Having switched to Server 2012 R2 Essentials from Windows Home Server 2011 I was confronted with the problem that the new OS is considered a Business Solution instead of a Home Solution by almost all Software companies. That made most of the Home-targeted Backup solutions not applicable and you are forced to purchase very expensive Business Solutions.
This is especially painful when it comes to Backup Software. The Server itself is backed up to an external Harddrive, and the Server provides backup space for all Clients. But you still should keep an offsite backup for your most important stuff in case of Fire etc. So my first idea was to search for some Cloud Backup Providers. You can find a some reviews at BackupReviews. But those reviews are from the perspective of a desktop user and not a Server 2012 R2 (Essentials) Home-user. So I evaluated a couple of different providers.
In my previous Post I compared Crashplan, Keepvault, Microsoft Azure and Acronis. As all those solutions still left me unsatisfied thus I continued my search.
Before you are able to chose one of the companies, you really should calculate the amount of data you want to store. If it’s just a small amount of GB then there are a lot of free services available. I’m aiming for roughly 250 GB of data – That is my most important data like pictures, home movies, work data and so on.
After being left unsatisfied in my previous post, I now searched for some tools to directly access (cloud) storage providers. That’s when I discovered Amazon Glacier. Glacier is the low-cost cloud storage solution from Amazon. And it really is low-cost compared to others. You pay only 0,01 Euro or 1 Cent per GB you use! Compare that to 20 Cent per GB at Microsoft Azure. But of course there are some pitfalls. First, you are not able to immediately restore your backup because Glacier needs to fetch the data first (maybe from tape, who knows). According to the Getting Started guide, it should take about 3 to 5 hours. That certianly seems acceptable. The second and much bigger drawback, is the price of the restore. While storing data at Glacier is very cheap compared to any other Storage Provider, restoring data costs you money. And the faster you want to have the data, the more expensive it gets. It really is quite complicated, so you should study their FAQs or use the Unofficial Amazon AWS Glacier Calculator to calculate approx. costs of restoring data.
While the pricing is certainly quite complex, it seems to be cheapest cloud storage available as long as you don’t have to restore frequently. So that should be perfect for backups. The question is though, how do you get your data backed up to Glacier?
Luckily a friend of mine (who uses Amazon S3) also knew about Glacier. While he doesn’t use it to store backups (yet) he told me about the CloudBerry Explorer. which is (in a nutshell) like a Windows Explorer (or rather Midnight Commander) for Cloud Providers (Amazon S3 including Glacier, Azure, Openstack, Google and so on). There is a free version available as well! Great, now you can browse your Vault but that still doesn’t count as a backup. Fortunately CloudBerry offers yet another product: CloudBerry Backup. And it even comes as a special Windows Server 2012 Essentials Version (Dashboard Plugin). Sadly, the price is much higher than the WHS 2011 version. But 70$ is at least more affordable than what Acronis offers. CloudBerry Backup is a premium product though. It does not only support Amazon S3 and Glacier but a huge range of other Cloud Storage Providers. Azure, Google, Hosteurope, you name it. It also supports SFTP (remember my last post about using your Virtual Server? Yup, it’s possible). The configuration Wizard will send you directly to the Cloud Service Provider Signup Page in case you want to set up a new account.
The best thing is, that you are not limited to just one provider. For each Backup Plan you can select another provider. Want to use the 5 GB of free Azure Storage for your Documents but send your Home Movie Collection to Glacier? Just create two seperate Backup Plans. That’s awesome. Remember that the restoration of files from Glacier can be expensive? CloudBerry comes with Smart Restore that lets you limit the peak retrieval rate and even calculates predicted costs. This works for storing your backup as well. CloudBerry will calculate the required disk space and costs, so you can set a limit like: Do not store new backups if the cost would be higher than 20$ per month.
It also supports everything you would expect from a premium backup tool. Encryption check. Real-time file monitoring check. Versioning check. Email notification check. Bandwith throttling check.
