Back it up.

I wanted a backup solution that rocked, so I spent some time this past week looking at different online backup services and trying to think of a way to quickly, easily, and reliably back up my MacBook Air. I don’t have anything terribly sensitive or irreplaceable on it except for photos, but those would be incredibly annoying to lose if something happened to my computer.

Physical backups are something that I’ve done regularly ever since I got my first Mac back in 2008. Shipping with Time Machine is such a great decision that Apple made. Anyone with a spare external drive can easily backup their entire computer with very minimal effort. It’s slightly annoying to have to plug in and unplug an external drive if you’re using a MacBook Air  or something else that you use mostly away from a desk. I found that I was backing up to Time Machine just once a week or so, which is good but not ideal.

Mat’s recent hack showed me that my backup strategy is flawed and that I needed to find something else to supplement my less frequent physical backups. I started looking at different services this week and decided to give one a try this weekend.

My first stop, however, was getting my photos backed up. I recently tried upgrading my Dropbox to see if I could use that as an easy place to drag and drop copies of things that I’d like to keep backed up offsite. Dropbox is expensive and you’re mostly paying for the syncing functionality, which I use for work and documents. This did me no good for photos since I didn’t have the space to sync everything to my MacBook Air. My iMac at work is serving as my primary “data dump” computer right now, since it has a 1TB hard drive. I canceled my Dropbox upgrade and switched to Amazon Cloud Drive as a place to just drag and drop backup my Photos folder from my Mac. I paid the $10 to upgrade to 20GB of online storage and a few hours later my pictures are all happily sitting in Amazon’s cloud, hopefully safe.

Now to find an online backup provider. I immediately crossed Mozy and Carbonite off the list because it’s surprisingly hard to find anything good written about these services online, especially when used on a Mac. I thought about CrashPlan next, since we use that at work, but I knew I could find something cheaper. Backblaze and DollyDrive were next on my list. I decided not to go with Backblaze since I had used them in the past (happily) and wanted to try something different. This was a mistake.

I chose to try DollyDrive. The allure of a cloud-based backup system that uses Time Machine was great. I love Time Machine for local backups, so how awesome would it be to get bring this to the cloud? Unfortunately with the release of Mountain Lion, Dolly Drive no longer supports Time Machine backups to the cloud, despite what their website would lead you to believe. After signing up, getting home to my Air, and excitedly heading over to the download page, I was greeted with a message telling Mountain Lion users to get their DollyDrive Revo beta to start backing up. This is a stand-alone backup app that functions much like Backblaze or Mozy. It doesn’t use Time Machine, it manages backups itself. How annoying.

I was invested at this point, though. I paid for my account and I wanted to get a backup piece written this past weekend. I settled on DollyDrive, so I figured I’d stick with it and give Revo a try. Also a mistake.

Immediately after installing their client, I was met with a lengthy scanning process that indexed all of the files on my Mac for backup. Not an unexpected process, but it was excruciatingly slow. It took about 20 minutes to scan my 64gb MacBook Air drive, even though I’m using only 44gb of the space. After the scanning completed, a pleasant progress bar showed up telling me “Backup in progress.” This lasted for about 15 minutes before “Backup completed” displayed on screen. Odd, I thought. My home connection isn’t slow, but it’s definitely not fast. I restarted the process just to be sure, but was disappointed to see that DollyDrive had to scan everything again. I waited, less patiently than before, and watched the backup process start again. A few minutes later it was, apparently, complete. I logged in to to check my usage. Unsurprisingly I was using 48kb of 55gb available on my account.

I jumped over to their support page and received a response saying that this was to be expected and that I would be contacted by a support representative on Monday (it was Friday). I explained to them that I was really hoping to have the backup starting sometime this weekend. Their response was that they were “making significant server changes” and that this would supposedly fix things on Monday. I waited.

Monday comes around and, despite no contact from their support department, I give the backup another try. This time from the super fast connection at work. It scans for a while and then actually begins the backup. Great! I immediately noticed how slow things were going, though. Before leaving work last Friday I uploaded about 40gb of pictures to my Amazon Cloud Drive account. This completed in a little under 10 hours. I let my DollyDrive backup go for about 8 hours and had uploaded only 1.3gb of data. I jumped back on DollyDrive’s support page to find out why things are going so slowly and was told to change some settings and wait a couple of hours. The servers were just coming back online and might have been causing the slowness I was seeing. I adjusted my settings and waited a few hours and then started everything up again. Same thing. Incredibly slow uploads. I commented again on the support case and was told that I should “not really gauge anything for the next few days while we complete the work.” Ugh.

I’ll see DollyDrive out. I’ll give them a chance. As much as I believe that my initial backup would have been completed had I gone with any other company, there’s something I like about DollyDrive. It may not have given me the best first impression, but I’m drawn to the more complete backups compared to something like Backblaze. DollyDrive lets you back up your “Library” directories, for example, while this is not allowed and not configurable within Backblaze.

I am now some of the way through completing my view of the optimal backup setup. Physical backups through Time Machine done at least once a week. Occasional drag-and-drop uploads to Amazon Cloud Drive for critical things like pictures, and automatic full cloud backups using a provider like DollyDrive. Hopefully my uploads to DollyDrive will pick up speed soon. At this rate I’m looking at about two weeks before it’s complete. If I can stick it out that long, I’ll update the post with the rest of my experience. If I can’t wait, it might be back to Backblaze I go. Either way, there’s more to come so check back soon.

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