Backblaze: Time Machine for the Cloud


BackBlaze
BackBlaze

Last year my friend had to deliver some distressing news to his wife. The external hard drive on which he had been storing their family photos failed. The problem had started a few weeks earlier when his wife mentioned that the hard drive was making some strange noises. My friend had planned on backing up the disk to DVD but being a busy IT manager he just never got around to it.
At that time I remember thinking smugly to myself, if only he had a Mac with Time Machine he would have been protected. I realized later on that I was wrong. I use Time Machine to backup three of the household Macs to Time Capsule once a day. This protects my data should the local hard drive fail but I lose ALL of my backups if the Time Capsule disk fails. I wanted a backup system that was more robust; one from which I could survive a local disk and local network storage failure. That's where Backblaze comes in.

Backblaze is a cloud based service that backs up everything on your computer except your operating system, applications, and temporary files. The service costs $5/month ($50/year) and provides three methods to recover your data. You can download your files from the Backblaze web site, order them delivered to you on DVD ($99, 4GB max) or for a $189 fee Backblaze will deliver your files on a 500GB Western Digital external USB hard drive. The 500GB seems quite reasonable to me considering that I now have 74GB of data (70GB of photos, 4GB of documents) stored on Backblaze.

After registering for the service I downloaded and installed the Mac version of the Backblaze client. The Mac client is Intel only. Backblaze also offers a client for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.

One of the first things I did was setup the frequency of backups. By default, Backblaze simply backs up all the time so you don't have to remember. But if you wish, you can schedule Backblaze to backup at a convenient time (like the middle of the night) or only when you click "Backup Now". I chose the "Continuously" option. I take a lot of photos during the summer and I find myself emptying the SD card from my Nikon at least once a week.

Backblaze will backup any USB or Firewire drive I have attached to my computer as long as I leave the external hard drive attached to my computer all the time. It was simple to add my 500 GB G-Drive Q Firewire HD to the backup queue. Good thing too, since this is where I keep my digital photos.

To prevent users from abusing the service network (NAS) drives, Time Machine drives , remotely mounted computers or volumes, or shared volumes do not get backed up.

From the setting screen the user can also set options to control how much local network bandwidth is dedicated to backup as alerts for failed incomplete backups.

By default Backblaze backups everything on the main hard drive except for applications and the operating system. It also does not backup files over 4GB. Backblaze claims that most users do not create files larger than 4GB. I can't disagree with that and they do make an except for iPhoto library files.

I don't really need every user folder to be backed-up. My iPhoto library are stored respectively in the Photos and Documents folders on the externally drive. Unfortunately the mechanism that Backblaze uses to mange what gets backed-up and what doesn't is not easy. I had to explicitly exclude all the folders that I did not want backed-up — on both the local and external drive. If you have more than one user on the local machine this can take considerable time.

The Backblaze console provides a fair amount of reporting including how much storage each type of file will use and which files are scheduled for backup.  This was an eye opener for me. I did not realize how large my iPhoto library had grown. A drive failure would surely be a painful experience.

I've been using the Backblaze service and software for just a few weeks and so far I have no had any problems.  Of course, the true test of service is how easy it is to service a hard drive failure.  Knowing that I can rebuild my machine and recover all my files with a single click gives me piece of mind.

Dropbox and iDisk

When Apple released MobileMe as a replacement for .Mac I decided it was time to give it a try. Mind you, I already have a free Gmail account with 8GB (and growing), and a free Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Contact. I had already configured Leopard’s Mail, iCal and Address Book for use with these services and for just $20/year Google sold me 10GB of space on Picasweb to store and share my photos with friends and family. All these services were well integrated enough though the web interfaces were rudimentary, lacking pizzazz, and the Picasa software was not available for the Mac.

I decided that $99 was not too much to pay to try MobileMe for one year.

During MacWorld 2009 Google finally released a Picasa for the Mac (it’s beta of course) and it has a lot of features (facial recognition and geo-location) to be found in the iPhoto ’09. Recently there have been rumors that Google is preparing to offer an online storage service called G-Drive similar to iDisk. That got me thinking about the Dropbox service that I have been using for a few months that provides similar features to iDisk.

iDisk does not like work.

Dropbox is a service that synchronizes a specific folder and its contents to an online account and across multiple computers - Mac, Linux (Ubuntu and Fedora) or Windows. That is one definite advantage over iDisk which is available only on a Mac. Although iDisk does work on Windows, Apple doesn't want you to use it at work.  Unless it's two guys working in a garage, most companies today have some sort of Web proxy server.  A Web proxy server is a server that acts as a go-between for requests from computer seeking resources from Internet web servers.  MobileMe does not have any support for proxy servers on Windows so forget about using it at work.  How hard would it be for Apple to program in the use of the Windows default?

dropbox-home
After downloading and installing the Dropbox client software, you will have a folder called “Dropbox” on a user selected location on your computer. I put the folder on the desktop on both Windows and Mac. From there I can open it and use it just like any other Windows or OS X folder. In the background, the installed Dropbox client is synchronizing any changes to the “cloud” and across any computer logged in with the same account. A free account provides 2GB of online storage and you upgrade to 50GB for $99/year or $9.99 per month.
manage-computers

Dropbox has your back(up)

Any file you delete from the Dropbox folder is deleted across all computers. However, Dropbox keeps a version history, so you can undelete or restore the Dropbox to a previous state quite easily using the very well laid out web interface. You can rollback to a version of a file from just a few hours ago to a few weeks ago.
dropbox-revisions

It’s nice to share

Just like iDisk, Dropbox allows you to share your files (photos, documents, music etc) and folder with whomever you chose; and they don’t have to be Dropbox users to do so. Just add the files you want to share and your friends and colleagues can access them from any web browser (and I do mean ANY). iDisk thumbs its nose at Internet Explorer users. Not useful for sharing with my Windows XP family.
dropbox-share

Dropbox is free … sort of.

I have been using Dropbox for about three months and the only complaint I have is that the 2GB free account might not be big enough for users who need to share larger files. I could upgrade to the $99 option but that is a lot to pay for 50GB of storage when 500GB hard drives now go for as little as $99. Google offers 10GB of online photo store for $20/year and I expect that the rumored G-Drive will offer something reasonably priced.

Conclusion

The free version of Dropbox does not provide as much storage space as iDisk and can be pricey compared to other online storage solutions (take a look at Mozy.com Unlimited).  However if 2GB is enough for you, and you need to share files with Windows and Mac users and you want the ability to restore files, then goto http://www.getdropbox.com and download the client now.

(UPDATE):  I made an error in stating that iDisk is not cross platform.  Clearly it is.

"My Little Girl" by Tim McGraw

I've never done a book review but I thought I would give it a try. So I signed up to be a Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger. They send me a book, I read it and post my review on a consumer site and on my blog. I get to keep the book. Fair enough.

The book I received is a wonderfully illustrated book called, "My Little Girl" by Tim McGraw and Tom Douglas. When this book arrived in the mail and my 8 year daughter saw the cover she insisted I had to read it to her. We sat down right after dinner and I read to her in my best interpretations of the characters voices. She listened intently to the sweet story of a father and his daughter enjoying time doing "nothing in particular". They find time to dance and talk about imaginary cloud formations. I think my daughter loved the drawings but not the text/dialogue of the story.

The words did not seem like the kind you expect to hear from a young princess talking to her father. "Daddy, swing me all the way over the sun!" does not sound like anything I have ever heard from my daughter.