CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com) is a new service for Mac and PC (with the Linux version soon to come) that’s designed to let people back up each other’s computers. They also provide more traditional online backups, but they emphasize the value in knowing where your backup files are.
With CrashPlan, I could choose to back up my computer to the Ur-Guru’s zillion-terabyte storage and rest secure in the knowledge that my data would be very secure indeed, at least from hackers—but unless I did the initial backup while visiting his world famous home office, it would be just as slow a process as any other online backup. Slow enough, if I wanted to back up my whole machine, that it would be faster to fly to Holland to do it on site.
But if you had a great deal of storage you weren’t using and wanted to act as the backup hub for your friends and family, CrashPlan would let you do it. And they can do the same for you, provided the bandwidth and storage space is there. If you have a small office network, each machine’s critical data can be backed up on every other machine, so that nothing is lost if one of them goes down. (This is less efficient than just using a file server, but perhaps also less vulnerable, and certainly less expensive.)
Naturally, if you’re choosing your own locations for stored data, you’re going to keep your backups with people you can trust, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t encrypt them. Creating a password is one of the first things CrashPlan asks you to do after you install it.
Once you create your account, CrashPlan starts analyzing your files and presents you with three backup options: CrashPlan Central, “My Friend,” and “Another Computer.” You can’t just add friends automatically: you have to invite them. The invitation template reminds me a bit of LinkedIn and other social networks:
I am using a great program called CrashPlan that automatically backs up my files to a friend’s computer. Let’s backup to each other!
- It’s easy to use—only takes a few minutes to get started and won’t slow our computers down
- Our files are encrypted and with a trusted friend, protecting us against theft, viruses and other disasters
- If our computers crash or are stolen, we can recover all our files quickly (minutes instead of days)
- No annoying monthly fees—it’s FREE to try out for 30 days and only $19 if we decide to use it.
Learn more about how CrashPlan works or download it.
If you have any questions, give me a call.
As with social networks, if you want anyone to cooperate with you, you’d better write your own personalized message and trash the ad copy. And, frankly, recovering the files in minutes seems to me as if it would depend a lot on the size of the files and where your friend is. And it assumes that only files are lost and you still have either your Internet connection or a way to get your computer to your friend’s house and vice versa.
Given that my Documents and Settings folder (CrashPlan’s default selection for backup, which happens not to include any of my client files) currently contains 16 GB (that would be all those podcasts I haven’t listened to yet), “days” might actually be an accurate description of how long it would take to retrieve all those files via the Internet. And that’s with what passes for a high-speed connection in this country.
You can change the file selection to make sure nothing important gets left out and to exclude things (like podcasts) that you could get again if you deleted them accidentally. A little editing gets me down to about 5 GB, a more reasonable amount to think about backing up online.
That’s an issue I’d have with any online service, whether my files are going to some corporate data center somewhere or to a friend’s PC. But let’s return to the idea of using CrashPlan to “give the gift of backups” to less-technical friends or family members.
The theory is a good one: CrashPlan is easy for non-technical people to install and it works automatically. You know your friend’s files are getting backed up, because you can see them on your computer. But even when my mother had a computer (which she never used and gave to my great-uncle), I’d’ve had to get on a plane to Ohio with my laptop in order to make the initial backup, and she would then have had to do her incremental backups via a dial-up line. (And she was on CompuServe, but that’s a whole ’nother story.)
I do actually like the idea of a backup social club. It’s good to know where your data is. Nevertheless, it’s clear that CrashPlan works best for groups of people in geographic proximity to each other. (Online social networks like LinkedIn also work best when your connections are people you know in the real world, though you don’t have to live in the same city to make that network effective.) If your mom lives in easy driving distance, go for it. If not, consider getting her an external hard drive with automatic backup software.