Disaster Recovery

Failing with online backup

Seeking to back up 350 GB in safe, reliable, off-site storage, Michael Krigsman tried Carbonite and Mozy. He explains how both products failed miserably to achieve his goals.

This is a guest post from Michael Krigsman of TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet. You can follow Michael on his ZDNet blog IT Project Failures, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Seeking to back up 350GB in safe, reliable, off-site storage, I tried Carbonite and Mozy, two of the most respected names in the online backup market. Both products failed miserably to achieve my goals, each one in a perversely different way.

Carbonite offers a simple, set-and-forget solution that should make life easy. In my case, something bad happened along the way because I can no longer restore files reliably. This screen capture shows what happens when I try to restore files using the company's remote access feature:

As you can see, Carbonite can't find my selected file. Would this message inspire confidence that your backup is safe?

Carbonite tech support was quite helpful trying to diagnose and solve the problem. However, my luck ran out after support submitted the issue to the developers for further research and fixing. At that stage, support essentially said the developers will handle my issue when they want, with no time horizon and not even a pat on the back.

Based on that interaction, I decided to try Mozy instead.

Mozy takes a somewhat more configurable approach to its backup software, which I like. I transferred the first 200GB of data to Mozy with no problems and reasonably fast upload speeds of 1.5Mbps. Recently, however, my upload speed decreased to a level where large backups are no longer practical. This dialog box shows my current upload rate, which is slower than a dialup modem:

Mozy support is singularly unhelpful, sending canned solutions and ignoring the actual problem descriptions in my emails.

My new backup solution. Since the need for offsite backup remains, I plan to install a remote hard drive at a friend's house and use a backup program to transfer my data for safekeeping.

Given the economics of software as a service (SaaS) vendors, poor support is hardly a surprise. These vendors survive by keeping costs low, so they can offer inexpensive prices to consumers. Both Carbonite and Mozy charge about five bucks a month, which doesn't leave much room for in-depth customer assistance.

My lousy backup experience illustrates both positive and negative aspects of cheap cloud computing. When the cloud works, everything is great; but woe unto him (or her) that hits a speed bump.

64 comments
teedeedet
teedeedet

I've tried several Online back up companies, but I wont mention names. Now I'm at my longest stay with Iozeta. http://www.iozeta.com/. It has all that I need from back up to easy access with their Livedrive feature. I recommend these to people with a lot of files to back up. By the way, they have UNLIMITED online back up. Be as lucky as I am to have subscribed to their service.

JohnnyBoyClub
JohnnyBoyClub

If you are failing with one software that do online backup doesn't mean you are failing with all of them , from my oppinion you should use other software .A good and also free software is http://www.dmailer.com/dmailer-backup.html and they also offer onlien storage up to 3gb for free, so you can also test it and store files if you want.

foobarfooff
foobarfooff

I had similar problems with Mozy uploads, but the real problems showed up with I had to restore after a system wipe. Took me 2 weeks of slow downloads, terrible customer service and inaccurate restores to get my system back into a patchworked, usable setup. And I was a paying customer. Best customer service I got was when I asked to discontinue my plan. They were prompt and responsive.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

I've been using Mozy for about 9 months and it saved my backside after a reformat and a hard drive crash, however, recently I noticed that some of the files that I restored were 0KB. Some of which were pictures from my 2005 surprise engagement party. Some files were intact and others were junk. I used both the online and the client to search for a more complete backup but the only one I could find was from earlier in the year when I stupidly used a manual encryption key (because I'm uber security conscious). I typed in every variation of the encryption key that I could think of and still the files would not decrypt. But that's besides the point, my most recent backup did not backup all of my files and to this day I don't know why.

