My simplified backup system using CrashPlan

This article explains how I use the wonderful CrashPlan product to backup our family’s network of Mac OS X computers.

Background

I have three Macintosh computers with data that needs backing up:

  • Home iMac—This computer has two user accounts—one for my wife, and one for myself. My account is used only for the purpose of acting as a server to other computers on the network (and the Apple TV) for things like iTunes and Daylite.
  • Kids’ mini—This computer has parental control managed accounts for each of my two kids.
  • My MacBook—This is my primary computer, which I transport back and forth each day between the office and home.

The Home iMac has two external storage devices attached:

  • 2TB FireWire Drive—This fast drive holds our family’s master iTunes library, and archives of data such as videos, photos, software installers, etc.
  • 12TB Drobo—The USB-connected Drobo is a very slow device, but it offers huge capacity and is easy to maintain. (When any of its internal four 3TB drives die, I just replace it with a new one.) I use this for local backup.

Basic backup

Each Mac maintains a bootable clone of its startup drive via SuperDuper. In addition, each Mac has a Time Machine attached. Furthermore, the Home iMac and my MacBook Air has certain data backed up to Dropbox.

Extended backup

You’d think that’d be enough backup, and it probably is, but I wanted even more.

  • Off-site backup—I’d like important data to be backed up off-site, in case the house burnt down (hopefully with us not in it.)
  • 2TB backup—I need a backup of the Home iMac’s external 2TB drive, in case it dies (and it will, at some point).
  • Extended versioning—Although Time Machine does versioning, it’s known to become corrupt. I’d like to address that risk, as well as maintain a bit longer version history than can be maintained on those drives.

Old Backup System

To achieve these extended backup objectives, my old system looked like this:

  • ChronoSync—running on the Home iMac, along with ChronoSync Agent running on each of the Macs, was used to achieve the 2TB backup and extended versioning objectives.
  • BackBlaze—running on each Mac was used, in part, to keep certain data backed up off-site (in the cloud).
  • Arq—running on the Home iMac and my MacBook Air, was used to keep other data (data which can’t be included in BackBlaze backups) backed up off-site (in the cloud, to Amazon S3).

Although it worked, this system had some negatives:

  • Complexity—I had to configure and maintain three pieces of software on each machine.
  • High costs—Monthly costs for off-site backup totaled about $35 — i.e. $5 each for each of the three BackBlaze installations and about $20 in Amazon S3 costs with Arq.
  • Saturated network—At night, when we wanted to rent a movie on the Apple TV, I’d have to go around to each machine and manually pause BackBlaze and Arq, as running concurrently they’d saturate my ADSL bandwidth.
  • Mobile data consumption—Often when working in a cafe with my MacBook Air connected to the internet via “Personal Hotspot” on the iPhone, I’d discover Arq doing its thing and chewing up my very expensive Vodafone data plan. There wasn’t an automatic way to avoid that. (BackBlaze indirectly avoids this with a setting not to backup when on battery power.)

New Backup System

My new backup system uses only one piece of software, CrashPlan. CrashPlan supports backup of multiple data sets (known as “Backup Sets”) to multiple destinations—including folders, other Macs running CrashPlan, and their cloud backup service, “CrashPlan Central”.

Here’s what the new system looks like:

  • Running on the Home iMac, CrashPlan backs up the entire Mac and the 2TB drive to the Drobo, with long-term versioning.
  • Running on the Kids’ mini and my MacBook Air, CrashPlan backs up the whole computer to CrashPlan running on the Home iMac, which stores those “incoming backups” on the Drobo, with versioning.
  • Running on each of the three Macs, CrashPlan backs up all the data that I want off-site (i.e. a second “Backup Set”) to CrashPlan Central.

The new system has a number of benefits:

  • Simplicity—I only have one piece of software to maintain on each of the three computers.
  • Lower costs—My monthly cost is about $12. I chose the CrashPlan+ Family plan, paid on one-year installments, that allows 10 Macs to backup unlimited data to CrashPlan Central for $149 per year.
  • ADSL bandwidth management—I’ve scheduled CrashPlan on all the machines to not backup between the hours of 8PM and 11PM, which keeps our ADSL free and fast for our evening movie rentals. (In addition, CrashPlan on each machine is configured to use less bandwidth when there’s a user on the machine, who likely would like some internet bandwidth available.)
  • No mobile data consumption—On the MacBook Air, I’ve configured CrashPlan to exclude the iPhone 5 as a network interface through which it’s allowed to back up. This way, when I’m tethered to the Air via Personal Hotspot, CrashPlan will not backup to CrashPlan Central. (That is great, great, great!)

And there’s one final benefit I’ve discovered to using CrashPlan, the periodic, unified backup report it sends to you by email:

I’ve yet to have to recover backed-up data, but will be testing that soon. In the meantime, I couldn’t be happier with CrashPlan and my new backup system!

25 thoughts on “My simplified backup system using CrashPlan”

  1. Timely post! After mozy and carbonite changed their policies and plans last year it would have cost me nearly $1500/yr for 2TB of backup of images, videos and more. Now crashplan solves it all on the cheap! And great software too.

  2. Straight away, the following things come to mind:

    *Choosing Crashplan’s servers in preference to Amazon S3. *Re uploading all that data from your hard drive again. *I’ve also heard that restoring data with Crashplan can be quite a slow process.

    It seems to me that moving from Arq to Crashplan, at least in terms of your own Mac, seems like a big call, despite the monetary saving and if you can spare some time, an updated report in due course as to how you’re finding Crashplan would be appreciated.

