Cloud Backup Solutions

If you’re a CreativePro reader, by now you (hopefully) back up your computer on a regular basis to safeguard your work. And if you’re a Mac user, you’re using probably using Time Machine for your backups.

But what good does such a backup do if you’re a victim of theft or natural (or unnatural) disaster? If, like me, you’re not yet backing up offsite to a remote server using an internet connection (to a cloud), or if you are already using a cloud backup service but aren’t sure you’re using the best service for your needs, you probably could use some help sorting through all of the possible options. Thankfully I’ve enlisted the help of the super-patient training consultant Cookie Segelstein (a.k.a. to help explain and differentiate the various “cloud” backup services.

Although I initially imagined that cloud services might offer “real time” Time Machine services via an internet connection, that fantasy isn’t nearly possible at this point. In fact, you’re not likely to find that solution at all in the cloud. For the most part you’ll have a series of choices to make, such as do you want to back up your entire system, or just a set of files? Do you want to be able to specify which files, or just be content that certain types of files are backed up? Do you want incremental backups saved in perpetuity, or is 30 or 90 days sufficient? Do you want to cover multiple computers, and/or multiple external drives? And is it ok for your first full back up to take upwards of a month to complete, or do you need the service in which you send a drive with initial backup contents to the company (called seeding the back up), so your first full back up is shortened from weeks (or months) to merely a few days?

Most services encrypt your data as it uploads, but if your files are require uber-security measures, you’ll want to closely examine the encryption methods that each of the services uses and make sure that the standards meet your specifications. All of the following companies support Mac backups, but if you require Windows or other platforms such as Linux, you’ll need to examine if your cross-platform backup needs would be included as well. Most of these services also include web access to your files as well as dedicated apps so you can retrieve files from iOS (and sometimes Android) devices.

As a disclosure: Cookie has been using CrashPlan (discussed below) for both her own personal use as well as setting it up for many of her clients. Although she’s been quite pleased with CrashPlan, she was anxious to keep up to date and see what other services are currently available.

iDrive & iDrive Sync

Most unique selling point: Backup of unlimited devices within each price plan, based on different size options

iDrive’s motto is “never lose your data.” Their iDrive service is their “cloud” backup, and this is possibly the best deal if you want to back up an unlimited number of devices, but don’t have that much data to back up. iDrive supports multiple-device continuous back up services, with no limit as to the number of devices, so multiple people can share one account, and charges are calculated in terms of how much storage you demand. Any kind of data can be specified for backup, including apps and preferences, and you can include external drives, and removable media. You can use “private key encryption” which allows you to specify your own encryption coding per account, a password that not even iDrive folks can access.

There are incrementally larger paid storage options beyond the free service, which starts at 5 GB. Paid services begin with the Pro Personal account for 150 GB at $49.50 a year, to 1000 GB for $299.50 a year. Their largest plans are found in their Business Pro plans ranging from 100 GB at $99.50 a year to 2000 GB at $1499.50 a year.

iDrive maintains the last 30 versions of each file, and they don’t count towards your storage limits. iDrive provides special student pricing, plus phone, email, and live chat support (priority support for the Business Pro levels).

To recover files you log in either website or via their dedicated device app, see your folders and files the same way you would on your computer, choose what you want and click Download. Business Pro can provide “quick restore via portable drive” (instead of via the cloud). Honestly this is a really good deal at the free and lower storage options, but might not as good if you have fewer devices and a great deal of data (for this see Backblaze and CrashPlan discussed below).

iDrive Sync is a totally different service. With it, you drag your files to a mounted folder on your computer (much like DropBox) The free basic account for iDrive Sync offers 10 GB from which you can backup and share your photos, files, and folders. All files posted to iDrive Sync are automatically synced to anyone sharing that account or via a single easy link. Files through iDrive Sync aren’t “restored” but are accessed, again, much like from an networked drive, or DropBox. The larger accounts follow the same price structure as the iDrive storage, which for a sharing service appears to be less expensive than their competitors (such as DropBox).


Most unique selling point: Most Mac-like interface, free seeded startup service, customized solutions and free training, syncing, sharing, and backup in one, 30 versions in perpetuity, prices based on amount of storage mitigated by their incremental versioning that reduces needed space.

DollyDrive strives to “blur the line between backup, file sharing, and collaboration.” It’s the most Mac-like interface, and they offer a free seeded drive service to get the first backup underway fast. You can back up any files or folders (including apps or system files), and all your backed up files are available in a very sweet interface, and can be easily shared.

