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.


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.

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