the title “BackBlaze backs up all your data”. Yet, clearly all my data was NOT backed up.

An email to BackBlaze support got a swift reply stating…

Backblaze cannot open files that are open, so if you are leaving your PST file open at all times Backblaze will never be able to back it up.

Outlook does keep the PST files open, so they will never be backed up by BackBlaze.

Wow. The failure here is not that BackBlaze can not backup open files (although it really should). The failure is that it told me that it backed up all my files, but in fact did not. There is no way I could have known that my data was not actually being backed up if I had not happened to check.

Silently not backing up data while explicitly stating that all data is backed up is about the biggest failure a backup program can have (short of deleting your local data!).

I am surprised that 10 years later, still no one can apparently get online backup right. This is not that hard of a problem.

Backup coop used to show you a list of files that had not been backed up yet, sorted with oldest first. It didn’t care why the file was not backed up – if the file on the local hard disk was different from the file on the backup – then the file was not backed up and you needed to know this. Fail-safe. You could set an alarm to let you know if the oldest not-backed-up-file was older than a certain amount of time (say, 1 hour or 1 week) so you’d know for certain that if you lost everything at this moment, you would never loose more than the specified amount of work.

3 comments

  1. shihonageth

    You’re absolutely right, and that is the main reason why I parted with Backblaze. Very weird people. Another reason is that they seemed to run a process which copied files locally before backing them up…

    Sadly, Carbonite, however crappy and cheap it is, and however awful its Internet Explorer UI is, has had the least failures for me, as in, it functions as expected. The devil you know…

    • bigjosh2

      I am still using crashplan on one machine and it works, but I’m not 100% happy with it. It uses lot of memory and causes lots of VSS alerts. I’ve been playing around with Microsoft’s new Azure-based cloud back system. It is a pain to set up, and it is a pain to recover files, but in the normal case where you are just doing backups (99.9999% of the time), it just works. They are pitching it to backup servers and cloud instances, but you can install the client on a normal Windows computer and it works fine.

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