Easiest online backup service I've used. Very limited features. Good as a secondary backup solution. Unlimited backup storage.
I have been in the backup game for a very long time now. I watched companies come and go, especially the ones offering unlimited online backup. Yet there are a few contenders that are here to stay and Backblaze is one of those services. Despite not being “perfect”, I have recommended it to friends, family and colleagues ever since its inception in 2007. Since then, Backblaze is now storing over 100 petabytes (that is 100,000,000 GB) with their custom tailored storage pods whose ingenious engineering make it possible to have an unmetered plan for as low as $5 per month.
Our Backblaze Review 2017
I’m a customer for more than 3 years and have written reviews about this service for just as long (and interviewed the CEO Gleb Budman, you can listen to it here) – Backblaze has never raised their rates, never experienced any meaningful outages, never emailed me about overuse (I store more than 3 TB with them). In fact, it has been quite inconspicuous in those years, running quietly in the background doing one thing very well: backing up my data to the cloud.
And that’s what I want my cloud backup service to do. I do not need fancy bells and whistles. I do not need a syncing client if this sacrifices backup speed and/or reliability. While I would consider myself a geek that does like to go into the nitty-gritty details of software, the older I get the less energy and goodwill I have towards spending my time on options and menu items.
Backblaze strips away the pain many consumers and businesses feel with software. It just works out of the box – and backs up every file you have on your computer (more on Backblaze’s backup principle later in this review).
In those three years of using Backblaze I’m fortunate to say I have never used it once to restore my files. I had one hard drive failure but I always keep a local backup of my files and non-cloud restores are just so much faster. Backblaze is just another security layer that I can use just in case. I have done several test restores of core files to gauge Backblaze’s file restoration ability, though.
Backblaze is also very prolific when it comes to satisfying the geek in me who likes to read about hard drive performance: their annual review of what are the best hard drives is always on the front page of HackerNews and worth a read if you consider purchasing hard disks for your NAS or external hard drive. As Backblaze uses thousands of drives and constantly performs infrastructure upgrades they have the necessary data to show for it. Transparency is something this Silicon Valley company embraces and those who want to know more about them can read stories and company insights on their blog.
Unlimited storage in the cloud seems very en vogue today. These offerings cater to a need consumers have: digital cameras have higher resolutions, thus images take up more space; aunt Jane wants her VHS videos from the 80’s digitalized and store them on her hard drive. Next generation smart phone sensors have more than quadrupled image and video resolutions leading to more data – more data that can be lost forever if it’s not backed up properly.
That’s why we at Cloudwards.net try to convince people that backing up files is crucial and failing to do so will lead to an unhappy feeling of “if I only…” at best and disaster at worst.
Backblaze is one of those solutions that helps you get the cloud backup or off-site backup out of your way. It is certainly not without fault, though I’m aware that the intro may suggest otherwise. In this Backblaze review we’ll go over the pros and cons, backup and restore process and look at how Backblaze compares with other services in the field.
This review is mainly focused Backblaze’s personal plan, yet they do offer a business version which, I’ve heard, runs smoothly, too. If your business is in need of serious image or bare metal backup though, you need to look elsewhere as Backblaze only offers a limited feature set according to their overall philosophy.
Disclaimer: Cloudwards.net receives a small monetary compensation if you signup through one of our links at no additional cost to you. In you doing so, you help us create more awesome content in future and help keep this website alive. Thank you.
Where most cloud storage providers such as Dropbox, MEGA, SpiderOak amongst other offer users free storage for life, Backblaze comes with a free 15 day trial version. Why don’t they offer a free version with limited space? Backblaze is a backup only service, so you don’t get all the cloud collaboration features you might expect in a typical Dropbox, Egnyte or Box where you can sync your files or share links with your peers.
It wouldn’t make much sense to offer 2GB, 5GB or 10GB of backup only space because this simply wouldn’t be enough for most people. So, a free trial does make sense, in that you’ll get an idea how the software works and if you like it or not. Don’t expect to upload your whole 100GB hard drive files in those 15 days, though, that’s not likely to happen. Online backup takes time and patience, even with a broadband connection. If you’re lucky you can upload 1 or 2 gigabytes per day. More on backup and upload download speeds in this section.
Backblaze wants your email address to get started, there is no credit card needed to sign up for the free trial. Once provided the client download starts automatically. I’m using a Macintosh but obviously it works for Windows computers just as well.
