7 Alternatives for Your Off-Site Backup

In my mind, data is holds an equal level of importance to my physical possessions. In a recent post, we covered a perfect backup strategy for your Mac. In that, we discussed two off-site options: Dropbox and CrashPlan.

Today I’m going to take a closer look at some other options for off-site and online backup, to give you a full spectrum of solutions to choose from.

MobileMe & iDisk

MobileMe & iDisk

MobileMe & iDisk

Many Mac owners use MobileMe’s online e-mail, calendar and contact syncing service. This $99 per year option does come with 20GB online storage space, known as your iDisk. While some of that might be taken up by your me.com e-mail account, the rest you can happily use to backup your files offsite.

To do this, you can use the old but still usable Backup 3, which is provided free with your MobileMe account (in fact anyone can download this piece of software, regardless of your current MobileMe subscription status. Backup 3 incorporates the ability to backup to CD/DVD as well as External Hard disk.

If you’re like most people, e-mail doesn’t take up that much storage space on MobileMe. This leaves a plenty space left over to backup to your iDisk. You can even upgrade your storage capacity and use your iDisk as a webDAV server. Unfortunately, iDisk is neither the fastest nor most reliable service to host your files. You might give iDisk a shot, especially if you have MobileMe – just don’t put everything into this one basket.

Price: $99/year
Storage: 20GB
Extras: 20GB-40GB more storage for $49-$99

Dropbox

dropbox

Dropbox

Everyone’s favorite file syncing, sharing and storage service is back again, for about the 17th time on this site. As we all are familiar with by now, everything stored inside your Dropbox folder is automatically synchronized to your online Dropbox account.

Dropbox is amazingly fast and reliable. It also includes a built in time machine like feature for the past 30 days. Alternatively, you enable the Packrat pay-for add-on can save every revision of every file in your Dropbox, no matter if you changed or deleted the file. Forever.

If you’re think about using Dropbox as your main offsite backup service you might want to move the data from your Home folders (like Documents or Music) into Dropbox. This can be a bit of pain, so it might be worth setting up Symlinks or Aliases.

One of the best parts about Dropbox is the ability to then access everything inside your ‘box on any computer or mobile device with an internet connection. You can browse your files using your iPhone or your Windows machine at work.

This service gets a huge thumbs up in my book – except for the small problem of storage accounts. The biggest account is only 100GB in size, meaning you might not be able to fit your growing music, photo or movie collections. We can only hope they open up the storage limits to something a bit higher in the future.

Price: Free-$10-$20/month
Storage: 2GB-50GB-100GB
Extras: Packrat, $4/month

SpiderOak

SpideOak

SpiderOak

SpiderOak takes a similar approach to Dropbox, but instead of creating a folder you set folders that you want SpiderOak to synchronize to its server. Also similar to Dropbox, SpiderOak lets you access all of your files on it’s various mobile applications as well as on any computer with internet access.

Unlike Dropbox which uses Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service, SpiderOak keeps everything in house. They also promise that no employees have the ability to access any of your files at any time. This is somewhat of a heated discussion point for Dropbox at the present moment.

SpiderOak has the ability to sync files between computers. It supports versioning of files and the ability to un-delete documents you accidentally tossed out. You can also restore any version ever created as well as un-delete any file. No matter when you deleted it.

One of the downsides is the non-Mac User Interface that plagues SpiderOak a few other backup solutions we’ll take a look at. It uses a Java interface, which is fine, just not that slick on the Mac. One final note is the ability to use their iOS apps to view files you have stored with them.

Price: Free-$10+/month
Storage: 2GB-100GB+
Extras: Each 100GB package is $10/month

CrashPlan

CrashPlan

CrashPlan

This popular off-site backup solution is a bit of a multi-tool. It supports backing up to their datacenter, CrashPlan+, a friends internet-connected computer, or an external hard disk.

The off-site backup service paired with CrashPlan is similar to other options online except it boasts one major feature: unlimited storage. The Mac application gives you an unbelievable level of control on when, where and how your computer backs up.

I really appreciate the fine grained control – but the user interface needs a bit of work. The application isn’t a native Mac app, instead is built using technologies that allow the program to be deployed on multiple operating systems, including Windows.

My biggest complaint is lack of any status applet that could sit in the menu bar. While I have never had CrashPlan not work, I’m often wondering when the program is backing up and how long it would take to get there.

How well does it work? Well I’ve used the program for a little over a month now, signed up with their CrashPlan+ Unlimited account. It works extremely well, backing up not only to local hard disks but also their datacenter. One of my favorite features is the ability to backup external hard drives as well as the built in version control.

My favorite part of using CrashPlan is the ability to “seed” your initial backup, which can be very slow. They will send you an external 1TB drive that you can use the software to back up to, then in a few days it will all appear inside our CrashPlan+ account. It’s a fairly expensive way to avoid spending a few weeks uploading your data to their servers, but it’s handy to have the option!

Plus, should something happen to your data, CrashPlan will send you DVDs or external hard disks to accelerate your restore.

