Online cashups

So the other day I was looking for an alternative online backup service to the one I have been using, Carbonite (more on the reason for the change below), and I was amazed at the sort of prices being asked by Australian online, or ‘cloud’, backup services.

If you do a search in Google for ‘online backup’, if you're searching from Australia, even without clicking on the Pages from Australia option, you get two to three pages of results that are dominated by services based in Australia (or at least with Australian domains), which in most situations would be a good thing: you don't want to get pages and pages of results from overseas if you're searching for accommodation, plumbers, used cars or mortgages. But in this case, apart from the very first result, which ironically is for Carbonite's Australian branch of their service with an annual subscription price of $71.99 for an unlimited amount of backups, the rest of the results Google displays definitely aren't doing you any favours.

I'll let the numbers speak for themselves. The below tables show the prices for a collection of the best-known overseas-based backup services followed by a selection of Australian-based services chosen from the first page of the search results above. All of the prices listed are for the entry-level plans.

Overseas online backup services prices are in US dollars
Service Cost Size of backup
Backblaze $50/year Unlimited
Carbonite $49/year Unlimited
iDrive $49.50/year 150Gb
Jungledisk* $2/month 5Gb
LiveDrive $79.95/year Unlimited
Mozy $5.99/month 50Gb
*Jungledisk's service uses Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) so fees from Amazon are also included although they give you the first 5Gb for free with their $2 monthly subscription.
Australian online backup services prices are in Australian dollars
Service Cost Size of backup
Backup Express $29/month 1Gb
Carbonite $71.99/year Unlimited
Cyber Secure $7.99/month 1Gb
Go Backups $19/month 500Mb† $19/month 5Gb
OneBackup $500/year 15Gb
Vault Online $20/month 3Gb
Not affiliated with the US-based service of the same name.

So you can see that a lot of the overseas offerings are around the $50 mark for unlimited storage whereas the Australian ones all have higher monthly fees for miniscule amount of storage. I mean it's laughable really. I don't know what these companies think people are backing up: all their emails copied into text files which are then compressed into a single archive?

I'm just making assumptions here, but I would think most ordinary computer users' primary concern for backing up would be to preserve their photos, videos and music. At the sort of prices being quoted above, you'd be better off just leaving all your photos on your camera's SD card and buying new cards each time you filled one up, rather than downloading then deleting photos. You can get 2Gb cards for under $10 these days, so it'd probably work out cheaper!

…you'd be better off just leaving all your photos on your camera's SD card and buying new cards each time you filled one up

I'm not really sure what to make of it. How can the Australian services be so horrendously overly priced? Is it that we simply don't have the infrastructure or technology here in Australia to be able to compete? Australian web hosting for a long time was much more expensive than overseas too but it's come a long way in recent years and nowadays prices are very competitive. Is it a case that the cloud storage market still has the same period of catching up to go through? And if so, why? What's so different about cloud storage from web hosting?

Or is it a case of Australian companies trying to take advantage of the fact that backing up to the cloud is relatively new and that most non-techy computer users and business owners are possibly a bit clueless in this area? The only ones rocking the boat in Australia are Carbonite, and they're a branching off from an American company. And I'd think they must really be cleaning up too — first result in the search engines and with prices that just blow all the others in Australia out of the water.

I believe in buying local as much as possible and I do all my web hosting with Australian companies, but I stop short at supporting a company, or even a whole market, that is having what seems to be a laugh at my expense.

I found it interesting that some of the sites that I looked at didn't even bother to list their prices publicly; you had to contact them to find out. Like they knew that people would say Pfffttt! if they found out and go elsewhere.

What's also interesting is if you modify the original search query just slightly and add the word ‘review’ to it. Suddenly all the Australian results (apart from Carbonite) disappear from the first few pages and you get only get results from overseas websites and guess what: none of them are reviewing any of the local Australian services. Most of these reviews feature nearly all the services from the first table at the top of their rankings.

If you replace ‘review’ with ‘mac’ in our query, you get a different set of results, this time with more direct links to services, but again, most of the Australian ones don't get a mention, apart from Carbonite and iDrive (which is not affiliated with the US service) which would suggest that most of the Australian services aren't Mac-compatible.

So if they’re all so terrible, why don’t you stay with Carbonite?

I wish I could (actually I don't, more on that in a moment), but in this case I can't. The reason I've been looking for an alternative is because after using Carbonite for a couple of years and having been reasonably happy with the service, it's now no longer working for me. I don't mean we've grown apart, I've started seeing someone else, but literally, Carbonite has stopped backing my stuff up.

I noticed a few weeks ago that the amount of stuff still to be backed up never went down. It took me a while to click that there was actually something wrong, but I finally contacted their customer support about it, and after a couple of weeks of toing and froing with different customer service reps at different levels, and trying various different things like uninsalling and reinstalling, fixing disk permissions and removing certain folders from my backup, they finally let me know that they didn't think they were going to be able to fix the problem without me removing even more stuff from my backup, which kind of made it pointless.

So they've offered me a refund instead, although they've only given me two weeks to find a replacement before they'll delete my current back up. Which I think given the amount of stuff I've currently got backed up with them, and the amount of time it'd take to upload that to a different provider, is a bit unfair. But at this stage, they know they've already lost me as a customer, so they probably don't care.

A blessing in disguise

A montage of online backup services logos

So apart from not being overly impressed by Carbonite's support (I had more than one response that gave me instructions for Windows when my original message included the fact I was on OSX) and the fact it took so long to get to the point of where finally they admitted they didn't know how to fix my problem, in my hunt for an alternative, I came across some information about backing up Mac data that I didn't know before which made moving on from Carbonite actually seem like a smart move.

I mentioned Jungledisk above which makes use of Amazon S3 to store your data. Another that does the same thing but lets you maintain your own buckets, is Arq, and they include some information about the importance of metadata when backing up your Mac. And it seems that Carbonite is actually really bad in this area, failing 20 out of 20 tests: it backs up your data, but misses most of the metadata so files could be restored with incorrect modification and creation dates or applications without the necessary permissions.

Arq and Jungledisk which both use Amazon S3 pass all of these backup bouncer tests. Carbonite and most of the big names in this market fail most of the tests except for version 3 of Crashplan which only fails one of the tests relating to symlinks.

So at the moment I'm using a two-pronged online backup strategy: I'll use Crashplan for all my personal backups because that's where most of the data is and I need to be able to store large amounts of stuff without racking up huge bills, and use Arq in conjunction with my own S3 buckets to back up my work-related stuff which, by comparison, is a relatively small amount.

I'll have to see how that pans out over the coming weeks though because before I originally settled on Carbonite, Crashplan was one of the alternatives I trialled (the others being Jungledisk, Mozy and Backblaze), and rejected for a reason I can't remember now. But that was when I was still using a PC so it's possible it was just a Windows-specific thing or something that didn't suit the way I worked on Windows at the time.

And if anyone has any ideas about or reasons why Australian backup services are so expensive, I'd love to hear them.