When I first came across early providers offering online backup (that must have been 10 years ago) people were lucky to get a couple of gigabytes of storage at a few hundred bucks — per month. Unlimited online backup was an unthinkable thing; needless to say the option was only viable for businesses or professionals. These were dark days, when the average email service provider limited customers to a couple of megabytes, forcing them to keep a clean inbox at all times.
Now, things are very different. The abundance of storage combined with better and more efficient hard drives and constant developments in the field, have led to significant price drops per gigabyte over the years. That’s the reason why we can now store hundreds of gigabyte on our hard drives (internal and external), USB flash drives and other media–cheaper storage, at more competitive prices, in a rapidly developing industry.
Along Came Amazon S3
In 2006, Amazon introduced their Simple Storage Service (S3), which made it very easy for businesses to store data on Amazon’s relatively cheap but fast servers. A lot of today’s start-ups couldn’t exist without the cheap storage provided by Amazon. Few people think about data when they think Amazon, but in fact, they are one of the largest data infrastructure providers in the world.
One of the most famous start-ups you certainly know off — is Dropbox. The famous blue box relies solely on Amazon’s servers to store and sync files. Which is surprising, as Dropbox is not an inexpensive company, despite lowering their prices a couple of weeks ago. And FYI, Dropbox does not provide unlimited backup.
So How is Unlimited Online Backup Possible?
So, what exactly does it mean when Backblaze, Carbonite, Crashplan and a few others do provide something called “unlimited online backup”? Backblaze, for example, created their own data infrastructure that would allow them to reduce the cost of storage ten-fold. CrashPlan and Carbonite do own data centers, which is the first step a company needs to take in order to make us customers happy when it comes to true unlimited online backup.
But There is More…
While you could backup your data with Dropbox, it would be an ill advised step, as Dropbox is not intended to be an online backup service. Dropbox is for storage only, and mainly it syncs your data among a variety of devices. Cloud “backup” and “storage” are two very different things, you can read our breakdown betwixt them here; to get a better understanding of the differences between storage and backup.
File synchronization is still very difficult and therefore expensive to do, and many providers shy away from offering this service to their customers, the ones that do offer it also end up failing sometimes. Instead, they focus on thing: being “unlimited”. That’s what Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan and their ilk promise to give you.
So Where is The Catch?
You’re probably asking yourself how can unlimited online backup be truly possible when server farms have a limit. Well, the unfortunate fact is that there is no such thing as a bottomless pit of data storage. No one can store an infinite amount of data — not even close. The advertising should correctly read:
As much as you want or have – without limitations on our end.
This, however, is difficult to mold into a nice and catchy marketing phrase. If “without limitations” was a real thing, then this website probably wouldn’t exist. In practice a lot of the services offering unlimited online backup put severe caps on either your bandwidth, file size or even storage. Yes, unlimited is not always unlimited:
- Carbonite limits bandwidth so that after 200GB, you can hardly upload anything in a reasonable time frame
- JustCloud caps storage or charges overages from about 750GB
Services that are truly unlimited made it to our best of the best list – which includes Backblaze, CrashPlan and a few others.
I use them personally, and I love that I don’t have to worry about having my bandwidth restricted, file sizes limited or other shenanigans. So their promise is pretty much kept, even after having uploaded more than a terabyte of data. I had some connectivity issues with Crashplan, and their upload didn’t make use of my entire bandwidth, but still was OK.
So… Unlimited is Not Always Unlimited
The offer of unlimited online storage and backup seems to work so great with consumers…that more and more companies are jumping on track, without having a lot of experience in how to scale massive amounts of data.
The Reseller Problem
Another problem is that some providers, such as Livedrive, allow resellers to sell their products at ridiculously low rates. Many of those have gone out of business and have taken their customers data with them. Always make sure to buy your online backup (unlimited or not) from the original vendor, not a third party reseller. I would highly recommend avoiding Livedrive resellers.
How is Unlimited Online Backup Financially Viable?
I hear you; how can a company make money offering unlimited online backup? Of course, the answer is they can’t… if everybody was a “heavy user” wishing to store more than a couple of terabytes of data. Luckily for most companies, very few people are power users.
In fact, the majority of people only have around 50GB to backup, so companies can make money on the vast majority while losing some cash on heavy/power users.
Online backup is important, unlimited online backup comes with caveats, so do your research. Read our reviews — we tell you everything there is to know about caps or limitations. If you already know which provider interests you–study the fine print.
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Also keep in mind that unlimited plans include only one machine. So if you have one stationary PC and two laptops, and also would like to backup your wife’s Macbook, you’ll end up paying much more than $5 per month.