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Carbonite Online Backup

About Carbonite

For the good of all, I think you, too should spread the word about making good backups (with or without Carbonite)...

I think Carbonite offers home computer users a uniquely valuable service.

Back up your data. Or be prepared to lose it.

You have no other options. How you face that challenge is up to you.

  • To ask us to refer you to Carbonite, please use my Contact Page.
  • Review by Karl Strieby, K-C-P.com, January, 2008 (Updated July, 2009 and December 2011)

Folks who know me can attest that I have long believed in the value of data backups. I’ll take a moment here to review some simple truisms about data and backups (please forgive me if you’ve heard me rant about this before).

(Click a headline to expand a section below. To skip the rant, don't click on it...)

Something will happen that will make you lose data. Count on it. You know that the light bulb you just installed will burn out. Computer hardware is just like that. It all dies — someday — and when it does, it takes your data with it. There are lots of other ways to lose your data:

  • Maybe a burglar steals your computer.
  • Maybe your house burns down, or you get hit by a natural disaster (tornado, flood, earthquake, hurricane, etc.).
  • Then there’s hardware failure, virus or worm attack, or something even scarier:  PEBKAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair).

How many times have you said “NO-O-O, I didn’t mean to press Delete on THAT file…”? Don’t answer that. I don’t want to embarrass anyone here. The facts are:

  • You can’t have too many ways to back up your data.
  • You can’t back up your data too often.
  • Even if you’re very careful, the one time that you forget to back up your data, that’s the day you lose data.

How do I know these things? Well, I don’t have a t-shirt to prove it, but I have been there and done that. Too many times to count.

I have lost data due to insufficient backups -- several times. Fortunately, this has only happened to me with personal stuff, not work-related data.

Workplace computer users generally have folks whose job it is to take care of making data backups. In fact, routine data backup operation has been one of my professional duties at my day job for more than a decade.

However, most home computer users don’t have the luxury of paid staff to look after our data for us. We have to do it ourselves. Or just know that someday, we will lose data.

Backup can matter for legal reasons. For example, many of us use computer software like Quicktax to calculate and file our income tax returns. The law says we must preserve our tax and financial records for a minimum of six years.

If the tax authorities call you in for an audit, the “my computer died and I don’t have that information any more” excuse will probably cost you money. Maybe even lots more money than it would have cost you to keep good backups.

Backup can matter for other reasons, too. For example, if you have an iPod, you may have purchased some music from Apple’s iTunes Store.

I must confess to being a real iTunes junkie. Many of my recent music purchases have been of the “click buy now for instant gratification” variety. Do you want to re-buy that music content all over because of a computer crash? (Me neither!)

Or you may be an avid photographer. Most photographers nowadays use digital cameras instead of film. That’s yet another type of common data you need to back up -- or count as “will get lost”.

Everyone is different in the ways we use our computers. But everyone is the same in needing good reliable ways to back up our ever-increasing volume of data.

For my home computer, I have long relied on manual backup methods to protect my data. For me, it started with floppy disks, went to writable CD and DVD media, and now includes options like USB flash drives and external hard disk drives.

All of these methods assume that a human being remembers to back up the data using whatever method seems best. That’s backup failure point number one: human memory.

Another problem comes up when technology changes. For example, all of the word processing documents I created in the early days of my computer use in the 1980-s were backed up to 5-1/4-inch, 360-kb floppy disks.

I still have those disks, but I no longer own a computer that can read them. My two newest computers can’t even read the 3.5-inch 760kb or 1.4mb floppy disks that came along and killed the 5-1/4-inch floppy.

I don’t think there was anything really valuable on those floppy disks that did not also get copied from the hard drive of previous-generation computers to my present system. But I can never be 100% sure of that.

I suppose I could lug my collection of old floppies to a service center that still has equipment that can read them, and transfer the contents to a CD or some other media my current computers can read. Or I could just not bother.

Expect the same fate for almost any external backup media you might be able to buy and use today. The DVD formats now in place are under attack by the competing Blue Ray and HD-DVD formats for future mastery. And who knows how long USB will stick around?

It’s getting ugly out there. I have read many believable stories that predict a crisis of massive data loss within the next few years. It behooves us to stay informed and use as many methods of data backup as we can reasonably use.

Here’s what I now use (in January, 2008) for manual backup procedures:

  1. When important financial data changes (for me, that would be Quicken or QuickTax data files), I use Winzip to encrypt and copy that data to a USB flash drive.
  2. When important home business data changes (for me, that would be my customers' web sites), I do the same as I do for my financial data.
  3. On a weekly basis, I burn a DVD+RW disk using Nero Backup set to get everything in my c:\data folder except for my \data\tunes and \data\photos folders (those files are too big and too many to back up on one DVD).
  4. On an ongoing basis, I copy my whole c:\data folder to an external USB hard drive to back up my tunes and my photos and everything else. When I think of it, I burn DVDs that contain those folders, and store those disks off site as well.

Did you spot the weaknesses in my backup strategy?

