CrashPlan Plus 3 Review

The importance of an offsite back up cannot be overstated and CrashPlan offers a neat offsite back up solution with the ability to back up to a secure online server, to other folders and drives locally, or more interestingly, to a friends PC over the Internet.

Backing up your work, be it vital documents, images, video or all of the above, is a crucial step in protecting the data you create. It is also equally vital to have an offsite back up since, what happens should you have a house fire or the office went up in smoke and both your PC and external drives sat next to it on the desk were all destroyed along with everything else in the fire? Exactly…

Consider then if that data is also critical for your business and then what is already a disaster could be far far worse. Enter CrashPlan, by Code42 Software.

The Free Bit
Offsite back solutions over a network and the Internet are not new and like the others on the market, such as Backup Direct, Backup Technology’s Asigra system and Perfect Backup, CrashPlan provides a way to securely back up your data to offsite to CrashPlan servers. There’s a basic service that is free to use, while the more comprehensive solutions come for a modest price, depending on the level you select. 

The basic bit of CrashPlan is simply a free program you can download from the Internet and which can be installed on both Windows and Mac computers. With it you get the ability to back up to your local drives, other computers and drives on a network or, with the use of a special code, to a friends PC, over the Internet.

Folders and files to be backed up, or data on external hard disc drives can be designated within the program’s interface. The “friends PC” idea is novel one and allows you to utilise spare storage on a friends PC for your precious data while in return, the “friend” can back up to your system’s spare capacity too, so you both get a easy to retrieve backed up data stored offsite. 

It goes without saying, (but I shall anyway) while the system is secure, the “friends PC” back up needs to be with a friend whom you trust and providing they also have an always-on broadband Internet connection.

Set up was simple, even the Friends PC bit using a code generated automatically by the program emailed to a friend. Once connected the computers on the back up system appear within the program’s Destination tab (more on which later), thankfully it did not require any tinkering within firewalls and ports to get working, which made it very user-friendly. 

Once set up, providing the computer’s are switched on and both are connected to the internet, the folders and files to be backed up can be selected within the program and the back up starts, from then on CrashPlan carries on automatically.

The Bit You Pay For
CrashPlan Plus is the bit you need to pay for. Here, for a modest fee of  $1.50 a month you can back up one PC and up to 10GB of data, for $3 a month you can back up one computer and unlimited amounts of data storage while for $6 a month you get the a Family pack, which allows you to back up unlimited amounts of data from up to 10 PCs.

In other words, the program can cost from Free to $72 a year; that’s free to just over £45 Sterling a year for the CrashPlan Plus service if you buy it as  four year package. If you buy it on a month by month basis, the cost doubles to $12 a month, while a single year’s package costs $10 a month so that’s just over £75 a year depending on the exchange rates.

CrashPlan Plus (and similarly the free version) provides a continuous back up in real time; always looking for changes to your discs and backing up the most vital data first and then continuing to  back up the rest of your data, such as older data files that have not changed recently.

You can configure the data rate to suit your connection while it’s worth noting, the flow of back up data is not throttled by the system, which helps speed up the back up process, you can also tailor the way CrashPlan communicates to use less system resources when you’re working on your PC than when you’re away from your system.

In terms of security, you get 128-bit Blowfish encryption but using the enhanced “Plus” version encryption is ramped up to 448-bit. Files shared on a friends PC are encrypted so the friend won’t even know the file names of the data you store on their computer.

There’s also three levels of password protection too: An account password for securing your data, a Private Password can be used as an additional protection before restoring any files from backed up data and finally, there’s a Private Key that you can use which replaces the default encryption key with your own, adding another level of security protection. In fact, the security package offered by CrashPlan Plus is approved for commercial use.

You can schedule back ups to run from once each day to every minute while 15-minutes is the default setting. Once your initial selection of data has been back up, only incremental changes are made from that point on, reflecting changes you make to your data and discs; differential back ups reflect changes you have made ignoring unchanged data.

A de-duplication system helps to prevent unnecessary data is back up from files or folders and importantly, all the data being back up is compressed before being sent. 

CrashPlan Interface
The CrashPlan interface is clean and simple to follow. The main Backup page reflects the folders and data you have/are backing up and where it is being back up to. It gives a bar graph of how much has been backed up and provides info on the remaining time before the back is completed.

The Restore page lets you select exactly what data you’d like to restore while the Setting page provides the necessary information on settings for fine tuning the amount of the CPU used by the program, the frequency of the back up, account information, security (password) settings and network behaviours, such as the size of data packets used and adjusting the communication speeds.

A History page lets you see what’s backed up, when – and if – there have been any issues in the program, while a Friends page gives a special code for you to use to invite to mates to back up to your spare drives. Finally, the Destinations page provides a way for you to check to what or to whom you are backing up including friends, folders, computers and even other online back up services if you use more than just CrashPlan for example.

CrashPlan works well and despite a couple of issues where the back ups have failed because of an internet outage and once where my router was mucking about, in both cases no data was lost and once connected again, CrashPlan carried on from where it left off. If there’s a bigger problem, say protracted connection issues you might be unaware of, CrashPlan sends email alerts to warn you if it’s not been able to connect, but more helpfully, it emails every day (or you can reduce the frequency if needs be) letting you know how back ups are going, which is brilliant.

One consideration for those of you wishing to back up large amounts of data is simply this, it can take a long time to back up to CrashPlan’s servers. 1TB worth of photographs, for example, on an external hard disc, can take about a year! But don’t panic, since CrashPlan’s service does not limit the file sizes it allows to be backed up and if you have a large amount of data such as the above, and you live in the US and want to back up to CrashPlan’s servers, you can send a (provided by CrashPlan, if requested) a seed disc and you can use the same seed process with your friends too. 

In either case, you copy the data to be backed up from a friends “seed” disc to your system or, once you have received a seed disc from CrashPlan and copied the data you need to back up to it, you send the seed disc supplied by CrashPlan back to them. rumours abound about the Seed Service rolling out to the UK in the future, as do rumours of European back up hub, so watch this space, because should either come to pass, you'll here about it here fist.

If you live in the States and use the Seed Service (CrashPlan’s “seed service” discs are sent to you and included in the cost of the service, which is nice, and you can use the reverse of this process called “Restore to your Door” with CrashPlan sending you a seed disc of your backed up data from which you can restore your system if the worst should happen.) the data on the CrashPlan seed disc is put on their server and from that point you then continue to back up over the Internet as normal, ditto the “friends” seed disc which to be clear, is available anywhere, since you just need a mate and an external disc with some space on it.

On a final note, in terms of compatibility, though I ran the program on my Apple Mac computers, CrashPlan’s Java engine means it can run seamlessly between Windows PCs, Macs or Linux or Solaris operating systems so is flexible enough to cope with even the most complex of networked PC working environments.

CrashPlan is a free – for the basic version – offsite back up solution that uses social networking to help you back up to friend and families PCs. CrashPlan Plus 3 meanwhile gives you all of CrashPlan and allows you the flexibility to back up offsite to CrashPlan’s own US, Minnesota-based servers, with the Restore To Your Door and Seed Service backing up the back up process still further; it's a real shame however, this is not yet available in the UK. Its simple to use back up management system and the addition of configurable, multiple back up sets, means it is a truly flexible and secure offsite back up solution that provides secure data recovery for a relatively modest amount, providing piece of mind that to me makes it worth every single penny.