Online Backup Solutions for Linux

As the digital age progresses, the amount of data we produce each year is growing quickly. There was a time when we could fit all of our personal digital data on a few floppy disks, but many of us now have hundreds of gigabytes or photos, music and documents that we need to backup and protect. Backing up our data locally is important, but any good backup plan should also include off-site backups. “The Cloud” has promised us infinite, cheap storage where we can save our ever-growing data. Online cloud backups should be a part of your overall backup plan, but it’s important that your data is secure, encrypted, and backed up automatically. Here are a few online backup tools that aim to make cloud backups easy for users.

Deja Dup + Ubuntu One

Deja Dup (aka “Backup”) is the default backup solution in Ubuntu 11.10. The Ubuntu team has preconfigured Deja Dup to work with Canonical’s Ubuntu One online storage service. To get started backing up, all you need to do is create a free account on Ubuntu One and flip the Backup switch to “on” in System Settings. Ubuntu One provides users with 5 GB of storage for free. While 5 GB might not be enough to backup all your music and photos, it probably is enough for backing up your important documents. If you need more storage, you can add it for $2.99/month per 20 GB.

Deja DupDeja Dup is a simple, easy to use program, but it has all the basic features needed to backup online. Backups are compressed and securely encrypted (if you give it a password). You can also save backups to local folders, external drives, and other types of servers (ftp, ssh, Windows shares, etc). Backups are incremental, which means that after the first backup, the program only has to send changes to the server.

The simplicity of Deja Dup also comes with some down sides. The developers have kept things very simple, so there are few advanced options for power users. Also, restoring files is an “all or nothing” process. This means that you need to download the entire backup archive in order to restore just one file. With larger backups, the restoration process could prove very time consuming.

Overall, Deja Dup is a great backup program and should be useful to almost all Ubuntu users. The addition of 5 GB of free space on Ubuntu One means that no Ubuntu users have an excuse for not backing up their important documents online. If you need to make local or remote backups, Deja Dup is an easy and secure option.

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CrashPlan

[Full disclosure: I am a CrashPlan user, subscribe to CrashPlan+, and the links below are affiliate links.]

CrashPlan for Linux is a backup service similar Moxy and Carbonite but with some extra features that make it especially interesting. You can install the CrashPlan application for free on your Linux, Mac and Windows computers and make local backups, backups to your other computers, and even online backups to your friends’ computers. Backing up remotely to a friend’s computer essentially gives you free online backup. Upgrading to CrashPlan+ unlocks some additional features and also allows you to backup to the CrashPlan Central online servers.

Crashplan ClientI’ve used CrashPlan for more than a year with good results. The interface is pretty easy to understand and I haven’t had any problems or crashes. I backup all of my computers locally to one desktop with a big hard drive and also use CrashPlan+ to backup online to CrashPlan Central. The local backups happen quickly over wifi or wired LAN, online backups can take quite a while to upload (especially if you have hundreds of GB of data). CrashPlan makes incremental backups after it has finished the initial backup, meaning that changes to your files can be backed up quickly.

CrashPlan provides good security for your backups. Backup data is automatically encrypted with your account password or you can choose your own private password for backups (something I highly recommend). This means that if you backup to your friend’s computer or to CrashPlan Central, no one will be able to snoop around in your data.

Choosing which folders and files to backup is simple, you can select your whole home folder or just specific folders that you want to backup. There are also advanced options which allow you to exclude certain file types (like .avi) from backups. Restoring data is pretty easy, you choose which destination to restore from and which files to restore. It’s possible to restore whole folders or individual files to their original location or to any other folder. Advanced features for restoring historical versions of files are available, but the interface can be a bit confusing at times.

Overall, the CrashPlan client works great on Linux, but there are some small changes that could be made to make it even better. There is no GUI installer or deb file available, so installing CrashPlan on Ubuntu requires some work in Terminal. The installer also fails to create an entry in Gnome menu and instead creates a shortcut on the user’s desktop. Opening the client via Ubuntu’s Unity interface is not possible, and you must use the desktop shortcut. These two annoyances are not show stoppers, but it would be nice if the CrashPlan team fixed them.

If you have a lot of data to backup online, CrashPlan+ pricing is very competitive. Most online backup providers are now charging a per GB fee, but CrashPlan offers unlimited plans for as low as $3.00/month. For households with multiple computers, CrashPlan+ has some really cheap prices – as low as $6.00/month for unlimited backup of 2-10 computers. Personal plans with 10 GB of data cost as little as $1.50/month.

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Wuala

Another cloud backup option for Ubuntu is Lacie’s Wuala. Personally, I think Wuala is the most intersting multi-platform cloud storage service out there. The Wuala software allows you to backup files, sync files, share files publicly or privately or simply use it as a big disk in the cloud. The Wuala team seems to be obsessed with security and privacy, they even published a 10 page PDF detailing their encryption model. All files are encrypted on the user’s computer and the password is never sent to Wuala. Access via Linux, Mac, Windows, mobile and web clients are all designed to maintain this security (something that no other provider seems to do).