Price: $1.50-$10/month
Storage: 10GB-Unlimited
Extras: Seeded backup/restore options are available

BackBlaze

Backblaze is similar in feature set, including unlimited backup, to CrashPlan. It even features the same external hard drive support, which is a huge plus in my book!

The Mac app is a native System Preferences preference pane and menu bar applet. It’s about as simple as it could be. The program installs itself and the small, flame-like menu bar applet lets you keep track of whether or not everything is being backed up properly.

Similar to CrashPlan, Backblaze will send your files back to you via a CD/DVD or an external drive if you would rather not download your multi-gigabyte backup set.

Price: $5/month
Storage: Unlimited
Extras: External drive restore options are available

Mozy

This entry has all but been wiped out of the running with their decision to limit the number of gigabytes their users can back up. It works nearly identically to BackBlaze, except with storage restrictions and a much more windowed user interface experience.

Mozy does offer the ability to have your files sent to you via a DVD or external hard drive. Their higher end plan also allows up to 3 computers to back up to your storage space, which is a nice added feature.

Most notably, they offer 2GB of backup completely free, forever. It’s a nice way to test out the service, and perfect for those looking to just double backup their most important documents.

Price: $5.99-$9.99
Storage: 50GB-125GB
Extras: External drive or DVD restore options are available

Arq

Most of the online storage options, like Dropbox and Jungledisk, utilize Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) for storing your files.

Instead of using a backup service you can actually back up directly to S3 using the native Mac app, Arq. Amazon charges you on a sliding per-gigabyte scale, but it’s basically $.10 per gigabyte per month (plus upload/download fees).

Arq does a good job of explaining this during your setup process, which is just a bit harder than setting up any of the other accounts. This is due to it leaving you to set up your Amazon S3 account plus finding the right authentication keys.

Amazon’s Basic Web Services account, which is free, does include 5GB of storage space, which is more than any other service’s trial or free storage option. If you want to control your own online backup service, I would give Arq a try, or take a look at our review of Arq from last year.

Price: $29, plus Amazon S3 storage fees
Storage: 5GB free, unlimited storage at a per-gigabyte basis

JungleDisk

Arq for Mac

Arq

This final offering is an interesting option for those looking for a pay-as-you-go offering. Based on the powerful Rackspace Cloud Files and Amazon S3, JungleDisk offers two plans to help keep your files backed up offsite. Their “Simply Backup” plan works just as you’d expect it. It will run automatic backups to your choice of Rackspace or Amazon, let you do Time Machine like restoration of older file versions, and cut down on backup time using de-duplication on the server side. They also have iPhone and iPad apps that let you access your files on the go.

Their other offering, “Desktop Edition” brings a ton of more features to the table. First off, it includes everything that you get with “Simply Backup.” Second, it acts as both a backup service as well as a networked attached hard drive that you could use the Finder to browse. Also, it’s like a Dropbox, syncing across multiple computers as well as their cloud offering.

The “Simply Backup” edition costs $2/month and the “Desktop Edition” costs $3/month – both include 5GB of storage. Every gigabyte after that costs $0.15 for either account type.

Price: $2/$3 + $0.15 per GB / month
Storage: 5GB included, unlimited storage

Pick One!

Phew! There’s a huge range of options out there! From powerful storage options like JungleDisk and Dropbox to simple backup utilities like BackBlaze and CrashPlan. My recommendations come in three parts:

1. The “I Don’t Need Much Space” Plan: Where I’d tell you to look at CrashPlan’s smaller, 10GB plans as they run just a few bucks each month. If you want access to those precious files everywhere chose JungleDisk, SpiderOak or a Dropbox paid plan. Throw everything in either of those and see which one costs more, because they provide nearly the same feature set.

2. The “Everything Must Go” Plan: Use CrashPlan’s unlimited plan or BackBlaze. Either one is perfect for backing everything up; CrashPlan even more so with their seeded backup program. In the end it basically comes down to whether or not you need a native Mac app with menu bar applet. If so, go with BackBlaze. Otherwise you might be better off with CrashPlan, as it is a more robust program.

3. The “I’m a Student” Plan: If you’re a student, I’m going to recommend either Dropbox, wither their 1GB per referral bump if you have a .edu address, or SpiderOak. SpiderOak acts a middle ground between something as integrated as Dropbox and something a bit more backup-ish like CrashPlan. Plus they give a 50% discount if you are a student. It’s a bit of steal! (Especially since you could get 200GB for the price of Dropbox’s 50GB)

Let me know what you use for offsite backup and if you have any other services or advice to share!


  • Pat O’Halloran

    Oddly timed, no mention of the upcoming MobileMe changes and Crashplan does have a menu status applet.

  • http://pgdahl.dk Peter Guldager Dahl

    Also, it seems Dolly Drive, which is Mac only, would be of interest for some Mac users.

    • http://quintincarlson.com Quintin Carlson

      You’re absoultely right! I missed that one! (There’s too many to count now-a-days.)

  • http://needmoredesigns.com/ Raymond Brigleb

    Yeah, seriously. Apple just announced end-of-life for MobileMe yesterday. And you publish this today? Very odd.

