Category: backup

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…


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.

Cloud backup for Windows 8 with no 3rd party software?

When I first started Backup-Coop more than 10 years ago, there was no way to backup a PC to the network. For reasons outlined here, I thought (and still think) that cloud-based backup is essential.

Since then, there have been many fine could-backup systems released including Mozy and Crashplan. I’ve used both, and both work fine. Unfortunately, neither are perfect and I really want my backup program to be absolutely rock solid and never do something unexpected or unexplainable. Neither Mozy nor Crashplan fit this requirement. Both Mozy and Crashplan have done unexpected things to me. Mozy once decided to fill the hard drive with so many huge temp files that it crashed the machine. Crashplan once got into a loop where is was stuck “connecting” for a month with no clear way to break out of it.

Surprisingly Microsoft has never released a cloud backup solution as part of a consumer Windows version. This is despite their recent huge pushes into the cloud with offerings like Office365 and SkyDrive. They do offer a very nice looking cloud backup solution for server versions of Windows that connects to their impressive Azure cloud storage system. Why not offer the same for Windows 8?

I decided to try to roll my own cloud backup system without installing any 3rd party software – I’d only use code that comes with a normal Windows 8.x installation. It turned out to not be too hard.

Luckily, there is a new feature called File History that seems to do exactly what I want – copy periodic snapshots of your files to a backup drive. Now I’d just need to find a cloud storage host to copy these files to…

My first choice was to use Microsoft’s cloud storage platform, assuming that getting Microsoft to talk to Microsoft would be the easiest and simplest way, right? Microsoft’s SkyDrive seemed like a perfect fit because it is free and Windows 8.x already knows how to mount SkyDrive as a local drive. Unfortunately when I tried to get File History to use the SkyDrive drive, it flatly refused with a very unhelpful message “File History can not use this drive”. I could not find any documentation anywhere about what requirements File History has for its target drives, but whatever they are it seems that SkyDrive doesn’t cut it. My (wild?) guess is that File History wants to see an NTFS drive, but I’m not sure why it would *need* that.

I decided to use Amazon’s EC2 service for the cloud storage, mostly because it is easy and free (at least for 1 year and 30GB of storage). I set up a “t1.micro” instance with Windows 2012 server running on it, and then set up a share that I could access over the open internet. The EC2 service has gotten really nice lately, and this whole process only took about 15 minutes of my time.

On my Windows machine, I mapped a network drive to the new share I set up in the cloud and then pointed Window’s File History service to this mapped drive. It worked, and the machine started to backup up to the cloud!


It was actually quite fast too, uploading at a rate of about 100GB per day.

So am I happy with this solution? I am not. It appears that File History does not back up open files – although I can not find any documentation about this anywhere. I know that when I look at my File History backups, they are missing my open Outlook PST files. These are probably the files that I most need to have backed up on a regular basis, so this solution is not going to work for me. It might be a viable solution for someone who does not have files that are always open, especially with less than 30GB since this should be free on Amazon.

Next maybe I will try BackBlaze. I can’t believe there is not a perfect Windows cloud backup solution out there – this is not that hard of a problem. Suggestions?