CrashPlan certainly qualifies as an online backup service, and it’s a very good one, but the provider’s own description of it as a “personal backup assistant” is perhaps a little more appropriate term.
This is because CrashPlan is a comprehensive backup solution encompassing local backup, backups to your own remote locations, and backups to CrashPlan’s cloud storage. The software itself is completely free (for Mac, Windows and Linux), and it’s only cloud storage that you pay for.
As such, it’s possible to use CrashPlan as a standalone backup solution without using it as an online backup service, and in this respect the solution differs to most others. However, in this review we are looking at it as an online backup service, and we therefore pay most attention to cloud storage functionality.
Pricing & Plans
As we said above, CrashPlan itself is free software, so you can use it to perform local backups or even remote backups to other places without spending any money at all. However, the service is chargeable if you wish to store data “in the cloud” on CrashPlan’s servers.
As you will see from the screenshot above, CrashPlan’s individual service costs from just $3.96 per month. This is for unlimited data on a single machine if you purchase a four-year subscription. If you’d prefer not to commit for so long, the price rises slightly for shorter subscriptions, up to a maximum of $5.99 per month if you only wish to renew on a monthly basis.
CrashPlan also offer a “family” service. This covers up to ten computers, with unlimited data, and costs a very competitive $13.99 per month on a monthly subscription basis. This goes down as low as $8.96 per month for a four-year commitment.
There are also additional business and enterprise packages available, but we are concentrating on consumer offerings for the purposes of this review.
Also worthy of note is the fact that CrashPlan offer an unlimited 31-day trial with no need to provide credit card details up-front.
The online backup marketplace is now so competitive that no provider charges that much for their services, but CrashPlan’s prices are very reasonable.
As we mentioned in the introduction, CrashPlan’s approach differs from that of other online backup providers, and CrashPlan call this approach “Triple Destination Protection.”
Essentially, this means that the software encompasses three different backup methods: backing up to locally connected drives, backing up to a “trusted” connected computer elsewhere, and backing up to CrashPlan’s cloud service.
CrashPlan (like most providers these days) also provide mobile apps, allowing you to access your cloud-stored files from anywhere. Obviously you need to have subscribed to the providers cloud service for this to apply to you.
File versioning is strong with CrashPlan, with unlimited file versions available for restoration from the cloud service. This is better than the versioning on offer from some other services which sometimes, for example, only retain old file versions for 30 days.
CrashPlan also offer some good supplementary services, and one we’ve not seen available with many “non enterprise” services is their “seed drive” service. Basically, this means that if you have a large amount of data to upload to the cloud, they can send you a drive so you can create a local copy, avoiding a potential wait of weeks (or even months) for your initial backup to upload over a slow DSL connection.
They also offer a “restore to door” service, where they will send out a drive loaded with your data if you need to do an emergency restore, and cannot wait for all the data to download back from the cloud.
Finally, CrashPlan highlight that they operate their service on a “most recent files first” basis, an interesting approach that assumes your most recent work is the most important data to have backed up – though of course it’s up to your own interpretation whether you agree with this.
Overall, we’re looking at a strong and well-considered set of features.
All of the online backup providers seek to outdo each other with their security commitments, but CrashPlan is the first we’ve seen claiming to offer a “virtually impenetrable force field!”
Joking aside, all the normal security features are present and correct. Encryption for cloud storage is available up to 448-bit, and there’s a “private key” option, which allows you to effectively lock CrashPlan staff out of your data (and yourself, should you lose or forget the key!)
As is always the case, there are elements of CrashPlan’s security provision that privacy-obsessives will find to criticise. The biggest issue here is probably the fact that the company’s datacentres are located “in the US and around the world.” In the wake of the NSA scandal, plenty of people seek out providers who specifically avoid America as a storage location.
Also, while private key encryption is available, it’s not enabled by default, so CrashPlan staff could theoretically access data if the setting isn’t changed. Moving back to the positives, client-side encryption is in place, so data is encrypted before it even leaves your computer.