tnboren
tnboren

Finally, a subject I have experience with! We use Symantec Backup Exec System Restore (BESR) running on five servers all taking image snapshots periodically, and sending them to a storage box with big, fast drives at the other end of the complex from the server room. As soon as an image completes, it is automatically copied to a second storage box about 450 feet away from the first backup server. Additionally, we have a remote backup server co-located about 20 miles away running Symantec Backup Exec Continuous Protection Server. This is connected via a VPN back to the main complex. CPS agents on the five servers continuously send only the changed data through VPN to the remote server, so the bandwidth is quite modest. We tried a half dozen different ways to periodically move the images (about 300 GB worth) off to the remote box, but finally gave up and now sneaker net via an external USB drive once a quarter, or when ever there is a significant change to a server. The loss of a server requires about 30 minutes to copy over the latest image locally, and then restore the most recent data via CPS. The loss of the whole building would mean retrieving the remote server and using the last set of images plus the most recent data via CPS. I know someone is gonna? ask: yes, we test the system, by periodically restoring an image and the most recent data set. What is cool about BESR is that I can restore to bare metal. I?ve even restored a server image to an ordinary workstation and successfully booted it with only a minor squawk about a missing audio driver. I can live with that.

linda
linda

In my work environment, which encompasses three geographic retail print shops, we use a cable WAN for remote connection to a server-based POS app. The server is also file storage for large graphics files. Our solution is to have redundancy redundantly --- the server is RAID 5 with four processors, and we have four network backup drives, one of which goes home in the boss' briefcase at night. I have the server backing up to a minimum of three backup drives every night at midnight, and the boss' copy gets updated every Friday afternoon. Takes very little of my time. Linda, Naples Florida

duncan.pope
duncan.pope

I am an IT consultant that supports dental offices. I am using MozyPro to backup up to 17 GB of data. I have nearly no problems with either online backup or restores. I am using it with 17 clients and it meets or exceeds HIPAA and SOX requirements. GREAT product for critical data backup. not really suitable for full system backup. Mozy Enterprise has many large clients such as GE US for online backup and is a subsidiary of EMC, so is not a lightweight in the data storage field!

angel.rojas
angel.rojas

So I thought this article was a little rough and didn't sound consistent with my own experience with Carbonite as well as my clients'. I'm a Carbonite reseller and decided I should take this to my Carbonite team. They're very aware of this article and its author because there's an open Tech Support case for it as well as the CEO of the company is addressing it. Apparently, our beloved author forgot to mention in his article that he is testing with Windows 7, which is not officially supported by Carbonite (since it isn't even released yet). How about some journalistic responsibility here???

pete_heylin
pete_heylin

The upload speed wouldn't be controlled by the backup company. That is your ISP. If the speed provided by your ISP has not changed, then some other application is using your Internet connection. Regarding your alternative solution to place a hard drive in your friend's house, this is no substitute for storing your data with a backup company. Backup companies often have the data stored in one Data Centre and replicated to a different Data Centre at a separate geographical location. If your friend's house burns to the ground destroying the hard drive (God forbid), then all your data is gone!

smechany
smechany

Good decission, Michael. If I were you, I'd go for BOS -www.bos.co.il

jerryjoh
jerryjoh

I've had good luck with backblaze. I backed up 300GB, it took awhile, but I have restored several files without any problem. It's only $5.00 a month. I also use Norton Ghost for local backup. I'm a photographer/web developer so file safety is very important for my lively hood and both methods have saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Norton Ghost allowed me to recover a hard drive and backblaze has allowed me to recover individual files.

Chris.sayers
Chris.sayers

Hi Guys and Girls I purchased Carbonite backup, it worked very well for me, until I moved home! my NEW isp's upload speed is nigh on useless = useless backup, no point having "cloud storage", when upload and download speeds are comparable only then will cloud computing will be of any use, what's the point in having 50mb or 100mb download when you can only upload at 256kb sec, ah well!!!!

