Disaster Recovery optimize

Review: Carbonite offsite data backup and recovery

Carbonite is a good option for PCs in homes or small offices that lack central management or storage. Justin James explains in this Product Spotlight.

Carbonite aims to deliver super-simple online backups to Windows and Mac users.

Note: This review was performed based on the publicly available free trial of Carbonite.

Specifications

Who's it for?

Carbonite is a good option for PCs in homes or small offices that lack central management or storage. It requires no technical knowledge to be used.

What problems does it solve?

Everyone knows that they are supposed to do backups, but they never actually do them. By making it as easy as possible, and taking the guesswork and media issues out of the equation, Carbonite is a good option for those folks without the time or knowledge to manage backups.

Standout features

  • Ease of Use: Carbonite was as easy as possible to start using. Its defaults were sensible, creating an account only needed an email address and a password, and the software "just works." It extends your shell to provide icon overlays letting you know what has been backed up.
  • Price: $54.95 a year may seem expensive compare to other backup utilities, but since you don't need to buy discs or drives or deal with the hassle of swapping them, fixing them when they break and so on, it's not bad.
  • Automated Backups: Carbonite is happy to sit in the background and update the backed up copies when the local file changes.

What's wrong?

  • Online Backup: Online backup may be convenient, but it is slow as molasses (Carbonite tells me to expect my initial backup to take 1 - 2 days). And there are major security/privacy concerns with dumping your entire system to a third party. Also, bare metal restores are out of the question, and a full file restore is going to take a lot longer than local backups.
  • Lacking Features: Carbonite's reduced feature set makes it a joy for the less tech savvy, but if you need the level of control that a traditional backup application provides Carbonite is not for you.
  • Misses Your Big Files: Out of the box, Carbonite ignores big (greater than 4GB) files. No biggie, right? Well, not if you use Outlook; giant PST files are hardly unusual, and email is usually a "top five" on the list of "things to backup."

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

Carbonite's standard offering is a good choice for the DIY crowd. It's dead simple, and I doubt that many home users are going to be loaded down with massive files, even Outlook PSTs, thanks to the usage of Web mail. In addition, Carbonite offers a Pro edition designed for small businesses with central management. For what it is, Carbonite is great. It is as easy to use as one could hope for, unobtrusive, and well-priced.

The big concern with Carbonite is the nature of online backups. Maybe a home user can afford to wait a few hours to reinstall their OS and applications and then start to download all of their files, but a business can't.

The cost comparison to a local backup is not great either, if you have the ability to handle the hardware yourself and you have modest needs that can be easily handled. There are other concerns too, like security and privacy, but I will say that Carbonite seems well managed in both regards.

All the same, the speed of restores is the major problem with this solution. If you can live with that, Carbonite is an excellent option for a home user and the Pro edition is good for a small business. If you need instant or bare metal restore, you will need to steer clear of online backups in general.

User rating

Have you encountered or used Carbonite? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

Read our field-tested reviews of hardware and software in TechRepublic's Product Spotlight newsletter, delivered each Thursday. We explain who would use the product and describe what problem the product is designed to solve.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

