CrashPlan Provides Off-Site Backups

In my Tech Tip on how to set up a comprehensive backup system I mention that CrashPlan can be a nice supplement to an external hard drive using Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner for backing up your Mac since CrashPlan’s backup data can be stored off-site on CrashPlan’s servers. Thus, it can provide automated, off-site backups of your personal data. In this article, I provide instructions on how to set up CrashPlan to perform automated, off-site, versioned backups.

Update Jan 2011: In December 2010, CrashPlan released CrashPlan version 3 which added new features like the ability to backup different files to different destinations. More importantly, it rolled the CrashPlan+ features of backups running every 15 minutes and storing multiple versions of files into the standard CrashPlan application. Thus, these two features are now standard for all users of CrashPlan.

Update March 2013: Pricing and product structure updates from CrashPlan are now correct in this article.

I need to start by introducing and defining a few terms.

CrashPlan is the name of a backup application made by Code42 Software. It’s free for personal use and can be used to backup data to a locally connected hard drive, to another computer in your home or to another computer at your friend’s home. CrashPlan+ comes in three sizes: 10GB, Unlimited and Family Unlimited. It allows off-site backup to the CrashPlan Central servers in addition to other computers. With CrashPlan+, backups occur continuously as files change and you can configure CrashPlan to hold onto previous versions of files for a while or forever.

It’s important to know that CrashPlan is free for personal use by residential customers. That is, you’re allowed to use it to backup only personal data, not business data. If you’re a business customer then you should buy CrashPlanPro. This allows you to backup your business data to local hard drives or other computers owned by you or your friends as well as CrashPlan Central.

Setup Instructions

Start by going to CrashPlan’s web store and purchasing a license for CrashPlan+ as either an Individual Unlimited Plan ($60) or a Family Unlimited Plan ($150). The individual plan provides unlimited storage for one computer online. The family plan provides unlimited storage for all computers in one household online. When you finish the checkout procedure you’ll receive an email which contains your license code for CrashPlan+.

Download the free CrashPlan application. It works on PowerPC Macs as well as Intel Macs running Mac OS X 10.5 or higher. These requirements may change over time to be sure to check CrashPlan’s web site for current requirements.

Open CrashPlan. You’ll be prompted to enter your user account information. You don’t have an account yet so follow the instructions to set up an account.

Once you’ve set up your account then the CrashPlan application will open.

On the left-hand side click on the Backup button. Look at the section labeled “File to Back Up.” By default it’s set to backup your Home folder. This folder is the default location for all of your music, pictures, documents, local email messages and files on your Desktop. This is typically what I recommend you back up. However, if you want to make changes to add or remove folders, click the button which should be labeled Change or Change File Section.

Once you’ve selected the files you want to backup then click on Backup on the left-hand side. In the Backup Destinations section locate “CrashPlan Central” and click the Start Backup button. The backup will start. That’s it. You’re up and running!

Remember, this initial back up could take days or weeks to complete depending upon how much data you’ve selected and the speed of your Internet connection. Until this initial backup is complete you don’t have much protection, so I’ll reiterate that I think CrashPlan is a nice supplemental backup to local backups performed by Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner. CrashPlan offers some redundant protection and off-site protection, which is very important to have if you only backup to one hard drive using Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner. CrashPlan is also very useful if you travel and take your laptop with you since CrashPlan will run anytime your Mac has an Internet connection.

You can quit the CrashPlan application and backups will continue since CrashPlan is made up of two parts. There is the CrashPlan application, which you use to configure the backups, and CrashPlan Engine, which runs quietly, unseen, in the background. CrashPlan’s Engine automatically adjusts how much of your computer’s processing power and your network’s capacity it uses based on whether or not you’re using your computer. You can view and adjust these values in the Settings section of CrashPlan. Also in Settings, you can adjust how long versions of files are retained and your can set up files or folders to exclude from your backup data using file names or regular expressions. You can also adjust the frequency and types of email notifications which you receive.

By default, CrashPlan will send you email notices when it hasn’t been able to backup your Mac in 3 days and it’ll also send you a weekly summary of when the last backup occurred. You can change these email notification schedules in the Settings section.

As with any backup application, I recommend that you perform test file restorations regularly to ensure that the backup system is working properly and so that you’re comfortable performing restores so you can do it with confidence with disaster strikes.