With reputable websites like TechRadar calling the likes of Microsoft 365 a 'Backup Solution', even though Microsoft specifically states in their T&Cs that they don't back up your data - It's no wonder that people are getting their knickers in a twist when it comes to backing up their data.
If you haven't seen it already, I made a video around the Best Cloud Storage for 2021 - and one of the most common comments on that was, well if they're not backing your data up, then how do I?
So here it is! The Best Cloud Backup Service in 2021, a review.
Because there are quite a few Backup Providers out there, today we're going to be looking at a small selection of what's available, probably the most reputable or well-known names - or this post will be FAR too long.
Unfortunately, the one backup provider who I kept seeing top the charts on all the other comparisons, SOS Online Backup, is no longer taking on new customers unless you have more than 5 users or more than 5TB of Backup. So that excluded them straight away.
But, with that said, today we will be looking at Backblaze, iDrive, Carbonite, and Crashplan.
For each of these, we'll be looking at the key headlines of:
Device Support (Mac, Win, Phone, External Drives / NAS)
Backups Themselves (Versioning, Retention, Continuous, Deduplication)
Restoration Experience (Can they ship a drive?)
User Experience (upload speed, general UI)
Now as with all my reviews, I'm actually signing up for these myself and paying whatever they cost so I can test them - nobody is sponsoring this - and after I've finished up this post - I'll search around to see if I can find any discounts for anybody interested in signing up.
For my tests, I haven't just installed this on a test machine or just looked over the specs to regurgitate things you can find online - I've literally installed them on the main machines that I use, and have used these products for a few weeks. This is kinda stupid in a way - I think I'm going to have to wipe my Mac fairly soon because I'm installing so much junk on it lately to test everything. But you can't say it's not a real test!
This is really simple, $6 per month per computer or $60 per year, for Unlimited Data. That's pretty much as simple as you can get.
On Device Support, Backblaze covers Mac and PC but no mobile clients. If you want to back up a NAS drive then you'll need to sign up for their B2 Cloud Storage instead. You can, however, backup external hard drives.
Over to the backups themselves, and for versioning and retention, it does 30 days by default, or you can pay an additional $2 per month to extend that to up to 1 year. They also offer an unlimited option for an additional fee. Great if you really need to hold onto your data for a very long time - no complaints there at all, again - simple as you like.
It also defaults to continuous backup which is great, doesn't offer deduplication - but it's unlimited data anyway so that's not really an issue.
For restoration, you can get BackBlaze to ship you a drive with your data on it, worldwide, which you do pay for - but they also will refund that cost if you return the drive to them within 30 days. Great for those in the US. Not sure how well that stacks up after you factor in return shipping costs from outside the US. But, at least it's an option!
For other more regular file restorations, it's - okay. You can't restore directly via the app, you have to go through the web portal. And anything more than 1 file restoration needs zipping up, which means you're sat there waiting for the 'Your restore is being prepared'. But, when you do download it, it's quick - so I don't have any issues per se. It's just not as nicely integrated as the rest of their app.
Security-wise, Backblaze uses 256Bit encryption and it lets you set up your own private encryption key - a really nice thing to see so that you can encrypt your data to make sure that even Backblaze themselves can't access it.
Over in Support, they have Live Chat, though it wasn't available whilst I was trying in the afternoon and evening here in the UK - I did submit a ticket to them, and they came back to me a couple of hours later with a good response.
For User experience, Backblaze is an interesting one, particularly on mac - since it actually integrates with the System Preferences panel, rather than having a separate app that you run. But this means that it looks sleek and simple - and I like it!
And - pay close attention to this. It actually uploaded at FULL SPEED. Like, my full 110Mbps. I even saw 130Mbps at one point, which is interesting as I only pay for 110Mbps... but pay, very, very close attention to this - as you'll see in the other products we take a look at in this review...
Now to get it to do this, I had to go into the settings, and set it to unlimited bandwidth AND set the simultaneous file upload to its maximum. Even though it warns me that only REALLY FAST computers should play with this setting and that they recommend setting it to no more than 6 threads. Well - screw that. And if we want to talk about performance once more on my M1 Mac Mini - even with this program set to 30 threads, my CPU was only hitting 10% at its peak. Killing it! You should go watch my video's on my YouTube channel on my M1 Mac Mini review...
The ONLY, and I really mean only niggle that I had with this is that you can't see what it's backing up. It's meant to be intelligent enough to know what to back up, which it says is because it gives you that peace of mind - but I'd also kinda like to have peace of mind by seeing the folders and files it thinks it should be backing up.