26 comments
unixfool
unixfool

I recently upgraded to Windows 8 (coming from Windows 7). I've a factory backup of Windows 7. I also have a backup copy of Windows 7 after most of my desired software is installed. I use my MBL drive on my LAN as a file server as well (it has an option to perform backups, but I haven't used it). Well, I had the idea of restoring certain directories and files from Carbonite onto my new Windows 8 install. Things like my photos, my music, and PC game profile backups. I found several disappointing things. 1). Some files are missing. Their main directories are present but the files under those directories are nil. I'm not sure if those files were 4G+ (which Carbonite won't back up). 2). When attempting to restore my iTunes music, the transfer speed starts at 1,200 KB/s and shows that the download will take a bit over an hour...as the minutes go by, it drops down to 100 KB/s with a download time of 6 hours. This occurred last night, so I decided to test by downloading Windows Media Center Pack, which I received in less than half an hour. I can download at high rates (I've FiOS and have a 50MB/s down pipe and can consistently get at least 30MB/s realistically) but get crappy speed when restoring using Carbonite. Carbonite states that several things might hinder restore speed: "Note: Your restore speeds are entirely dependent on the speed of your Internet connection, how fast your computer operates, the length of time your computer is connected to the Internet, and how much you use your computer (i.e. whether you are using system resources while Carbonite is restoring data)." I've a new install of Windows 8 (it is clean and is currently using no resources). The laptop itself is an Alienware M17x R3 that I've had for under a year. It was restarted several times during the install process, so the internet connection has been reinitiated several times. I'm not using a wireless connection (I'm plugged into the LAN). The gateway router has been restarted. That covers all of Carbonite's caveats, and I still can't get good restore speeds. I still haven't been able to get my 4GB of music from Carbonite's server. The connection degrades so much that the connection eventually times out. I'm up for subscription renewal in May, and I've just disabled the automatic renewal feature. I'm going to let it lapse and die. I'll buy another MBL drive and use that for backup purposes, or build a Linux system and use Backula. I'm not going to trust any 3rd party providers.

gottlieb1885
gottlieb1885

Unbelievable how bad Carbonite mishandled its simple task! Had total laptop hdd failure & really needed this to work for me, but stunned to find how unintelligent the backup service is with regard to file revisions. It gave absolutely no consideration to the fact that I had reordered my files multiple times as I culled and refined my filing system. This resulted in massive duplications of files with no way to tell which were newer. I am currently in the process of downloading them in small groups to check & restore them. Was surprised that Carbonite won't allow me to download more than 1024mb at a time when NOT using the auto-restore function. This results in me having to do a lot of keeping track to see what's already been restored, and makes a simple job a lot harder than it has to be. The next inconceivable disappointment came when I discovered that even though I'm paying for this service, it doesn't automatically back up video files unless you buy the top-of-the-line version! I have literally lost ALL my video clips I've taken with my camera. Additionally, while hand-checking my downloaded backups, I discovered that an entire folder's worth of pdf and jpg files had filesizes of zero. There was no failure message from Carbonite, and all the files appeared to be present. I wouldn't have even thought to check every single file by hand except that I began to distrust this system once I realized how unsophisticated it is. I have spent the last two days working non-stop on this issue, and I would advise anyone considering Carbonite to be extremely cautious if you decide to use it. You MUST manually instruct it to back up video files (even in already backed-up directories) and apparently, you must also manually check every single restored file to make sure nothing has been corrupted.

awilson
awilson

I am very disappointed in Carbonite. I have the same experience as many others ??? after a year of nearly constant connection, I have about 250 GB backed up and about 80 GB to go. The amount of pending data never seems to go down, even though I???m not adding or changing a lot of files. Unfortunately, once you sign up, they will not allow you to cancel and get a refund for the unused portion of the contract. Tech support just said that even with throttling, everything will eventually be backed up. I think a year is long enough! Given my experience, I recommend people avoid Carbonite ??? it just doesn???t get the job done.

rpatton4
rpatton4

Carbonite is one of the worst services I have had the misfortune to use. The software you install in order to do the backups only works *sometimes*, usually it just hangs or pretends that you don't have anything left to backup even though it states on the same screen that your backup is only say 50% complete. Even worse, their support only knows how to say "please re-install the software to see if that fixes your problem". They continue to tell me this after months of me writing them explaining that a re-install doesn't make any difference. This is not support at all. Yet all these professional (paid for?) reviews online say such nice things about Carbonite. Why? Did they only test it on a tiny amount of data, and only for a few days? Speaking as a real person, and an IT professional, Carbonite does NOT work well in practice. My situation is backing up roughly 150 GB. Never mind how ridiculously slow it is when it does feel like backing up a file. Just stay away!

teedeedet
teedeedet

I prefer Iozeta than Mozy and Carbonite.