All in all, we think CrashPlan strike a good balance between privacy and usability – but those preoccupied with privacy may wish to check out all of the small print.
CrashPlan’s website is nicely designed, but there’s quite a lot of information to take in and scroll through.
However, CrashPlan have done a pretty good job of disseminating what is, essentially, quite a large amount of sales info. As the company also offer business and enterprise products, it must have been difficult for them to squeeze everything in whilst keeping a clean look and feel – and they’ve achieved it as well as could be expected.
CrashPlan get a very rare “ten out of ten” from us for their support options! There is a ton of online documentation available, user forums, and the usual options of email / ticket based support.
However, it doesn’t end there. There is also live chat support and a telephone support option! The latter is so rare from consumer online backup providers that it’s a real delight to see it.
(NB. We used OS X Yosemite on a MacBook Pro to trial CrashPlan. Windows and Linux functionality should be the same, but screens will look slightly different).
We signed up to CrashPlan to take advantage of the generous free 31-day trial, which does include cloud storage.
The first step was downloading the software as a Mac DMG install file of just over 50MB.
Account creation is handled within the software, rather than on the provider’s website. The install went quickly and without incident – we just clicked through the installer steps and entered our Mac system password. We were then required to enter some basic details.
The trial was activated automatically, and we were pleased by the fact we were neither required to hand over payment details in advance, nor pressured to quickly upgrade to a chargeable service.
As soon as we’d registered and the software opened, we had the option of just clicking a “Start Backup” button to begin to back up data to CrashPlan’s cloud storage.
However, we wanted to have a play with the software and ascertain exactly what would be backed up by default first.
By default, it appeared the backup job included everything within our Mac’s single user folder – a sensible strategy. However, we edited the job to simply back up a few selected folders – and this was an easy process.
We then hit “Start Backup” and the software jumped to life, and we were given an estimated time for the backup to complete.
Once the backup had completed, we dragged an additional file to one of our backup folders, wondering how quickly the software would notice the change. In the process, we noticed that the software informing us that the next backup would be in 15 minutes – or we had the option of pressing a small button to trigger a new backup instantly.
The default destination for a new backup was “CrashPlan Central,” CrashPlan’s cloud storage, but as you can see from the image below, it’s easy to add additional local and remote locations. We didn’t test this particular functionality.
With our backup complete, we delved into the other options of the software. There was actually a surprisingly amount of configurability behind the simple interface, especially related to how much bandwidth the software can use for backups, and how it behaves when the machine is idle. These options will be pleasing for techies, but aren’t anything novices need concern themselves with – a great balance.
There were extensive options available relating to file versioning too, which could be handy to reduce the size of backups – though with unlimited storage, one could fairly assume that people will take advantage of the ability to store as much data as possible.
With some of our Mac’s data uploaded to the CrashPlan cloud servers, we decided to try out the provider’s iPhone app. It was easy to find in the App Store and quick to install onto our test iPhone 6.
Upon opening the app, we had to enter our username and password.
We could then instantly see our backup machine listed, and browse the files in the cloud. It seems that tapping a file downloads it to the device. Although this takes a few seconds, we liked how it handled the process. Although opening a downloaded image file displayed it in CrashPlan’s own image browser initially, we had various sharing options available, and the option of saving the image to the iPhone’s “Photos” app.
While CrashPlan’s mobile app isn’t packed with features, it is simple, fast and effective, and pleasurable and practical to use.
We were really impressed with CrashPlan. It rolls a lot of functionality into a single solution, and somehow manages to do it without overcomplicating things.
It’s actually quite hard to find any negatives, but one point worth making is that there’s no DropBox-style file sync / sharing functionality, which does come with several other solutions – but with CrashPlan you have local and remote backup features instead. It all depends on what you need, but CrashPlan is definitely worth a place on your shortlist – especially as you can try it for free.
Have a look at our sister site, BestBackups, for plenty of information on online backup services.
Simple yet powerful interface
Local and remote backup features
Class-leading support options
Good add-on features: seed drive and backup drive delivery