Backup plans are based on storage amounts, but they believe that the efficiency of their versioning saves you lots of data space, as well as headache. Uploads with DollyDrive are optimized for incremental changes found in large database systems, which includes virtual machines, as well as Lightroom, Aperture, and other database-driven visual apps. DollyDrive claims to only back up the differences to files with versioning. For example, they say that they backup only the incremental changes to a Photoshop, making the size limitations much less of an issue than with other services.

Besides backing up, with DollyDrive you also get the DollySpace, which builds in the “perfect marriage between DropBox, Google-Drive, and iDisk,” to let you work on a file as you share, with versioning preserved and protected along the way.

The smaller backups are quite inexpensive, starting at $3 a month for 50 GB, so this is certainly a highly competitive solution for the smaller directories. If you have a large number of files in your archives in need of storage, it feels as if the pricing of 2 TB at $516 while less than iDrive, is still much higher than either Backblaze or CrashPlan with unlimited services for “less.” However, they work with customers to get the prices in line with what they need, include free evaluations and hand-holding setup services, along with consulting on levels of plan using Screenshare.

They consider themselves the “Swiss Army knife of backups and collaboration: a universal suite of tools that ultimately protects your data and makes it accessible any time, and for anyone who needs it.” They do concede
that the larger storage amounts appear to be more expensive than the unlimited accounts available with Backblaze and CrashPlan (see below for more info on those), but insist that their methods are by far the easiest and least trouble-free, and that you likely won’t need the amount of storage that you think you do because of their versioning methods. DollyDrive offers a free 100 GB trial for 14 days, with full phone support along the way. They insist that most people convert to a paid service within a few days.


Most unique selling point: Unlimited data backup for one computer plus any connected external USB device, versioning is maintained for 30 days, you get to keep a restore drive if you order one.

Backblaze offers one plan so it will be “easy all the way through.” For $5 a month (or prepaid at $50 a year) you can back up unlimited data for 1 computer, including any connected external USB drives. Each additional computer another $5 a month or $50 a year.

What you get with Backblaze is a mirror of the data on your computer and any connected hard drives (no applications or operating system). iDrive stores 30 days of history, but doesn’t permanently store data (in order to keep your external hard drives backed up they need to be connected each 30 day period, or that backup data will be deleted).

Backblaze doesn’t “throttle” the upload, so with a fast connection it can go fairly quickly (in a matter of days), but with a lot of data and a poor connection your first backup can take “months.” At any time you can request all or some of your data and they will email a link with a zip file for download. Alternatively, you can request that data be sent on either a USB stick (if you have 50 GB or less for $99) or a hard drive for archives of up to 3 TB USB for $189. Pretty good price for a drive alone—and this one will arrive with all your data on it. You request which file (or files) from your directory, and you get an email with a download link sent to your account. You can now also request individual files using their iPhone app, which will download as a native file so it’s available for viewing and sharing. Backblaze offers a 14 day free trial.


Most unique selling point: Pro plan allows for unlimited data for up to 10 computers including any connected external devices, and includes limitless versioning in perpetuity.

CrashPlan is intended to be a complete backup service, starting with $2 a month for those with a small amount of data (10 GB), $4 a month for unlimited backups for one computer with hard drives. With the Pro version, $149.99 year buys you unlimited storage (including apps if you want), includes external drives, and up to 10 computers.

Even if you don’t have a small office with employes, you may have a few computers, your roommate/spouse/partner/children may add a few more, and you can even add family or friends not living with you to your plan. With CrashPlan, you can customize which files to backup, and you can even backup your data to another computer on your account.

The big thing that CrashPlan offers is that your files will be kept indefinitely unless you choose otherwise. As with the other services you can access your files using their iPhone and iPad, app. CrashPlan offers a $125 option to start you off with a seeded backup to speed up the first backup to a matter of days (they ship you a hard drive with instructions for backing up, you send it back to them). In an emergency, CrashPlan can ship you a hard drive with your files on it for $164.99 (you must return this drive via their prepaid FedEx box). CrashPlan offers a 30 day free trial.