  3. I took just did pretty much the same thing—I’ve yet to test the restore process from CrashPlan Central though. Have you done this yet? Thoughts?

  4. “I’ve scheduled CrashPlan on all the machines to not backup between the hours of 8PM and 11PM”

    How was this done? I can’t seem to find any options to control when the backup happens?

  5. Like Dropbox, can I auto load photos from iPhone directly to crashplan. If not how are you backing them up to crashplan.

  6. So your post is very similar to my approach and very good. I tried almost every possible backup service and found crashplan to be one of the best / easiest and really a great value in terms of storage space and bandwidth limits compared to others. I actually had to restore with Crashplan because of my raid controller taking a hit and corrupting some of my data. At the time I had to restore about 1TB of family pictures and HD video’s. It did take awhile as for the most part I was hitting about 6-8Mbps per sec for most of the restore process and it worked flawlessly after everything was downloaded. They do offer a courier service if you need to quickly restore. I know some of the others I have looked at that offered a similar service had limits to the size of the restore.

  7. The problem with crashplan is it doesn’t do bootable backups. Are you doing anything to get around this drawback?

    I’m looking at using CCC to backup to my local file server, and backing up that backup to crashplan. I’m not sure if this will work (or how much bandwidth it will use) but that’s my initial idea.

    If not I will use CCC for the bootable backup, and crashplan for data as a worst case scenario type of thing.

    1. Hi Matt, yep — earlier in the article, before discussing CrashPlan, I mentioned the “Basic Backup” that is applied to all computers, which includes two attached drives — one bootable startup maintained by SuperDuper, and one Time Machine.

      Since writing this article, though, I have switched from SuperDuper to CCC. It seems to off quite a few more features than SuperDuper, and appears to be very reliable. I’ve been happy with it so far!

        1. No, as good as CrashPlan is—and I’m even more happy with it now than I was when I first wrote this article!—I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it being my only backup. But, I’ve gotten so comfortable with the reliability of CrashPlan that, in fact, I have since removed the Time Machines from the various Macs. So today, I only have one additional drive connected to each Mac—a bootable backup maintained nightly by CCC.

  8. Matt Henderson, I just heard of crash plan today. I’m Mom Of 3 with 20,000 photos and videos and want to have secure, reliable backup. We have two user accounts on Mac and also I have an iPhone and husband has an iPad. For just the Mac to be backed up with the 2 user accounts and the video clip 2tB backup hard drive wired to Mac, would that require crash plan individual or family account? Also, I am leery of setting up the backup to crash plan myself for fear of messing up and not storing correct files. I also want to bsck up documents and voice memos of my children talking. I know iPhoto and iMovie files can be in several different locations on Finder. Some reviews have suggested it’s somewhat complicated to set up. Is customer sevice at CrashPlan willing to walk me through set up or maybe you figured it all out on your own. What is a CCC? Must I have? We have time machine running on a seagate backup too wired to Mac.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, you would only need the individual plan, if it’s a single computer. I think the user interface is pretty easy to understand, so I think if you spend some time with it you’d figure it out and would be fine.

      If you’re using a Time Machine, I don’t think you would need CCC. That’s something similar.

  9. Hi Matt, thank for your article, even though i found it 2 years later. I have one curious question, instead of using different crash plan account for every machine (imac, kids mini and air), why didn’t you just connect one crash plan on your drobo, so you can save for 2 additonal accounts.

        1. I’m not sure what you mean by “link it to Drobo”. The Drobo is simply the destination that CrashPlan running my Mac mini uses to store backups of all the other computers on my network. In this scenario, it’s nothing more than an external hard drive.

          And for that usage—i.e. using CrashPlan on one machine to backup other machines—you don’t even need a CrashPlan paid account. You only need a paid account at CrashPlan if you’re going to backup to their cloud services. See what I mean?

          1. i looked at all other unlimited cloud and i not found as many as flexible as Crashplan with been able to use 10 on one account not even paid for it yet and seem very impressed with it (i am probably going to use BTsync for in house syncing as there is no way to access the backup files on crash plan unless you use crashplan software) but will likely soon have to as going to be linking 7-8 systems to it soon but i need to upgrade to unlimited broadband first as i got a 100GB cap on my business connection which is (40mb down) 10mb upload but from what i have heard upload speeds are slow on crashplan so dont think i need 20mb upload (but as i am like 100 meters from the FTTC cab so i can get 80/20 at a push of a button which is nice)

            i believe you’re using BTsync as well have you had any problems with BTsync 2.0 ?

            and if £10 a month is to much you can just use it for free completely and just have a computer offsite/home/work/Friend and just tell crashplan to use that instead of cloud backup (or you can do both)

            you can even use a friends computer as backup as well, you get a code on each crashplan computer and once used in you can automatically use it as backup and set size restrictions so not to use all the space up (all encrypted so your friend see your data or you can’t see your friends backup data)

    1. Hi James, my overall setup has changed very little since 2013. Instead of a Drobo, I now just have a big 4GB Seagate drive that contains all the local backups. What I meant was: CrashPlan running on the Mac mini backs up all the computers on the network (two iMacs, two MacBook Airs and itself) to that 4GB Seagate drive, using CrashPlan. Finally, I have added Arq running on the Mac mini, that backs up my archived data to an unlimited-capacity Amazon Cloud Drive. So I now have a full cloud backup of all my data, at CrashPlan Central, and a cloud backup of most of my data was Amazon. Hope this helps!

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?