But hey, you can check this by trying to restore something anyway - so that's not a huge issue.
Overall - this is a really, really strong contender. It's going to be interesting to see what the others are like!
Pricing wise we are at 5GB for Free, $52.12 for 5TB, and 10TB for $74.62. And those prices are for one year, One User, Unlimited Computers - which is a nice to have, because some of the others will only include a single machine.
When it comes to Device Support, iDrive supports Mac, PC, iOS, and Android, though I didn't test the mobile client as I just have no use for it. But iDrive also supports external drives and NAS devices. So if, like me, you have a tonne of files sat on a separate NAS device - for those muggles amongst us it's basically just a box with a tonne of disks in - you can back that up with iDrive too, and it will even work on their entry-level paid-for plan, which is really great!
Looking at the actual backups themselves - It starts with good news. First off, iDrive can ship a physical drive to you to do a local backup, if perhaps your internet connection is too poor. They will physically post you a hard drive, which you then connect to your machine, backup your data to, and then post it back to them to store. All of this whilst your data is securely encrypted and the service is worldwide - although you might have to pay shipping and customs fees depending on where you are. But, they're not extortionate prices!
iDrive does have continuous protection, though you need to remember to enable this manually within the settings after you install the client, and it only works for files up to 500MB in size. Files bigger than that will be picked up in the daily backup job that you configure.
Once your files are backed up, then they'll retain up to 30 versions of all files backed up to your account.
The only omissions here really is that iDrive doesn't offer deduplication so that you're not accidentally backing up copies of the same file multiple times, which would be nice to have since you're paying based on how much data you store.
Good news again to start with - iDrive can ship you a drive worldwide with your data if you need one. So if your computer blows up, you've got terabytes of data but a slow internet connection. There's a great option for you - though of course, you have the delays of shipping and them copying data to the drive and then you copying data from the drive. But it's still nice to have. And if you're a US customer, they have an overnight shipping option that will get you your data really quickly.
Otherwise - if you just want to restore a file within the iDrive client itself then it's a case of browsing the file structure. Checking a box, choosing the restore location, and clicking Restore Now. UI - Great. The speed at which it downloaded, not so great. The max it hit was 30Mbps. And I have a 1GB Connection, so I should be able to hit 1000Mbps. But this seems to be a recurring issue with these cloud backup services. What I will say is that using iDrive I saw some of the better speeds than the others, except for Backblaze.
Over in Security land, I quite like that iDrive lets you set your own encryption key. It does tell you that if you do set one, then you can't share files - because, well, it's encrypted with your own encryption key. And you should be using a backup service to back up your files, not as a file-sharing service. THAT is what the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive are for. Files are all encrypted with standard 256-Bit encryption.
For support - they do have online chat, which in my experience gave me near-instant responses - and I also submitted a ticket via their website at 11.29 am on Wednesday the 3rd of March, and got a response 2 hours later - so that's pretty good going right there in the support department!
Finally, for User Experience, well - a bit of a mixed bag, to be honest.
I haven't been blown away by the software. In fact, it still reports that my Quota is 0 bytes when I should have up to 5TB of Quota within the client - so it's just prompting me to upgrade, even though I'm a paying customer!
Setting my initial backup job up was easy. But when that job started, the client kinda locked up on me for a long time, I guess as it was processing all the files it needed to backup.
I had a couple of different experiences here in terms of upload speeds. On PC, I could hit around 20-30Mbps upload, which for most people is pretty great!
That said - I do have up to 120Mb upload speeds, so I'm not sure why iDrive wouldn't use the full available bandwidth.
But over on the Mac side - it was much, much slower! I had 198GB in total to upload. It completed it in over 20 hours, and if you look at the upload stats from my Mac, which again - is hard wired into a 1Gb down and 110Mb up connection. But the upload speeds barely even reached over 10Mbps - even Plex, which the kids were watching a movie on next door was uploading data faster than iDrive could, and my M1 Mac's CPU and Memory were barely doing anything. So it seems to be a limitation of the iDrive client itself, or maybe it's not M1 Compatible yet.
When I asked their support about this, they asked me to do a speed test to Oregon, so I'm guessing their data is at least initially being backed up to Oregon, before hopefully being replicated elsewhere.
Overall thoughts - great pricing, great features, the client app is pretty good and the upload speeds for most people won't be an issue. But if you can upload faster than 20-30Mbps, then it may be worth checking out one of the other options.
