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Backblaze Personal Unlimited Cloud Backup Review

I recently switched from running a Linux server with iDrive, to a macOS server with Backblaze

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Backblaze Personal Unlimited Cloud Backup Review

Why Backblaze?

Recently, I had a series of problems with iDrive cloud backup on my home Linux server — so I searched for an alternative.

At $6 per month for unlimited storage (at the time of writing), Backblaze looked like good value. 

The only problem was a lack of Linux support — it is only suitable for Mac or Windows computers.

I have also heard about Backblaze on various podcasts during the last year or two, including The Talk Show with John Gruber.

My home Linux server was several years old, so I decided it was time for a complete change. Eventually I decided to switch to using a Mac mini — and that meant I could use Backblaze for cloud backups.

Configuring Backblaze

I found Backblaze to be very easy to set up. After installation, a shortcut to Backblaze appears in the menu bar.

Backblaze Menu Bar on macOS
Backblaze Menu Bar on macOS

The GUI is straightforward, and the default options are sensible — many people could just leave them as they are.

Backblaze GUI on macOS
Backblaze GUI on macOS

Options include:

  • Which drives to back up
  • Which files to exclude
  • Bandwidth control (throttling)
  • Backup schedule (e.g. continuous or one per day)
  • File types to exclude (some types cannot be backed up)
  • Private encryption key (so nobody but you can access the backup files)
  • Reports on things like backup size and content, and what files are due to be backed up
  • Only Data Files Are Backed Up
Backblaze Performance Settings (one of six setting tabs)
Backblaze Performance Settings (one of six setting tabs)

 

Note that Backblaze is not designed to back up your computer’s operating system and applications.

So in addition to Backblaze, you should also backup locally, e.g. to an external USB drive. On macOS, you can use Time Machine, Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper to do that. (I also use Chronosync for some local backup tasks.)

Since Backblaze does not backup your entire computer, you might wonder if it is worth having. My answer is a definite ‘yes’ — it provides a secure off-site backup of your important data, such as documents, photos, movies and music. 



My Initial Backup

Although my home internet service is fast for downloads, it isn’t particularly fast when it comes to uploads. 

With an initial backup size of 1,595,347 MB, consisting of 141,106 files, I expected it to take a long time — and I was not wrong; it took 34 days to complete.

Backblaze Initial Backup Progress
Backblaze Initial Backup Progress

As you can see from the graph, progress was quite steady and reliable, which made me confident that it would finish without any problems.

I added a few files during the initial backup phase, which is why there are a few bumps here and there on the graph.

The average transfer rate was about 46,654 megabytes per day, or 4.5 Mbit / second, which sounds reasonable considering the limitations of my home internet service provider.

Smallest Files First

From my observations, the strategy that Backblaze seems to use is to back up the smallest files first, finishing with the largest files. You can see that from the graph — the number of files remaining drops much more rapidly at first.

Private Encryption Key

Like iDrive, Backblaze provides the option of using a private encryption key.

I chose to use that, for greater peace of mind. It means that my files cannot be viewed by anyone else. The downside is that if I lose the key, nobody — not even Backblaze — can help me to access my cloud backups.

Restoring Files

Files can be restored using the Backblaze website. Individual files can be downloaded directly, or a zip archive can be created containing multiple files. There is no charge for restoring files by downloading them.

Alternatively, you can pay for Backblaze to send you a USB flash drive (up to 256 GB) or hard drive (up to 8 TB), which will be faster if you are restoring a large amount of data. If you send the drive back within 30 days, you get a refund. (I assume this doesn’t just apply to people living in the USA.)

Mobile App

There is a mobile app, which allows individual files to be downloaded to your phone and viewed. Unfortunately, there are no thumbnails for photos, except for files which you have previously tapped on and downloaded.

The following screen-shot of my 2003 holiday photo backup only shows one thumbnail, because I have previously looked at that image.

Backblaze Mobile App (iOS)
Backblaze Mobile App (iOS)

Despite its limitations, I find the mobile app to be very useful. And it is a reassuring way to do spot-checks on your backups.

Delayed Backups

After my initial backup had finished, I left Backblaze set up with the default option of doing continuous backups. 

When I added some files to my server, I somehow expected that they would be backed up within minutes, if not seconds.

But I was wrong — looking in the mobile app did not show the newly added files!

So I clicked on the ‘backup now’ option within the Backblaze app. Shortly afterwards, it told me that it had finished. But the new files were still not showing up within the mobile app.

A quick search online for ‘backblaze continuous backup not working’ turned up a help article, which said that Backblaze was designed to be lightweight, and that it might take 3 hours to find new files. 

When I checked a few hours later, I was relieved to see that the missing files were there at last.

I’m still not sure why telling it to back up now would not speed things up, or if indeed the files had actually been backed up sooner, and it was just that the mobile app was slow to show them (despite me refreshing it numerous times).

Time Limits

I expected that Backblaze would retain my backups for as long as I have paid for their service.

But I was wrong.

When it comes to external hard drives, backups get deleted for drives that have not been connected for 30 days!

Fortunately, Backblaze will send reminder emails before that happens.

There is also a six month time limit for the computer itself. If your machine has been switched off for six months, its backups get deleted.

At first, those time limits looked like deal-breakers to me.

But I’m never away for more than a week or two, and if an external drive failed, then I’m sure I’d get things sorted out well before the 30-day time limit.

Conclusion

Backblaze is not perfect — there is the delay in backing up new files, a lack of thumbnails in the mobile app, and the time limits.

But it offers very good value for an unlimited backup service, and I am very happy with it. So much so, that I signed up for a two-year deal.

Links

Try Backblaze free for one month using this link:

https://secure.backblaze.com/r/02r5q5

If you follow this link, you will see the somewhat amusing name that I used, where it says that I invited you to try Backblaze.

(If you decide to continue after your free month, I get a free month too.)



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