PuterPro
PuterPro

I have a Pro photographer Client who managed to blow up both his daily backup to an internal drive AND his monthly to an External. Just after he Associated all .exe files to Photoshop CS5, and some other ... ahhhh ... "interesting" things he did. (You wouldn't believe ...) Some people should not be let near anything more complex than a toaster. The good news? He was using Carbonite and was able to recover it all. The bad news? IT TOOK 13 DAYS! I think his IPS throttled him after the first day. Not exactly the BEST plan for backing up large amounts of data. Might be OK for Mom's computer, as long as she's not a photographer or into scrap-booking! LOL!

theaberdeenkid
theaberdeenkid

I am an IT pro going on 15 years (and I don't work at a mom and pop shop) and someone who just lost their hard drive on their 6 month old laptop. Did I care that I had to reinstall the OS and apps, no, did I care that I didn't have to spend a week end trying to piece together a restore or recover data, no. Carobonite is a perfect solution for any home user. Your data is backed up, period. That's what I want for home. I just want it done, offsite, and in the background. Yes the initial dump of information is lengthy, but once that is complete it really is painless and fast. I create a new file, I save the file in a minute or so its already backed up. Really, how can someone complain about that.

SteveHom
SteveHom

I agree online backup shouldn't be your first line of defense but in the case of natural disaster (think Japan disaster), fire, thief, etc. it is a life saver. I use external drives for my mass backups and flash drives (rotated between my house and an outside source) for the stuff I absoletely can't live without. I don't really expect to ever have to use my OnLine backup (Mozy) for a restore but it's there if I ever need it.

bwexler
bwexler

I have about 160 GB on my system. My only connection is Verizon Wireless 3G. My best connection speed has been about 2Mbps. If I did nothing to interrupt that top speed it would take about 10 days for the first full backup. Then Verizon might express some concern over my use of bandwidth.

stoltzn
stoltzn

Works great for me. Yes, it may be slower than a local back-up, but for a small business or home user it's a great off site back-up solution in case of a catastrophe that takes out your PC and local back-up (fire, flood, theft, etc.). As with any product, read the documentation. It will delete files out of the back-up, but only 30 days after you delete it locally--so you have time to recover from an accidental delete. Video files or single large files over 4Gb do not back-up by default, but you can change that. You can manage your own encryption key, there are some pros and cons to doing so. It's great to have access to your files from any browser.

saruti
saruti

I have never used Carbonite and never will because it will delete some of your saved data without telling you. Not too long ago I did a review of a bunch of online backup products and discovered that ome of them (including Carbonite) have this "feature". The way it works is lets say you delete a file on your computer accidentally/unknowingly. Within a certain period of time this "featue" is also going to erase it from your on-line backup. Did you know that they also create your security key?

Greeneyes
Greeneyes

I use it...had a crash....Carbonite saved my bacon....but you need to tell it to back up video files as it will not do it automatically so I lost some of my you tube vids....

rayadair
rayadair

Zip, encrypt, upload key files to cloud such as google docs seems better-cheaper-faster.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

I've been using it since near its beginning. For myself and many of my clients, I use it as an element of a multi-tier backup strategy that includes station imaging and on-site bulk backups. I rely upon Carbonite for the daily off-site aspect of my backup strategy. For a reasonable price, it offers two big aspects that are difficult for most home users and small businesses: Automation and off-site redundancy. The author is correct that doing a full restore from Carbonite would be unacceptably slow in a business setting. However, combined with a traditional local media backup, this isn't the case; a fast local restore can be performed by traditional media, only relying upon Carbonite for the latest data not up-to-date on the local media. Also, remember that unless you're executing and taking your daily backups off-site with you each and every day, your traditional backup will be completely useless in the case of fire, theft or other disaster that might befall your home or customer site. At that point, you really won't care if it takes a few days to get it all back. I have never had to attempt a "full" restore using Carbonite, and hope that I never will. However, I have used it many times to recover individual files that have become accidentally deleted or corrupted by users. Carbonite even keeps several generations of regularly changed files. The operation is simple and takes but minutes. The reality is that for most home users and SMBs without trained IT staff on site who's sworn job is to guarantee the survival of the company's data, reliable regular backups simply do not happen. Carbonite is the simplest way to change that.