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

We provide online backups for Business customers. The online backup competitors you spoke of provide a basic service...thats it. You get what you pay for. Dont expect premium service for $5.00 a month - not going to happen. We charge considerably more that this - why? Because I've actually gone onsite to customer locations (other states). I've sent equipment to customer locations already set up so it does initial backups to it...then its sent back to us... I copy the data to our systems in the Data Center. The Customer then starts backing up using FastBit tehnology which takes no time at all. We can backup customers who have TERABYTES of data - ONLINE using this method. Our competitors cannot do this nor will they offer this kind of personalized service. These companies are designed for home users & small business who dont want to spend alot of money on backups...and sometimes rely on them as their ONLY backup (not a good idea) - although its better than nothing which is exactly what some of them were doing beforehand. Nothing in this world is free and if you want good service, expect to pay for it. That is just plain and simple economics. A fair price for a good product. Dont expect Ritz-Carlton rooms for Motel6 rates :)

RechTepublic
RechTepublic

I have over 9 clients using Mozy. One of them has over 400GB backed up online. I have recovered GB's of data over the years. I have also recovered an Exchange 2003 server using Mozy. Please don't let Michael's problems stop you. They are related to his systems and his network. That is why Mozy and Carbonite cannot help him. I must add that the approach of copying the data to a friend's hard drive is wrong in too many ways to state here. You are out of your mind if you think a friend's hard drive is a suitable substitute for an online backup company.

knowlengr
knowlengr

Began well. Large backup (~ 400GB) succeeded. Incremental updates were made. After a disk crash, the restore failed, only restoring about 10%. Customer Service is responsive, but only for the easiest of easy solutions. I have now been through half a dozen "agents" (the agent names and message contradictions make me suspicious that perhaps they are assigned randomly). I was told it had been escalated, but the repititious inquiries (send logs) continued unabated. One agent logged in twice with GoToAssist and tried unsuccessfully for to read and then to pull down logs. Carbonite's logging is extensive, and the zipped logs are too big to email to the limited inbox at Carbonite customer support -- it bounced. I zipped the logs and put them on one of my websites to download, but they refused. I suggested ftp, and received the same reply. They claim to be working the problem, but w/o the logs I doubt it's even begun. I have a draft blog post on this experience (at technologyhead.com)but I want to give the Company a chance to perform. I'm now three weeks post-crash and still waiting. This sounds like the identical situation reported in the TechRepublic story.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

sent me a USB disk via secure transport for the first backup which was then picked up the next day for upload to the secure co-locate site. There after it was just what changed in the files, exchange server databases / e-mails / mailboxes & SQL server databases that got uploaded. Have the last 5 file versions to choose from for restore and the ability to call back a complete disk if required.

david
david

These are not the only companies with this problem. My company was using Terian Solutions and paying a hefty price for the service. ($1,200+ per month) Same thing. When I finally dropped the service I was only able to backup 50% of my servers and a backup of the Exchange server took 35 hours making nightly backups impossible. (Using DS3 pipe.) I'm now using a tiered backup to VTL and LTO with the tapes off site. No more problems, I'm in control and backups every night.

merskine
merskine

I've been using Backup Monster for some time with great success. Might give that product a try at Host Depot.

frank.huminski
frank.huminski

...I do not believe in or support "Cloud Computing", especially for business. I maintain that if someone is talking about "cloud" anything and is not referencing the meteorological phenomenon, whatever they are talking about is not to be taken seriously.

seth
seth

Any good Online Backup services that deal with large amounts of data know that the initial uploads are their achiles heel. To solve that they send you an external drive, which after you send back prepaid next day air. They then dump the data on their network and you start incrementals onward. Contact me I can help. seth@waregeeks.com

bhhorn
bhhorn

I was wondering if anyone could comment on typical upload (backups) and download (restores) speeds that they see in the real world using these services. Someone mentioned upload of 1 meg a minute, that seems terribly slow for backups of any size.

mattohare
mattohare

I'd paid for a year of backing up to their servers in the cloud. When I tried to set up a backup, I found that I could only select filetypes, then remove select files. I could not select by directory. It did me absolutely no good. I was back to CDs and USB disks.

jdclyde
jdclyde

Just for giggles, suppose I setup a server at home and I want to use that as my own off-site "cloud" backup? Do I need to setup ftp scripts, or is there software that will automate that process? If there is software, is it windows based or *nix?

stuart
stuart

These services are fine for low volume or "home" backups. If you are looking for a business application, you need to look for the enterprise vendors that do charge more... remember: you get what you pay for.