More than the cloud…

Cookie and I both want to be clear that at this point cloud backup solutions should NOT replace local backups. As long as an internet connection stands between you and your files, in all but the most dire of circumstances you’ll prefer a backup at your fingertips. Therefore, regardless of which cloud backup system you end up using, both of us highly recommend that you continue to maintain local backups. For now that will likely mean TimeMachine backups (which will allow full and partial restores including operating systems—none of the cloud services offer this yet), and making use of the Apple iCloud and services such as DropBox for vital access to current files (Cookie and Sharon both use mostly DropBox, but Cookie also uses SugarSync, Google drive, iDrive free).

Additionally you may want to periodically clone your entire drive to a different external device, using backup cloning utilities such as SuperDuper, Silver Lining, or CarbonCopyCloner. Cookie stores her media (photos, music and movies) on an external mirrored RAID drive (2 drives in the external enclosure, as it writes to one drive, it is automatically copied on the other and shows up on my desktop as one drive), and backs that RAID drive via her cloud account as well. This way her internal hard drive remains less cluttered and she still has the security of redundancy on the RAID drive as well as cloud backup. And finally, even though discs are all but dead, as long as I have discs and drives to read them I still also burn important files to DVD or CD as well (although Cookie does not).

So did any of the research for this article inspire Cookie to change her backup service? It turns out she takes such advantage of the multiple computer option plus all media, and in perpetuity for $149.99, that she has decided to stick with CrashPlan for now. And will I finally make that leap to the cloud? Yes I will, and I’ll get that earthquake kit restocked as well. Hopefully I’ll do both before I need them…

Cookie Segelstein is The MacMama,  Berkeley-based straight talking, certified, personalized Apple support professional. Born in Kansas City, she spent her young adult and child rearing years in Connecticut. Also a professional musician with a Master’s Degree from Yale School of Music, she spends her time with her customers, her dog, and playing all kinds of fiddle music for money with her husband in the band Veretski Pass.

Posted on: April 19, 2013

Sharon Steuer

Sharon Steuer has been creating, writing about, and teaching workshops on digital art since the early 1980s. The current edition of her Illustrator WOW! book, The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Book for CS6 and CC, is the fourteenth book in the series, and her "Artistic Painting in Illustrator" online video courses are available from Sharon is also the author of Creative Thinking in Photoshop: A New Approach to Digital Art, and is a regular contributor to Her digital paintings and illustrations have appeared in numerous books and magazines and have been exhibited nationally. Find Sharon via,, and @SharonSteuer (Twitter).

4 Comments on Cloud Backup Solutions

  1. Great article! I love the focus on local backups as well as to the cloud. The speed of local backups will beat cloud backups every time, except if those backups aren’t there.

    I work for Code 42, the makers of CrashPlan, so I wanted to clarify a couple of the notes about CrashPlan from the article above. The account that you refer to as the “Pro” plan is actually called the “Family Unlimited” plan, and is designed for Families rather than for small businesses. There is a CrashPlan PRO for businesses, but it has a different feature set than CrashPlan+, featured here.

    The “starting with” prices are the lowest effective monthly prices if you purchase multiple years in advance. If you pay monthly, the 10 GB plan starts at $2.99/mo, while the Unlimited plan starts at $5.99/mo

    One last thing: all plans support backing up external drives. Even the free product supports backing up external drives, though only to other computers over the internet or other external drives.

    – Ryan at Code 42, makers of CrashPlan

  2. As designers/communicators, I question the use of lengthy copy instead of a neatly organized comparison table.

    There is a more complete (and readable) comparison on wikipedia.

  3. As a CrashPlan subscriber of more than 2 years, I am sold on the product! You can back up to the cloud service AND to another computer on the network. This takes care of your local and cloud backups with one interface. If you have a fast broadband connection, you could back up to a remote computer and vice versa. Unless they have changed something, backing up to another computer is free – they only charge if you back up to their cloud service.
    The versioning saved my bacon when I recently edited an existing document and forgot to save the changes to a different file name. CrashPlan had already backed up the latest version of the file, but I was able to restore from a prior date to get the original file back.
    Also, CrashPlan backs up everything on the drive. Not all cloud backup services do – in fact I think CrashPlan and Backblaze are the only two that do. Other cloud services only back up specific folders, which still leaves you unprotected. I can’t say enough great things about CrashPlan.

  4. As a loyal reader of CP, I’d rather read a lengthy review of a few products that the authors felt stand out, than try to make sense of that lengthy spreadsheet you referred people to on Wikipedia. It may be more complete, but this article is more readable

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