The client comes as a component of the systems panel and while I’d prefer a standalone version, it’s very inconspicuous and doesn’t get in your way. I’m running both Backblaze and Crashplan in the background and I’ve never had any problems with either Backblaze or Crashplan being a resource hog. Backblaze always hovers around 1 or 2% CPU usage so it will even work with older computers that your grandma might be using.
An In-Depth Look at the Client
You can either access the client from the systems menu or from the top sys tray where a nice icon of a stylized flame watches for data to be backed up. When opened, it presents the most important piece of information up front: are you backed up or not. Most likely when just downloaded you see an exclamation mark that it’s currently in process of backing up your files.
After installing Backblaze it starts with the backup automatically, backing everything up except system and application files or any files you specifically exclude in the exclusion list:
The overview panel also gives an update of which file is being transferred and what backup mode you’ve chosen. Most people should use the continuous backup feature as this will allow Backblaze to run hands-off. You can schedule your backups to take place once per day or manually when you hit a button. Some may wish hourly backups or backups only on specific dates but scheduling is not a feature Backblaze focus is on and most likely won’t be in future iterations. If anything, they’ll strip down the client even further to make it easier to use. As broadband is becoming more and more abundant, it’s likely they’ll get rid of the scheduling feature entirely.
The reports tab provides a deeper look into the kinds of files you have backed up and it allows a user to identify which are the files that make up most of the space of your hard drive. For me this is clearly “movie files” because I work a lot with video and keep the raw video files on an external hard drive that I have backed up with Backblaze (currently, more than 1TB).
Further settings can be applied: the security tab lets you set a personal encryption key that I can only recommend. Local encryption ensures your data cannot be decrypted except by yourself. This key resides on the hard drive and is not stored on Backblaze’s servers. We’ll have a closer look into Backblaze’s security here.
In the performance tab you can either let Backblaze determine the bandwidth usage or set it to manually. I always use manually and set the slider to faster backups.
Backblaze has the most simple pricing plan I’ve come across in the online backup/cloud storage field. As pointed out previously, they remain true to their overall $5/month per computer pricing for years and probably always will be. But for your reading convenience here is their pricing:
$ 5 Monthly
$ 50.00 (-17%)
$ 90.00 (-25%)
Plan is for one computer.
Backing up data
Looking at other backup services like Crashplan (review here), Carbonite (review here) or SpiderOak (review here) you need to select folders or files that you want to back up first. Backblaze’s philosophy is different. They don’t want to burden users with having to make such decisions as to what they want/need or must backup. For the average Joe or Jill that makes sense; when I talk to my friends about backup I feel that laziness is one of the core issues why people don’t back up. “I don’t know how this works”, “I already have Dropbox”, “I use an external hard drive for backup” etc.
It always takes time to explain why a single backup is not enough and an off-site backup is really a smart thing to do. So the less hassle a user faces with backup the better. But even amongst backup professionals there is a saying: the easier the better, the more automated the better. So Backblaze fits right into this area, yet not without nuisances.
So let’s discuss this unlimited thing once and for all. I have covered it in a couple of my popular comparison articles (especially Crashplan vs Backblaze and Carbonite vs Crashplan). Is Backblaze truly unlimited? My answer to this question is somewhat ambivalent depending on the perspective you assume. Looking at it only from a storage perspective, yes, Backblaze offers unlimited storage. Backblaze will not limit the amount, size or kind of files you upload – be it a 20GB disc image or a 5KB text document. Nor do they limit the overall bandwidth which you can upload with. My backups encompass a couple of terabytes and I’ve never had any issues, “fair use” or otherwise with this service.
There are a couple of restrictions though, that you won’t find with Crashplan for example: what’s hurting the overall experience is, in my opinion, that you need to select your hard drives individually for backup. As a true hassle-free service I’d expect this to be done automatically for me. Obviously, backing up external hard drives would result in extra amount of storage needs that in turn would drive the overall cost per user up. I believe Backblaze is already operating with tight margins with $5 per month.
What’s worse is that one needs to connect the external hard drive every 30 days to keep Backblaze from deleting those files from your cloud backups. Now, you will get notified of this process in a count-down like fashion via email but it’s nevertheless an experience that doesn’t fit into the overall positive recognition this providers enjoys in most reviews (including this one).