Wuala ClientBacking up with Wuala is really easy. For each folder you want to backup, you can set the backup interval (continuous, daily, etc) and also filter files by extension. Backups are incremental and only upload the changes to files (so large files don’t need to be completely reuploaded if only a small change was made). Restoring files is as easy browsing to the needed files in the Wuala client and clicking “download to.” Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a function to restore all backed up files to their original locations.

Another feature that makes Wuala stand apart form the competition is something they call “Time Travel.” When browsing a folder from within the Wuala client, you can move a slider back and forth in time to see changes made in that folder. This is especially useful if you’re searching for a file that was deleted at some point in the past. You can also right click on any file and see a list of previous versions.

I highly recommend trying Wuala, it is easy to use, integrates perfectly with Ubuntu, and has a lot more features than just backup. Unfortunately, buying online storage from Wuala is rather expensive, esepcially when compared to the unlimited Crashplan accounts. You get 2 GB of storage for free, but another 10 GB will run you $29/year (other plans are available, even a 1 TB plan for $799/year).

Jungle Disk

I’ve been a Jungle Disk user since 2007 when I heard about it on Security Now. Jungle Disk was one of the first programs to help people securely backup to Amazon’s S3 service. Originally created by Dave Wright, Jungle Disk was purchased by Rackspace in 2008. Rackspace added support for their own Cloud Files service and created new versions of the Jungle Disk application for servers, business and a stripped down version just for backups. The version I’m reviewing here is the Desktop Edition.

Jungle Disk Desktop Edition is a cross-platform application for online backups, syncing and sharing files. You can store your files on Amazon’s S3 service, or use Rackspace’s Cloud Files. All of the data you store online with Jungle Disk can be encrypted, so backups are safe from prying eyes. You can create multiple online disks which can be mounted and used like a local disk, used for syncing files between computers, or used for backups.

The Jungle Disk software is reasonably easy to use. Power users will find plenty of advanced features to set things up just how they like, but new users might want to stick with the Simply Backup version. The backup options are quite extensive, allowing you to select exactly which files you want to backup, exclude file types, and schedule backups. Restoring is also straight-forward and allows for individual file restoration and restoration of historical file versions.

Over the years, Jungle Disk has proven to be a reliable backup solution, however, I can’t recommend it for Ubuntu 11.10 users. After installation, the program will not launch and you need to run some Terminal commands before it will work [instructions here]. In fact, Jungle Disk seems to have abandoned their Ubuntu support all together, never adding Application Indicator support and not integrating withUnity at all. Because Jungle Disk has failed to convert their system tray menu to an app indicator, you need to manually white list Jungle Disk in order to have any control over the program at all. Clicking on Jungle Disk in the Launcher or Dash also does not work, it only launches a new instance of the program but will not switch to an already open copy. Without some serious tweaking, Jungle Disk Desktop is completely useless on Ubuntu 11.10. Once you have tweaked things, the program works fine, but Rackspace should really take the time to fix these problems. Jungle Disk is a great program, it just seems like it has been neglected recently.

Jungle Disk Desktop costs $3/month which includes 5 GB of online storage. Extra Cloud Files storage costs 15 cents per GB per month (with no data transfer charges). Storage on Amazon’s S3 service costs 14 cents per GB per month (free uploads and 12 cents/GB download transfer charges).

Spideroak

Spideroak is another multi-platform cloud service that you can use for secure online backups. Spideroak offers folder syncing and sharing features and has a real focus on security. Spideroak clients are available for Linux, Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. You get 2 GB of free online storage, and 100 GB of extra space is available for $10/month.

Spideroak ClientMaking simple backups is a pretty straight forward process, but restoring is more complicated. There’s no “Restore” button anywhere. Instead, you need to view your files and restore them manually. Restoring historical versions of files needs to be done on a per-file basis. While the ability to restore individual files is great, the restore process is not clear enough for beginners. The Spideroak client offers a wide range of advanced features, but the cluttered, and often difficult to understand, interface means that you’ll spend a lot of time learning how to do exactly what you want.

The Spideroak client works and looks especially well on Windows, but both the Linux and Mac versions have visual bugs that point to a lack of attention to these platforms. There is also no support for Ubuntu’s Application Indicators, which means you won’t see the SpiderOak icon in the top right of your screen unless you white list it. [UPDATE: These problems seem to have fixed in Spider Oak v. 5] I’ve also experienced lots of connectivity problems over the past few months, a problem which is also often expressed by others in the Spideroak forums.

I’ve tried to use Spideroak many times over the last few years, and always walk away from the experience disappointed. While I respect the Spideroak privacy and security philosophy, and appreciate their contributions to the open source world, their software client and service reliability level leave a lot to be desired. While Spideroak does provide encrypted, secure online backups, I can not recommend the service for anyone other than power users. Spideroak is an online backup service with high ideals, a service that I want to love, but its many shortcomings keep me from using it full-time.

 

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