    • http://quintincarlson.com Quintin Carlson

      Sorry guys! I submitted this for publication before Apple’s announcement… however MobileMe will still be active for current memebers until June 30, 2012.

  • Verinder

    How about Sugar Sync? I use that and it seems comparable to Dropbox.

    • http://www.kchblog.com Kathy

      I like SugarSync much better than Dropbox since I don’t have to change the folder structure on my computer. I just choose which folders I want it to back up. I also like how it syncs between all of my devices. I’ve been using it for about a year and a half, and I’m very happy with it.

  • victor

    awesome post! I didn’t know about the 1GB Dropbox referral if you’re a student. I think I will be going with CrashPlan, although I am not sure if using Arq with Amazon SS3 will be cheaper for me.

    Like the others have said, MobileMe is out.

  • http://yourworkflow.ca curtismchale

    Don’t forget about Carbonite either. I switched from Mozy after multiple issues with the OS X client and the data cap.

  • http://tractr.net Stephd@tractr

    I use the Chronosync software to backup via JungleDisk / AmazonS3 for my business. Chonosync has a very complete set of features to fully customize your backup.

  • Franck

    I’ve used Livedrive for some time now and I am happy with the pricing and the unlimited storage, plus they also have a “briefcase” option if you are interested (basically it works as an external drive in the clouds)

  • https://spideroak.com Daniel @ SpiderOak

    Psst. Regarding out ‘non native interface’ I just wanted to say that we are hard @ work on re-designing our Mac client to provide a much more fluid and ‘native’ experience. COMING SOON!

    • Amar Sood

      My main complaint with many of the mentioned services (notably SpiderOak, Mozy and Livedrive (the lattermost of which is the worst of them all and mentioned by others in comments) is that their interfaces (note that this applies to both web *and* desktop clients) have been painful to use, to say the least (I’m a (student) developer and heavy computer user and so interact with whichever service I’m using *a lot*).

      I’m settled on Dropbox for the moment, at the very least – it really does, much like my Mac, “just work”. I have a 50GB account which, it transpires, is more than enough for the majority of my important files, barring my photos. Since my photos don’t fit, I have them all uploaded to Google’s Picasa Web Albums service – their storage plans are *preposterously* cheap and I get all of the added, incredibly powerful features of Picasa.

      As well as this, Backblaze provides a convenient whole-system backup to top things off.

      While using all three services certainly costs more than just getting myself a SpiderOak account, for their respective interfaces (each perfect for what it does), I can vouch for the fact that it’s well worth the outlay.

      (oh and Dropbox has an iPhone (and awesome web) app – *insanely* useful!)

  • Grant

    Hey there!

    I use Crashplan, and love it! Quick FYI though, Crashplan does have a status applet for the menu bar (it is on Beta, just search for it in their blog!). Once I found it, it sealed the deal!

    Love Crashplan, just thought I’d let you know – and thanks for the insightful article!!

  • Anton

    After testing a lot of different backup solutions, I’ve used Backblaze for over a year now. A great plus is the web access that basically enables you to access any file on your hard drive from anywhere.

  • http://www.cipriancosma.ro Ciprian

    I tested almos everything that is available on the market. I now use SugarSync 30GB plan and LiveDrive for unlimited backup (Their mac app is still beta). So far I did not need to restore , I hope I am covered :)

  • http://jessecampbell.ca Jesse Campbell

    I’ve been using Arq for offsite backup and project archival since it was in beta. It has saved me from a few meltdowns…and with S3 being so cheap it’s a hard option to beat.

  • http://createdm.com/george/ George Hammerton

    Been using Backblaze for a couple of months, can’t complain and like their ethos :)

  • http://www.OpenDrive.com OpenDrive

    Although I am a bit biased — I have to say http://www.OpenDrive.com is a great alternative as well. We offer amazing features and support — give us a try for free.

    Plus, here’s a link for 25% off for transferring iDisk users. http://www.opendrive.com?od=NGQzNjY4MzU5MTg1ZV8yNQ

  • Yo

    I’ve used Carbonite in the past, but it didn’t work when I needed a restore. So I switched to Crashplan, which is ok, but needs pruning every once in a while, because it gets full, even when I’m far from filling my “allowed” space. Prolly the versions it keeps?? I’m looking for an alternative what would keep track of the files I want to backup (just like Carbonite did), but haven’t found anything yet… (and my renewal for Crashplan comes up, hm……)

  • Michael Peels

    http://www.pitds.co.za – Excellent!!!

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  • Tinny

    Is it just Dollydrive Time machine – compatible?

  • Ed

    DON’T EVER USE BACKBLAZE!

    I’ve been using Backblaze for some years and when I needed them they let me down. They can only let me have 440GB of the 700GB I had stored with them for ‘technical reasons’.

    Great.

    So I’m looking for an equally cheap option which is unlimited and will include my external drive.

    • Leo

      They just lost your Data and can’t recover it? You should sue them!

  • AK

    Arq and JungleDisk seem to be really good options for AWS but unfortunately they seem to be very costly. Esp. seeing that Arq upgrades are charged separately.

    But again, “costly” is a relative concept.

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