People who travel frequently, connecting and disconnecting devices this could be a deal breaker and they might want to look at Crashplan (direct link) instead. For me, it’s less relevant of an issue because I mainly work from my office where I have all hard drives connected all the time. Backblaze frames this like so on their FAQ page:
“Backblaze works best if you leave the external hard drive attached to your computer all the time. However, Backblaze will backup external USB and Firewire hard drives that are detached and re-attached as long as you remember to re-attach the hard drive at least once every 30 days. If the drive is detached for more than 30 days, Backblaze interprets this as data that has been permanently deleted and securely deletes the copy from the Backblaze datacenter. The 30 day countdown is only for drives that have been unplugged”
The 30 day countdown doesn’t apply if the computer is shut down for a prolonged vacation or something similar. You should make sure, however, to reconnect your external hard drive when you come backup.
How speedy is Backblaze?
Backblaze doesn’t want you to think. While for many beginners this might be a good strategy this can be a little frustrating for people who are looking for advanced backup options. Backblaze’s mission is actually quite honorable: just back up anything that is on a PC where Backblaze is installed, except application and system files. It’s a shame there are no “advanced options” to customize your backup a little better.
Normally, we have our test folder of 10 GB in size and we go manually through the backup software to select that folder for backup. However, this not really possible with Backblaze. We described Backblaze’s strategy earlier in this review. When normally you have to select the files and folders you want to backup, with Backblaze it’s the other way around: you only select the folders that you don’t want Backblaze to backup.
That made it actually quite difficult to grab the test folder because I would have to go and unselect everything else. This was quite a tedious process and we didn’t manage to only select our test folder so we backed up a little more than the 10 GB. Backblaze had to show how fast it could transfer 11 GB onto their servers. And also, how fast the restore would be. I could have transferred all my files onto a new partition though.
Backblaze backup speed
In terms of speed Backblaze is certainly one of the top performers. Our 11 GB of files have been transferred in record time: it only took 9 hours and 17 minutes for everything to be backed up. Which was faster than I personally expected, because my regular backup of my own files seem to take much longer.
Backing up a lot of data
Unlimited online backup is theory sounds awesome and it really is. But there is one caveat many people miss:
The bottle neck is almost always a user’s own bandwidth provided by the ISP (internet service provider). Even if you’re lucky and got yourself a 10Mbit/s upstream broadband connection your backups will take a certain amount of time. Let’s assume you’re one of the lucky guys with a nice bandwidth and you can upload 1GB per day. It doesn’t require a PhD to figure out how long your backup is going to take. 100 days. Of course, this may be faster a slower depending on a plethora of factors, such as
- Do you have your computer running day and night?
- Are there any other apps and services requiring upload bandwidth?
- Do you, for example, use Dropbox or another data backup service provider?
Overall, you need to bring some patience to the table if you seriously consider cloud backup. Especially, if you’re dealing with very large files like movie files it can get tough. That’s why we recommend to always do a local backup first and switch to cloud backup when all your important stuff is secured. So even if your hard drive crashes along the way there is always a local backup copy which is faster to restore anyways.
Some online backup services offer hard drive shipping service where they’d send an external hard drive. Users can load their files and send it back. Obviously, this comes at a fee (generally around $200, depending on the size of the hard drive) and is only available for US customers. This process is called “seed backup”.
Take a note on that one if you cannot wait for months to have your terabytes backed up. You won’t find this option with Backblaze, though. However, they do offer a restore-to-door service where they send a hard drive to your home. Again, Crashplan maybe an alternative to Backblaze as they offer seeded backups.
The nitty-gritty: file restoration
This wouldn’t be a proper review if I didn’t look at how Backblaze restores files. For some people it may a little bit counter intuitive but restoring files works entirely from their web interface, which means it’s possible to get a file technically at any place with an Internet connection. Backblaze then sends a link to a ZIP file with the contents of your backup to your inbox. But beware this can take a long while if restores are large (above 10GB), in this case using the Backblaze Downloader is the better option. There are some people in the comments suggesting that Backblaze has problems with larger restores – I couldn’t reproduce these problems on my end.
I would highly recommend to only use the web interface for smaller files that you need urgently, for example when working on another person’s computer and getting to your files is impossible.
Version history: go back in time
Backblaze allows for time travel of up to 30 days in the past. Any service not offering at least 30 days of file versions is not worth being called a backup service. I have come to love file versioning that helps me recover past versions of my writings that I find better than the current version I’m working on.