Getting straight into pricing, their basic computer backup is $24 per month when billed annually, but if you check the 'Home Computers' box on their website, it offers you an option from $6 per month when billed annually, with just a couple of fewer features which for home users are probably not a big issue. With all of these plans, it seems to come with unlimited storage - but for a single machine. If you want more machines, you sign up for more subscriptions.
I actually had some issues here - because their website has several versions of their pricing and comparisons page, which all show different things. Which is quite confusing!
Click on compare backup plans and it only shows you the $24 plan, until you click on the Home Computers Button. Click on Home Backup at the top and then Buy Now and you come to a different one which seems to be based on several computers but does show the $6 plan. But if you go back to the same Home Backup page and click Get Started, it takes you to a THIRD screen which now shows you a starting price of $6, with options to add extras such as external hard drive backup, anti-virus, the courier recovery service, and interestingly... Automatic Video Backup... More on that in a moment.
Over in device support land, again, we've got Windows and Mac support, though no support yet for the new M1 Macs, and there's no mobile client either. You can back up a single external hard drive if you upgrade to their higher tiers and there's no direct NAS support other than backing up a mapped drive, which only works on Windows.
For actual backups themselves, Carbonite has 30-day retention - which is good, but not as nice as saying a 30 version history like iDrive just in case you delete something and don't notice for a while.
When I talked about pricing a moment ago, I mentioned an interesting find on their 'Get Started' variant of their sign-up page, which had an optional extra to add 'Automatic Video Backup'. And if you scroll down, it proceeds to tell you that Any video file over 4GB must be manually added to your backup. Well..... drats. That's me out from being able to use this product then. And since a 4GB video file from an iPhone is around 10 minutes worth of 4K footage - yeah not good.
But then I found another article on their website talking about File Size Limits - and it seems that Carbonite won't automatically upload ANY file above 4GB unless you upgrade to their higher tiers.
For me, that's kind of a nail in the coffin. I don't want to be double-checking that all my files are under 4GB - Even without video files. 4GB isn't much in today's world, and to take away that peace of mind that everything is backed up would be soul-destroying if you ever missed anything and wanted to get it back.
So - on that basis - I'm going to skirt over the next few items, as I just can't recommend Carbonite with their 4GB Limit, confusing website, and... well
When it comes to restorations, guess what - you need to upgrade to their higher tier to get a courier service!
Security is all managed by Carbonite, which I don't find as secure as being able to set your own keys. And on the lower plans, it's also 128-bit and not the 256-bit offered by others. So, half as secure?
Support for me was another confusing experience. I actually called their pre-sales number listed on their website as I was trying to figure out their pricing plans, and the person who answered didn't know anything about their consumer backup products, and even mentioned that he wondered if the phones had been forwarded to them for some reason.
But you get a phone number and submit an email ticket. No live chat that I can see, though the person I spoke to on the phone said I should be able to follow the website and get to online chat. Again - just... well pretty awful to be honest. But I did send a ticket through to support, and 3 days later I still haven't received a response. So. A big no in that department.
Carbonite fell over again for me in the user experience department. When I downloaded the client I had issues getting it to run. And to be honest, the installer just looked badly designed and reminded me of a Windows XP App being forced to run on Windows 10, if you get what I mean. Also, the UI was really - basic, is all I can say. There are no options, nothing to really configure. It just backs up and you can select the folders to back up - but that's it.
Upload speeds were also abysmal
So as I said earlier - I just can't recommend Carbonite. Don't buy it, don't use it. Please go with one of the other options. Full disclosure - I didn't even bother testing it on Windows because all of the issues I kept finding with it just made me not want to use it... so yeah.
I've only left this segment in to hopefully show you what big differences are between them and others!
With Crashplan it's actually for Small Businesses - but I wanted to give it a try as I'd heard such good things, and I kinda can't see the issue with you signing up as an individual anyway? Just like you can sign up for Google Workspace and pretend to be a business, to get their better storage offerings... but anyway!
Pricing is nice and simple with Crashplan - $9.99 per month per device, plus taxes for unlimited space, with no file size restrictions. AND they have a free 30-day trial. Well, this is refreshing!
Crashplan supports Mac, Windows - and Linux - no ios or android support, and it does support external hard drives but no direct support for NAS, though you can map drives to a NAS and it will back those up on both Mac and PC.
For the actual backups themselves, let's run through this checklist.
Retention - Yes, Configurable.
Versioning - Yes, Configurable.