wsamuel3
wsamuel3

I've tried other online backups, but always ran into difficulties which prevented them from being effective. I haven't run into those with Carbonite. Online backups are very slow as a class, so I don't think its slowness is a comparative disadvantage to other online services. I believe in having 2 daily backups. My primary is an external hard drive. The online is a secondary as a fail-safe if the primary fails. Off-site backup protects against dangers that would affect both your computer & your on-site backup, like fire. But it is far too slow to use as a primary backup.

torbenator
torbenator

I don't totally agree with you, as you are going to see online backups as a second or third backup, we all know, we should have backups on 2-3 different medias/places and here solutions like Carbonite or one of the other backup services in the cloud are doing a great job. The big Advantages are that you can 'restore' your files from anywhere. And by the way youre putting Dropbox in there as an online backup solution; its more a way of keeping files in sync between two or more computers.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you used Carbonite? What do you think of it? Do you recommend it? Why or why not?

Justin James
Justin James

When I write my review, I used it for a good amount of time, and I did not see anything wrong then. I liked it enough that I plunked down my own personal money to sign up with the service. Since then, my experience has become a little bit more mixed. I've found that the "continuous backup" actually likes to wait quite some time before backing up certain files, probably because they are often used. The software gave me some grief when trying to select a large number of files to backup manually (like my MP3s that by default it wasn't backing up), I had to select them in batches. Outside of that, I have been satisfied. When my year subscription is up, there is a good chance that I will use the opportunity to consider my options, though. J.Ja

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...as well as for dozens of clients. My personal backup is 250GB (off of a domain controller no less) and it has been extremely reliable. Over the years I have experienced a few hicups with clients that required a re-install which always solved the problem. Fortunately after a few days with no backup, you get an e-mail message alerting you to a potential problem. (I do wish that alert period was user-adjustable down to 24 hours, or some period between) Yes, if you are an "IT professional" working in an environment with full-time support and substantial infrastructure and capability to engineer your own off-site solution, Carbonite is going to seem slow and inadequate. Most SMBs and individual users do not have those kind of resources, and nobody does for a mere $59/year.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

Like I've mentioned before, I consider Carbonite the "last line of defense" after comprehensive and local backups. Considering that your client managed to take out both of the local backups, it sounds like Carbonite did exactly what it was intended to do. My guess is that your client, albeit impatient, was quite happy to get all his data back. Your client is a very lucky guy!

mrbgolf
mrbgolf

I disagree with your overall thoughts here. You need to understand that Carbonite is a backup solution and not an online storage solution. In that regards I want my backup solution to represent the true state of my stored data. Carbonite does not immediately delete data that you have marked as deleted on your local system. It will retain the files deleted for a period of time so you can recover from an accidental deletion.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Tell us how it works out if you have a disaster...

markwebber
markwebber

Hi I have been using Genie timeline cloud till now i find it the fastest and the safest one because they are using amazon servers, as for the restore it is very easy also. Please check it i recommend highly it is very simple and easy to use: http://www.timelinecloud.com/ Regards,

csm96
csm96

Regretably the "restore" of my Carbonite Backup included many empty folders. So much essential data was absent that it was worthless for the intended function. Though I pre-paid for a year, I no longer use it. I expect it is fine for typical home use.

wsamuel3
wsamuel3

I wonder if companies long in the business, like Carbonite, will move to the cloud and adopt the practices that make timelinecloud faster. I suspect so. Right now I have a 3-year contract for $129.95 with Carbonite which has no limits on how much data it will back up. Carbonite has been around for awhile, is very easy to use, and has a sterling reputation. I expect they will strive to continue to improve their performance. I am glad there are providers who are providing higher speeds. I think they will result in the whole industry becoming better.