Sunday, April 12, 2009

Online backup warning when it comes to restore data

Do you use or consider online backup? Here is something to consider. I think several backup services has this problem but I know by experience that Carbonite is one of them.

Carbonite is great at taking backups and just stay in the background doing its job but when it comes to restore data you might be in trouble. In my experience restoring a backup is very slow. Restoring some GB of data would probably take days and during that time in recovery mode you cannot have the backup running leaving you unsafe. Imagine you need to restore some specific folders only but you still want the backup to continue. This is not possible with Carbonite. (Update via comments: “In fact, this is very easy to do either through the Carbonite Backup Drive or through Restore Search without interrupting the backup.”)

If it just was slow but there is a more problematic lack of feature that makes it fail.

You cannot restore to a “state” at a specific date and time. Either everything is restored or you need to restore the files one by one. This is because Carbonite takes backup of files one by one and does not take into account the overall picture.

I will exemplify this with how the files are saved for Windows Live Writer.

In ..\Documents\My Weblog Posts there are two folders. “Drafts” and “Recent Posts”. The problem comes if you would want to restore the backup of the drafts. Say you make drafts once in a while that you work on. Some of the drafts are several months old and so on. If you with Carbonite would restore the whole Drafts folder you would maybe get hundreds of drafts, most of them you have already published. If you don’t know specifically when files you want to restore you might be in BIG trouble.

I can think of many scenarios when you would be in trouble restoring files with Carbonite. Say you have your Internet favorites folder. If you sometimes move favorites from one folder to another or delete some once in a while you can imagine the pain it would be to restore these from the backup.

Another problem with Carbonite is that there is no way to restore files via a web interface. Update thanks to a comment. It is indeed possible to restore via web now but limited to restore only one file at a time and only the latest version of a file.

If you are a programmer you can imagine that restoring for example a Visual Studio solution or project would be almost impossible.

Which files does Carbonite back up? is also important to read as not all files and file types are backed up by default.
Some of the file types are: .BAK .CHM, .COM, .CUR, .DLL, .EXE, .ICO and so on. There should really be an option to easily specify what “non default” filetypes to allow to be backed up.
One thing I miss is that Carbonite does not backup LNK files (shortcuts) at all.
Larger files than 4GB must be manually selected to be backed up.

One online backup that does not have this problem is Mozy. Mozy takes a snapshot of everything that will be backed up and you can select to restore files that existed in a folder at a specific date and time.

Do you know other online backup solutions that handles restore in a good way?


  1. I disagree. I used to use Mozy and switched to Carbonite. I just tried the Carbonite restore function and many of my files have multiple versions (like my Quicken file). So I can choose from the Carbonite rstore tool which one I want to restore. For me Carbonite was way superior to Mozy. Just my 2 cents.

  2. Don't know if Carbonite does this, but Mozy allows you to order DVDs of your files. A lot faster restoring from DVDs then downloading.

  3. KerryF,
    It is not the problem that you have multiple versions to restore. The problem is if you have a folder where you have deleted files you will have all deleted files restored.

    If you have folders that have many deleted files you have a lot to sort out because you might really not want the deleted files restored.

    If you manually can select what files to restore or just want everything restored I can agree that Carbonite works great.

  4. Powerstream,
    Carbonite does not have the DVD option to restore backups.

  5. Couple of points:

    Much faster to download using Carbonite than to have DVDs shipped through the mail or dealing with huge zip files. Even a residential DSL should allow you to restore over 30GB per day. Carbonite's restore process is really the best in the industry. Fastest, most reliable.

    As for keeping track of versions, Carbonite and Mozy actually work very much the same, except Mozy only stores 30 days of versions whereas Carbonite stores 90 days.

    You missed the Carbonite Remote Access feature. It allows you to access your backup from any web browser. It's in the upper right corner of the Carbonite home page,

    There are a number of useful posts regarding various vendors' restore processes on

    Dave Friend, CEO
    Carbonite, Inc.

  6. David,
    Thanks for your points.

    I might have downloaded on a bad day or if it might be that I'm located in Sweden but the download was painfully slow. I will try this again but right now I'm running Windows 7 and the restore process through Carbonite Backup Drive does not work at all for me.

    The tracking of versions is not an issue. The issue is to restore to a specific state where I don't want on purpose deleted files restored.

    Sorry I missed the Remote Access. Unfortunately it is limited to only restore one file at a time and the latest version.