CG IT
CG IT

Carbonite was installed on a Small Business Server by a previous consulting firm. What I found was Carbonite running continuously chewing up about 45% of CPU resources. The previous consultant configured carbonite to only backup changed data and to only run when the system was idle. What he didn't realize was that logs generated by the server was considered changed data and since the server just sits there with no one using the desktop, Carbonite sees that as idle so the damn thing would run all the time. I tested this by turning off logging and carbonite immediately stopped. Turn logging back on and bam! it started running all the time. Backups went back to being done to an external hard drive run after hours.

damon1024
damon1024

Try a smaller company that has better customer service. I use databunker. They are UK based but software and server speeds seem a lot faster. Try www.databunker.co.uk

shortonjr
shortonjr

Some backup software has a hard time backing up files that are open or stuck open. I run a backup service and sometimes even I have problems restoring my own files. Those are mostly "open source" issues that I'm speaking of. But if you can lower your encrytion strength to atleast 3DES you will lose fewer files. I lost a whole backup using Blowfish (while testing).

d_baron
d_baron

Carbonite, Mozy, Livedrive, all of them can do quite well if your upload speeds let you use them at all (see "and thar's the rub". Windows 7, Linux, Mac? The other problem with these services is that they cater to a version of an operating system at best and microsoft loves to change things, often. There are industry-wide standards, protocols and stuff which if used, the OS and proprietary software tools should not matter. FTP, Rsync and others. Platform, OS-independent solutions can be provided and supported using open standards rather than fancy but proprietary tools.

maye
maye

Sounds like the author wanted to lose his data if he was relying on Windows 7! Now he knows that Windwos 7 was responsible for this so we live and learn. It's nice though that he's doing some testing for Carbonite but I'm sure their developers are fully aware the current version is not stable with Windows 7 and will have a new release ready when Microsoft decide to release their new operating system next year.

mattohare
mattohare

I still expect a clean, comfortable bed. And if I subscribe to a service for backup, I expect the backup to succeed. I also expect to be able to restore files later.

shortonjr
shortonjr

You've said a mouthful there, my friend!

eclypse
eclypse

I don't currently have any friends with suitable network connectivity or whatever to do this with, but if I did, I would probably prefer that to using some 3rd party that I don't know. The data is encrypted, compressed, and deduplicated (assuming we're talking about CrashPlan here), and as long as it doesn't have to pass through their (CrashPlan's) computers, I would be much happier. Is it fool-proof? No. Would I do this for a business? No. Of course, I wouldn't use some online backup from a 3rd party anyway for that. But for having an off-site copy on a (competent) friend's computer in addition to having copies on another computer at my home - I can see that working pretty well. That would be a fantastic use for an older machine with a couple of new HDDs mirrored or something. If your mileage with Mozy is great, then I would suggest sticking with it. I have so far been fortunate to never have a drive die on me and never lost data I didn't delete on purpose - I just copy important files to my other computers from time to time.

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

Awesome! This is what I'm talking about. Sometimes we cant fit all the data we need on a USB disk and have to send an Appliance. If its over 4 or 5 TB then sometimes I make a site visit (if its not too far away). When you need your data - its imperative you have somebody thats willing to work with you and HELP you like this.