I haven’t found a single missing feature. There are some things I haven’t tested yet though. Virtual Drive Integration allows you to use the Cloud Storage like a physical Harddrive in your Windows Explorer. Sounds nice, but probably not too important for Backup purposes.
CloudBerry backup will compress your files but it doesn’t store them as .tar.gz files on the Server. Using SFTP to my Linux Server I was able to closer inspect the backed up data. CloudBerry replicates your folder structure, but creates a seperate folder for each file and in that folder another folder with the current date (for versioning I guess) and inside is finally the original file. Still, if you encrypt it, you will not be able to read its contents. I haven’t tried yet to manually copy and decrypt it. CloudBerry also creates another folder to store it’s configuration. So I simulated a complete re-install and starting out with no Backup Plans defined. I set up a new Restore Plan, input my SFTP details and a couple of seconds later I was able to select which files to restore from a list. Perfect. So even in the case you lose your local configuration you are still able to access the backup.
So in the end CloudBerry really is a premium product, not targeted for home users but it can be a good alternative if you want to use different cloud providers or need a lot of space and want to go with Amazon Glacier (which should give you better transfer rates than Crashplan and nets you about 500 GB for 5$ per month which I consider a lot of space). Sadly there is no license for non-commercial use and the recent price increase from WHS 2011 to Server 2012 Essentials seems unjustified for home users. If you just want to use it for SFTP connections than it’s probably better to go with Duplicati which I’ll present down below.
Duplicati is an open-source freeware tool which I have totally missed in the past. Development doesn’t seem to be very fast at the moment. There is a 2.0 preview (aka alpha) version with a complete re-designed UI (uses a local webserver and browser now) but it took the devs over a year to get that out since the last stable version. And the 2.0 preview version got a lot of new features, like Glacier support! Still I doubt anybody would want to entrust their backup to an alpha version, so I won’t get into 2.0 preview too much. If you are a developer and know C# you can head over to their Developer Site and checkout the Source.
All screenshots are from Version 1.34 since using 2.0 preview was quite a hassle and (in my opinion) the Web UI needs a lot of work. They have a lot of How-To’s on their Website, explaining how to set up Duplicati with various Cloud Storage providers. In that regard Duplicati is very similar to CloudBerry except that it focuses on Storage Providers for Home Users like Strato, Telekom, 1&1, box.net and so on. It also supports Amazon S3 and at least with the preview version Glacier as well. You can create several backup plans and thus use the 10 GB free space from box.net + free space from some other provider and so on.
Of course it also supports SFTP and WebDAV so you can use your own Server or Owncloud.
The files are stored as tar.gz Files (at least with Version 1.34) on the Server and it is documented on how to manually extract and decrypt those, if needed. I deleted all settings and then accessed my backup archive and was able to do a restore without any problems. Same as with CloudBerry it seems. It also supports VSS to backup files which are in use. The only drawback in version 1.34 is that it will do a full backup on a fixed schedule (like once a month) and incremental backups in between. So once a month you will have to transfer a large amount of data. This has been completely changed in 2.0 preview.
In my opinion CloudBerry is the real winner if you have to backup a lot of data and want to use Glacier. In all other scenarios, a different product will be cheaper or better suited. Duplicati 1.34 is not bad but it’s missing much needed features, which are already included in 2.0 preview. If it ever get’s a stable release with a nice Web UI it will probably be my favorite. Crashplan had some negative feedback in the past. Maybe the service has become better (I was only able to test it with a couple of GB of backup) but I can’t believe that you can store even TB of backups for 5$ a month without any strings attached. Keepvault looks trustworthy but is a bit too expensive, unless you have really small backups (< 50 GB). Azure is the same as most Cloud Storage Providers – too expensive for home users, but it might be worth using a single backup tool like CloudBerry Backup or Duplicati, to make use of several Cloud Storage Providers and their free offerings. If you just want to use the webspace from your own server using SFTP you can use Duplicati 1.34 probably, or even CloudBerry if you are willing to spend the 70$. But in that case the 70$ are probably better spend on another external hard-drive.