  7. I noticed just now that I started writing this blog post before the Carbonite Remote Access function was added not long time ago.
    See this Carbonite blog post

  8. Jimmy - interesting post, you've inspired me to blog about how our product handles these issues (see The short version is that our p2p approach means that you get offsite backup but can restore at LAN speed if disaster strikes. We also allow restore of deleted files and specific versions of files.

    Rob Ellison
    CEO, Cucku, Inc.

  9. Rob, thanks for sharing!
    Here is a direct link to your post so it is easier to click to.

  10. David,

    I would have to disagree with downloading being faster then DVDs. Sure if you have a super fast connection it can be. At 30Gb a day it would take me over 6 days to download my backup. DVDs would be overnighted and 2 days at the most to copy over. Transfer speed of DVD drives are many times faster then most internet connections.

    Also you have to deal with ISP caps. AT&T has a 150gb cap. I would have to wait a whole month to restore. And with ISPs like Timewarner haveing caps of 40Gb, well thats an issue.

  11. I'm restoring a 700MB file from Carbonite and so far it has taken almost three days to get 2/3 of the way through it. I like Carbonite for backups, but the restore is way too slow. I have a DSL connection, so it should be faster than that.

  12. Dear Powerstream,

    If you have 180GBs backed up, you're not a typical user -- average is 10-20GBs, so 8-16 hrs for a full restore would be about normal. Second, I think a DVD holds about 5GBs. That means Mozy would have to burn and send you 36 DVDs. How much is that going to cost? That's going to take a lot of somebody's time on their end, and on your end you're going to have to manually unzip and load all these DVDs. With Carbonite, you can start the restore and come back later when it's done.

    A couple of other comments: You said "Imagine you need to restore some specific folders only but you still want the backup to continue. This is not possible with Carbonite."

    In fact, this is very easy to do either through the Carbonite Backup Drive or through Restore Search without interrupting the backup.

    In your Windows Live Writer example, you neglect to note that the Carbonite Backup Drive has the ability to show the Last Modified Date for the files. And Restore Search explicitly allows you to find all files in the last x days of a certain type (though, not in a particular folder yet).

    Also, you said "There should really be an option to easily specify what 'non default' filetypes too allow to be backed up."

    In fact, you can right-click on any file except video (and music in a trial), go to Properties, go to the Carbonite tab, and set that filetype to be backed up.

    You said, "Carbonite does not backup LNK files (shortcuts) at all” Not true; not only can you select LNK files with a right-click, you can also set the entire filetype to be backed up.

    Regarding Mozy, you imply two points about them:
    1) They arrange backup sets as snapshots (this is an effect of their lack of continuous backups; a backup set is created every hour, every day, or every week, etc.)
    2) You can select to restore files from a folder as they were on a particular backup.

    There is a tradeoff between Carbonite and Mozy on this point; with Mozy you can easily restore an entire folder to a time/date. With Carbonite you can see a list of every new/changed file in one list, and easily restore them all at once with two clicks. A subtle difference in direction; not a “Mozy is better at this” distinction.

    Let me know if that helps, or if something isn’t clear.

    Dave Friend, CEO
    Carbonite, Inc.

  13. Dave,
    Thanks for your comments. They are welcome.

    I found the backup drive to work as you described.

    "Carbonite Backup Drive has the ability to show the Last Modified Date for the files"
    This does not help when you don't know what last modified date to search. This is typical if files are created in the background by software but still are critical for you.

    "set that filetype to be backed up". I'm aware of the method you describe. What I wish for is a way to have a more unified way to do it. When you start your backup the first time you have to find the file types that are not backed up and later on there might be new file types that are not backed up. If there were a UI or registry hack you could use to upfront make this selection it would be great.

    That you now can backup LNK files is great news. Before you could not do this. Good to see this working now.

    I guess I will keep using both Carbonite and Mozy as you say they both have their pros and cons.


  14. David,

    One issue I have with Carbonite that I just recalled is the following.

    I try to identify what files are not backed up I look at the colored status dot and if it on a folder is not filled it means something is not backed up.

    The problem comes that I often have empty folders. The reason is that Visual Studio creates such folders. And it seems Carbonite does not backup empty folders.

    So here is a wish. Add support for empty folders or don't show the status dot empty just because there is an empty folder within that folder somewhere.

  15. AnonymousMay 08, 2009

    I would definitley suggest Safecopy backup, For me SafeCopy is a perfect fit. I can backup USB drives, share files and backup both my Mac and PC with one account. I'm very happy with it and it may be worth checking out.


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