30 days is OK, but not great. Here’s another limit to the “unlimited” service, but this is a restriction most users can live with. I’m sure Backblaze will soon make the leap towards unlimited versioning and hard drive backup to catch up with some competing cloud backup offerings.
The search feature in the web interface works fast and finds pretty much every file you’ve backed up. In my last review I noted that I’d love to see a search feature by file type of size. That’s still a request I have today. There are some workarounds but it is not natively supported by the web app, yet.
Backup encryption & Security
Encryption should be an essential part of your cloud backups and any service worth considering should offer two types of encryption methods:
- SSL/TLS encryption for files that are transferred from the sender to the recipient (service). This is called transit encryption.
- AES encryption at rest (the service’s servers) – this method is used to protect your files with a key that is stored on the servers in a secure format.
Backblaze offers both types for your files and they add another security layer which is called local encryption. That means you get to choose a personal passphrase unknown to anybody but yourself. Any time you want to restore from Backblaze’s servers you need this personal passphrase to get to your files. This key is stored locally and only temporarily used by Backblaze to decrypt the requested data.
When you’ve requested a restore, a secure copy is assembled on Backblaze’s data centers and automatically deleted after 7 days or you can delete it manually.
By using triple encryption (local, transit, and off-site) you get maximum protection for your files. There is only one caveat with ultimate security: if you forget your personal passphrase there is no way to get your files back.
Everything is mobile these days, and online backup services have come up with pretty nifty apps for file access on the go. Backblaze released their app a year ago and provides you with basic file access. So in case you need a file or photograph, it’s easily accessible via the native app. The app works on both iOS and Android devices so the majority of mobile phone users can make use of it.
Once you’ve downloaded the file from your backups you can preview them on your iPhone and share it with your friends and family. I have used this feature a lot when on business trips: sometimes there is this one file you forgot at home. It doesn’t work as intuitive as the Dropbox app but it’s worth having it installed on your phone just in case.
What features are missing?
For most users Backblaze is all they need. Yet, there are some advanced features I wish Backblaze had. One example is backing up network attached storage devices (NAS). I use a Synology DiskStation to access some of my files when I’m away via their Dropbox like service CloudStation. Obviously, I have setup a RAID so that if one hard drive fails, I can simply replace it without data loss. But a RAID is not a backup. So, currently I transfer the files once per week to my external hard drive that is connected to my computer. Backblaze backs up the external hard drive but not my NAS.
If I could spare this extra step this would be the ideal backup service for me and I guess for most advanced users with special needs. The alternative would be to use Amazon Glacier which is much more expensive and requires another client to run on my computer. Or, for total control, one could manually push files to Glacier and cut out the middleman.
Crashplan has a workaround for NAS devices for the Synology but it is only offered by a third party and I cannot rely on an app that hasn’t been approved by the vendors.
There are concerns by some user of Backblaze not backing up metadata, e.g. file permissions, symlinks, finder flags etc. It failed pretty much all but one of Backup Bouncer tests in this regard. So if backing up meta data is important to you you should check Crashplan or another manual backup option instead. Backblaze is not intended to be a disk imaging or bare metal backup.
Backing up with Backblaze, yay or nay?
You might have already guessed my conclusion for this year’s Backblaze review: it’s a pretty awesome backup service that will keep your files backed up and secured in the cloud. Of course, no software or service is perfect and I’ve listed my complaints in this review, especially the 30 day file history limit. We’ll see if Backblaze becomes more generous as storage prices decrease.
It’s important to note that I do recommend cloud backups only as a secondary backup for your local backups never as a replacement. So make sure to have a solid, fool-proof solution in place and then head over to Backblaze to start your free trial.
Backblaze is best for users who are not willing to fiddle with the details – it simply works and the exclusion principal is ideal for mom and pop who think Google is the Internet (sorry mom). But even I do find myself heading for simpler, less time consuming apps and services. The times of clunky, resource heavy apps is clearly over and Backblaze certainly is the best contender in the “don’t make me think” category.
We’d love to hear what you think about Backblaze. Do you currently use it? What’s your experience so far? Leave a review below.
Listen to our founder interview
Gleb Budman CEO of Backblaze answer all of my questions in this interview.
|Free Trial||15 Days|
|Price||Starts from $ 5.00 per month|
|Free External HD Backup|
|Bare Metal Backup|
|Exclude File Extensions for Backup|
|File Size Limit||Unlimited GB|
|Share Photo Albums|
|Server Side Encryption||256-bit|
|Keeps deleted files||30|