Continuous Backup - Yes
Deduplication - Yes
Ding ding ding! And it just looks and works SO much better than some other competitors, naming no names Carbonite (cough)
It is a shame that, with everything else looking so good about Crashplan, that they don't offer a courier service. A minor detail for some, but for others, if you need terabytes of data and you don't want to wait weeks to download it - a disk being posted to you would be so much faster. So this may be a key point for those with a lot of data who need access to it quickly.
Restoring files was quick and easy - but worth noting that even restoring large files, I never got more than 100Mbps download speeds, even though I'm on a 1Gb connection. So if you're downloading a lot of data, that can be fairly limiting.
For security - 256-Bit encryption is standard and I do like that you can set a password or key which must be entered before you can restore anything - including by Crashplan themselves. So that gives you some security that your data is safe, unlike other backup providers who don't let you set your own encryption keys.
Support was great with Crashplan. They have a live chat that was quick with no queue, and the person I spoke to could see exactly what was going on AND was able to help without messing around like sometimes when you get bogged down in those 'Can I please confirm that your computer is switched on? OK. I've confirmed that your computer is now switched on. Now I would like you to confirm that you have installed the application? OK, Thank you - I can confirm that you have confirmed that you have installed the Application' UGHHHHH But they also chased up several times after resolving the issue to make sure things were solved, so they definitely performed well for support.
Over in the User Experience department - It was super simple to sign up, really easy to install the app, which has a tonne of options to set bandwidth limits, alerts if backup jobs don't run, and just overall it looked clean, modern, and like it had been updated in this century - which is a far cry from some of the others I tested!
It backs up all files, of all sizes, continuously with no restrictions - so at least with this you could set it up and just be safe that everything is being taken care of.
BUT - with big Caveats. I couldn't get any more than maybe, 5Mbps upload speeds on the Mac and 10Mbps at most on Windows, and I kept getting prompted to sign back in when I came back to look at the app after a while - which was kinda annoying. And these were both running on fairly vanilla installs, on high spec machines that weren't struggling to upload at faster speeds like we've seen with other backup providers here.
It looks like a great app, with some really great features and great pricing. It just let down by the transfer speeds really, and those speeds may not affect you - it could be my location or something but also a slight annoyance that it kept signing me out. So, this I think is another good contender and one worth testing yourself. Aside from the fact it's more a small business service - it looks to be a really great product. Other than those poor speeds - again.
After looking at all of these options - the only one, and I do mean, the only one I can really, fully recommend - is Backblaze, for me personally.
On sheer transfer speeds alone - it makes the other services nearly unusable if you want to backup, and restore your data quickly providing you have a fast connection.
The only real negative I see is that to restore anything you have to go to their website and download the files as a zip file. Whereas others I tested could let you restore directly via their app, and to whichever location on your computer you wanted it to go to.
If you don't have fast upload speeds like me and perhaps a more normal cap of 20Mbps or so, then iDrive would be my recommendation as another option.
Notice how I haven't really said anything about price here?
In my opinion, all of these services except for the hot mess of Carbonite, provide value for money. It's not unreasonable to pay any of these amounts for peace of mind that your data is protected.
So with that said, why isn't Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Dropbox, or any of those other cloud storage services a Backup?
Well, with Microsoft 365 as an example, they specifically state in those Ts and Cs that nobody reads when signing up, that they do not back up your data, and that you are responsible for ensuring your data is backed up.
They will ensure your data is available, but no guarantees that they can recover if your data gets deleted, lost or ransomwared for any reason.
This is the same with Google as well, but not strictly true with the likes of Dropbox. Dropbox will actually give you either a 30 or 180-day history of your files depending on which plan you've signed up for.
The reason why I wouldn't personally recommend using Dropbox to store your files AND use them as a backup is that in the IT Industry there has always been this backup rule of 3 - 2 - 1.
Always keep at least 3 copies of your data, stored in 2 different locations, and 1 of them being off-site.
For me - I have my data on my Laptop, NAS, and Cloud. 3 copies of data, in 2 locations, 1 off-site.
So for you to use Dropbox as both file storage and backup solution - it just adds that element of risk of, what if Dropbox ever got targeted, or had a big disaster, or their datacenters got flooded.
Yes, I'm sure that technically speaking they are all set up to cope with such an event. But it's not uncommon for big, big companies to have massive outages, who then realise that actually their failsafe business continuity plan didn't quite work, and now they need to do something to address it.
I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't want to find that your data was sat in that area that 'didn't quite work'.
So always best to have your data backed up somewhere else, just to be safe.