RFaircloth
RFaircloth

Seems like the article and discussion has revolved around the Mozy "Home" version of the backup service, which was designed for, well, typical "home" use. A better test for most your purposes would seem to be the Mozy "Pro" service.

brettwilliams101
brettwilliams101

I accidentally wiped some pictures from my personal machine which was backed up by MozyHome. The folder was only 50MB, but it had some old stuff I didn't have backed up. I went to Mozy's site to initiate a restore of that folder. I was surprised to find that once I submitted the request, it took until the next day for my files to become available for download. I contacted support about this and they stated they use a queue system... people have to get in line to get their data back. Luckily, this is not the case when using the Mozy software. Downloading files from Mozy maxed out my home ISP connection at 6Mbps.

richardstevenhack
richardstevenhack

If you want secure offsite backup, either pay for a co-lo server somewhere, backup locally and manually carry your hard drives to it, or use a safe deposit box you rent at your bank - or pay for the services of a company that provide a serious service with contracts and guarantees and tested backups and restores on their servers. These services mentioned are for small amounts of data such as somebody's home Quicken files - not corporate backups. And moving several hundred GB's of data over a DSL line just isn't in the cards. Some services will allow you to ship a hard drive to them, which at least means you don't wait days or weeks for the data movement to finish. For incremental backup to an external server you control, look into Storegrid from Vembu. It's not perfect, but it's designed for ISPs providing storage services for clients and it's quite cheap. It provides delta backups so the amount of data movement is minimized - but your initial data backup is still not going to be feasible if it's over several hundred GB.

mstevens
mstevens

I built my own offsite backup solution. I use Windows Scheduled Tasks to trigger a script, which takes a daily, multi-gigabyte snapshot of my mission-critical data. The script compresses the snapshot using 7zip. 7zip'scommand-line interface makes it easy to automate the compression step. The script stores the compressed snapshot on an internally accesible FTP server on a Windows Server. A Windows PC (offsite at the company owner's home) accesses the FTP server over a static, permanent VPN connection and retrieves the compressed backup. To automate the remote retrieval process I use Windows Scheduled Tasks and an inexpensive program called FlashFxP, which is an FTP client with batch automation capabilities. It is a tenacious program that will automatically retry when its connection fails and it will continue the download from the point of failure rather than restarting from the beginning. It never gives up. FlashFxP also supports SSL, which would obviate the need for a VPN connecton. The process has been quite reliable and transfers about 9 gigabytes of database files(before compression)per week between office and home connected by Comcast Business and Verizon DSL respectively. Backups typically complete in the overnight, but have run into waking hours on occaision, due to service outages. The bandwidth consumption has not adversely impacted other users in the remote location despite its 2Mb/s theoretical limit. The kids can still get their MP3s. Once you determine the size of your compressed backups, you can estimate the run time given your available bandwidth. FlashFxP provides minimal instrumentation (transfer rates, etc) that can assist in determining the feasiblilty of transfering data between your base and offsite locations. You may want to run it manually a few times to test.

Robbi_IA
Robbi_IA

JD - Setting up a server at another location isn't difficult - just for giggles - set up a Windows server on a firewall with VPN access. Your site could be connected to the offsite server via VPN, then map a drive from the server to be backed up to the backup server. Set up your standard backup software (BackUp Exec, Backup Express, or any other will do) to back its files up to a folder on the mapped drive. Instant offsite backup. It might not be perfect, probably not the most secure (unless you encrypt data both directions), and way to simplistic - but it's just an example of how it could be done.

brucegme
brucegme

one of my clients upgraded from a windows 2000 server to windows 2003 server. we replaced the existing mirrored hard drives in the old server with a pair of 500 GB Hdd, replaced the Power supply and installed it in another building on a fiber link (the fiber link was the most expensive part of the process) I am using vnc remote software and syncback (both freeware)to automate the backup process. a caveat ...since the vnc link is open all the time you will want to make sure that your local network is very secure. This has worked well for 3 years.

rdowdy
rdowdy

I found the value of this article to be that it confirmed what I expected would happen. Failures with large data sets and poor customer support. I use Carbonite at home and have had minor problems that were acceptable at my house but unacceptable for my office. Thanks for saving me some time!

jdclyde
jdclyde

resolve the need for an off-site backup? Multiple external drives?

angel.rojas
angel.rojas

I have to be honest, that was a pretty ignorant remark.

