28 June 2008

REVIEW: Carbonite Online Backup

One of the challenges of constantly traveling is ensuring that all of my data is continuously backed up.  Having lost data as a result of either a hardware or software failure, I know I need a backup, but I could never find a good solution. Enter Carbonite.

I happened upon Carbonite about four months ago.  Essentially, they offer an online backup of your machine (Windows only).  For $49/year, they will allow you to backup an unlimited amount of data.  When you sign-up for the service, they require a small agent download and install.  The agent constantly monitors various folders/files on your machine to determine whether they've changed; if they have, it starts copying the file to your online backup.  By default, Carbonite will backup all of your personal files -- on XP, this means anything in your Documents and Settings directory.  In Vista, this would include anything in your Users directory.  If you want to add other directories/files, just right click on the file or directory and pick Carbonite from the context menu and then "Back this up."  With virtually the same operation, you can also exclude certain files.

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In addition, Carbonite surfaces in your "My Computer" as another drive.  Double clicking on the icon will show you what's been backed up.  It's presented as an Explorer-like interface, making finding a file pretty easy.

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In my own experience, I ended up backing up about 32 Gb of data.  The complete backup took a number of days to complete.  However, Carbonite indicates a particular file's backup status by placing a small "button" on each file -- if the button is yellow, the file is in need of backing up.  If the button is green, the current version of that file is backed up.  You can also look at the Carbonite agent status in your system tray -- green indicates all files are backed up and yellow indicates that certain files require backup.

While backup is one thing, the restoration is entirely a different matter.  I also recently had the opportunity to test the service.  Not being completely trusting, I backed my files to a USB drive prior to wiping out my machine.  I then reloaded by then XP laptop with Vista, reloaded the Carbonite agent and told the agent to start a restore. 

Within a day I had most of my important files back.  That said, it's been about a week since I started the restoration and Carbonite still reports that I have quite a few files left to restore.  In truth, I'm not precisely sure what is missing, but I suspect it's my extensive (legal) music collection, since all of my documents have been restored.  Looking at the restore status in Carbonite has largely confirmed my theory.

My Observations:

  • While backups certainly can happen over a longer period of time, waiting a week (or more) to get all of your files restored is unreasonable.  Granted, I've not been connected to a high-speed connection the entire time.  However, I have had 1 Mb or better connectivity for the better part of four days during week.  I'm not sure if the slowness is simply a function of available bandwidth or how Carbonite prioritizes its use of your bandwidth; throttling bandwidth usage for normal backups is expected, but I would think it would want to consume as much bandwidth as possible for the restoration.
  • I've recently started using the service on a server.  I'm not backing up a ton of data, but the fact that the files are "instantly" offsite is somewhat comforting.  Because there isn't a lot of data AND the server will have a dedicated connection with loads of bandwidth, my guess is that any restore should be pretty snappy.
  • I have tried contacting support regarding my restore speed.  It's been two days and so far I've not heard back.  Their web site did state that they were dealing with "higher-than-normal" volume.  Not sure what that means for them, but I'm growing a bit impatient.

My Verdict:

  • For basic backups of your files, I've been pretty happy with the service.  For $49/year, you can't beat the price, especially since you're allowed unlimited space.
  • Now knowing restores take so long, you may consider just using Carbonite for selected files.  If you have  high-speed connection, the restore should be O.K.  My bread and butter files were restored pretty quick (desktop and documents).

If this service sounds interesting to you, check out Carbonite's web site.  (NOTE: the link is a "refer a friend link")

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Shawn...as always, great information from you. Miss having you around here...keep the info-blogs rolling! - Kelly B

Robin said...

Hi I think your report on Carbonite is accurate, I love the security it is now offering me.

There is one thing I have noticed though, when carbonite is running and I play a song or listen in to an online broadcast it sometimes distorts like dragging a word or phrase. This can even occurs when I run carbonite in "Low Priority" mode.

I also notice that in some software the mouse is heavy, like it needs time (a second or two) to catch up. This can be very irritating when in interactive programs like Paltalk and you can't release the microphone...

Other than that I haven't yet tried to restore anything so that will be interesting.

I love the price as well...

Thanks

Robin

Shawn said...

Robin:

I haven't noticed any slow down on my machines -- I run it on two PCs and two servers. However, I'd love to hear more feedback on your experiences. I'm especially interested in your restoration experience; my recent experience with trying to restore my entire machine worked generally, but it definitely have been faster.

Shawn

Dave said...

Shawn, I am suffering the same sssslllooowww restore times, even though I have 4MBit connection I am getting approx 130KB/sec instead of 350-400!

I have 65GB to go... *sigh*

Shawn said...

Dave:

Ultimately, my restore took weeks (literally). Again, most of my important files were restored almost immediately, but I have a number of Visual Studio projects that were never restored. Carbonite support said that they were having trouble with their servers and, after several rounds with support, they announced my files were lost. Most of what was lost didn't make much difference to me, but the fact that files were lost was a bit disconcerting. Carbonite, to their credit, extended my subscription about six months as "payment" for the error.

You may want to contact them (Support) earlier rather than later to save youself headaches.

Shawn

Anonymous said...

I used to use Carbonite and found it to be a good service. I lost my data and was able to restore eventually, so all was well. I also had a very slow restore speed and it took over 3 weeks to get my data back which was not good for business. I moved to a company called perfectbackup.co.uk because they send data to you on a disk should it be lost. I tested this service and now I will be up and running again within 24 hours should the worst happen.