  1. I could lose my flash drives (theft, accidental loss, or hardware failure).
  2. A big natural or man-made disaster could affect both my home and workplace locations.
  3. Defective media. Several times in the last couple of years, my computer could not read a particular cheap brand of DVD+RW media that I burned error-free. In those cases, I was able to go to an older backup disk to restore the one file I needed. (Don't count on pure dumb luck...)
  4. PEBKAC. (That would be an “oops, I forgot to back that up”.)

A complete disaster-recovery scenario includes taking the precaution of storing your back up data somewhere safer than your own house. Many careful folks use their bank’s safe-deposit box for this.

For years, I have taken my most recent weekly backup CD or DVD media into my workplace, and stored them in my desk. I also carry with me at all times a variety of USB flash drives that contain encrypted files of my most important data.

So you might think that I would feel that I’m doing “good enough” with my backup strategy. Well, as we have already seen, I don’t.

A natural disaster could affect both my house and my workplace. Or a mugger could steal my USB flash drives from me.

I need a better way to protect my data. So along came Carbonite.

I first heard about Carbonite in a promotional e-mail from the makers of WinZip (a great backup tool in its own right). While reading that e-mail, my anal-retentive instincts regarding data backup kicked in, and I clicked the “buy now” link with little further thought.

UPDATE: In early 2009, Carbonite announced a MAC version of their backup tool. I'm using it as I type this!

  1. Go to http://www.carbonite.com/. Or, if you like the fact that I told you about Carbonite, go here and request a referral.
  2. Sign up for the risk-free trial.
  3. Download the Carbonite Client
  4. Install it.
  5. Configure it.
  6. Leave your computer running and connected to the Internet until you see the “your backup is complete” message when you hover the mouse pointer over Carbonite’s system tray icon.

That's it. You now have a secure off-site backup of your data. Yes, it's that easy, and that slick. Carbonite just works.


The best thing about Carbonite is that you can set it up and then forget about it. Carbonite’s client software backs up your designated data to their Internet-connected servers without you having to lift a finger.

Your data gets backed up securely, and off-site (Carbonite’s servers are in Massachusetts). Your data gets encrypted by the Carbonite client before it ever leaves your machine, and they use an SSL Internet connection to further encrypt the already encrypted data that goes onto their servers. Even the US NSA would have to munch on intercepted Carbonite data a long time to figure out if you cheated on a tax return.

Today, there’s no limit (!) to how much data you can back up with Carbonite. My personal Carbonite backup job is now sitting at around 70 gigabytes. (Remember those tunes and photos I told you about before?)

Finally, Carbonite costs only about US$50 a year for each system you want to back up with it. That’s way cheaper than a big stack of DVD+RW media, and way cheaper than many USB-connected external devices. But you should have some reliable local backup method anyway. (Remember, you simply can’t have too many ways to back up your data!)

Carbonite's disadvantages

Carbonite’s backup and restore operations are limited by the speed of your ISP’s internet connection. In other words, if you’re on still on dial-up, forget about it.

If you are located outside of North America, Carbonite may be too slow for your use. Currently, Carbonite has one data centre, located in Massachussets.

You still need to have fast and reliable manual backup/restore methods in place, such as USB external hard drives, burned DVD disks, etc. The data set I have configured Carbonite to back up took more than a week to complete its initial back up (and would take several days of maximum broadband usage to restore everything).

If you accidentally delete a file that you backed up with Carbonite, you have 72 hours to restore that file. After that, it’s gone forever (unless you have a manual backup). (Update: this is no longer completely true. You now have 90 days to restore a previous version of a file. My understanding is that deleted files are still dropped by Carbonite after 72 hours.)

If the company that operates Carbonite suffers financial failure, your data may disappear forever. Less than five bucks a month seems really cheap to me for “unlimited” off-site data storage, but with today’s ever-decreasing data center hardware pricing, I suppose Carbonite might have a survivable business model.

Finally, don’t count on Carbonite as your sole backup method. Carbonite could be around forever or maybe not. I am not privy to their business plan, but their “viral marketing” strategy seems pretty sound if their goal is just to get more customers.

A very prominent option in the Carbonite client software is “Refer a Friend”. For every friend you refer who buys a Carbonite subscription, you get three free months of service. Your referred friend gets a free month, and then gets to refer more friends. This is classic “viral marketing”.

As an old shampoo TV commercial once concluded, “She told her friends, who told their friends, and so on…and so on…and so on…”

DISCLAIMER: This entire article came about purely from my concern that I (and many other home computer users) don’t make good data backups on a regular basis. I do not care one bit if you send me a Carbonite referral request or not. I just want you to make sure you have enough good ways to back up your data.

Having said that, I will gladly accept any free months of Carbonite Service that I may receive if you ask me to refer you to Carbonite. Or you can just go sign up on your own, and leave me out of your decision to buy Carbonite’s services — whatever turns your crank.

For the good of all, I think you, too should spread the word about making good backups (with or without Carbonite), and reap any benefit that comes to you. I think Carbonite offers all home computer users a uniquely valuable service.

Back up your data. Or be prepared to lose it. You have no other options. How you face that challenge is up to you.

To ask me to refer you to Carbonite, please use the Contact Us Page.


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