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

What, no Bedbugs? LOL.. Sorry. Couldnt help myself. Those are reasonable expectations. If you go to "Motel 6" just rememeber, the Icemachines will probably be empty as well as the snack and soda machines and dont expect the guy behind the counter to assist. You'll sleep the night, but nothing will guarantee that the maid "Actually" changed your sheets the night before. We all have reasonable expectations of service.. but the sad truth is that marginal usually means "Sub-Marginal". Basically, its like camping.. you eat stuff out in the woods you wouldnt touch at home.. Drop hot dogs in the dirt ...whatever. You do what you have to do to get by and get along. It just depends on how long you want to camp out and how many gritty hotdogs you want to eat ;) I just re-read my post.. Sounds weird.. but it works :)

SimonS1964
SimonS1964

Mozy is owned by EMC - last time I looked there were three offerings... "home", pro and enterprise. Several other backup vendors are quietly putting online offerings together - either directly or as product add-ons. I certainly think that online backups have their place. It's all about pricing, expectations and ensuring that the assurances and indemnity you need are in place from the outset.

b4real
b4real

You get what you pay for.

jdclyde
jdclyde

that is a method of transfer that is not designed for WAN use, and is horribly slow and unreliable. I could see using ftp or a protocol designed for a wan.

CG IT
CG IT

like the discussions in your backup thread, I decided to go with external hard drives and use Backup Exec. Backup drives are rotated to off site storage.

mattohare
mattohare

There are always exceptions. But then, I'm an easy audience for thrifty accommodation. One way to put me off a place is tell me how many stars it has. (I'll appologise to my current client, a tourist board, later.) I have never slept in a paid bed that didn't have fresh sheets, as far as i could tell, ever. I can always smell the remaining cleaning agents! LOL There might be potholes in the car park, but the car was still safe all night. I never need the ice. And (except in Ireland where it really is expected) I never care what they do for their 'continental breakfast' in the morning. (Worst was Tang and donuts, but let me tell you the coffee was as good as I've ever had.) My bottom line is my expectations go down with the price I pay. But when someone says they have something, I do expect to get it when I pay for it. On the current subject, the user interface may be annoying, the colours may blind, and I may have to wait a bit for a response with technical support. But, I still expect to be able to back up and restore files. Both of the vendors in this example seem to have failed on my basic minimum line. (Like a 4* hotel once that had a construction project on-site that started at 5am.)

stuart
stuart

I jest, but I cannot tell you how many times I have been called because a backup was not recoverable and they had not testing or verified the backup. It really is not a laughing matter, but it happens too often.

CG IT
CG IT

and this is the big problem with online backups to "cloud computing" for business. The business thinks their stuff is being backed up but if it's not recoverable or the company goes broke, what then? Not to mention can anyone be sure that their data is safe from prying eyes? I remember when tape was the only media to use simply because it was cheap and could handle large data sets. The only other backup method was to floppy disk. Then came CDs. Still the same problem as floppies. not enough space to backup data without using hundreds of CDs. Then came DVDs. While better than CDs still took mulitple DVDs. Tapes still handle the large data sets best. With large TB drives, backups to external drives is, imo about the best way [other than tapes] a small business can be assured that their stuff is backed up and available on portable media. The other thing about backups that I've run into in Small Business is that no one ever tests the backups to see if the data backed up and is recoverable.

stuart
stuart

it has been done like this for years (since the time of tapes). Funny how some things never change... I think these products (Carbonite, Mozy, ...) were developed for the single "home" type user.