Prof. Hacker Reviews: CloudBerry Online Backup

CloudBerry Online Backup desktop interface

Previously on Prof. Hacker, Jason wrote “Backup for Back-to-School: 15% off Backblaze,” a post that offered some good points on backing up your data in the cloud as well as a service (and a current discount offer) to do so. As he noted, Backblaze is not the only backup service out there, and that’s true—there are quite a few out there and it can be difficult to choose which one is best for you. Subsequent to Jason’s post, someone from CloudBerry Lab contacted us and asked if we would review their product, CloudBerry Online Backup, currently in beta. I agreed, as the only person on the Prof. Hacker team at the time who uses a PC instead of a Mac.

That’s right: CloudBerry Online Backup is a Windows-only product. However, CloudBerry Lab makes it very clear that the reason their product is Windows-only is because their people are Windows experts; working with Windows is their strength, and of course they are going to leverage that strength. CloudBerry Lab’s closest competitor is JungleDisk, which has products for all platforms, and therefore CloudBerry is at a competitive disadvantage regarding potential audience. But CloudBerry Online Backup is a nice product as it stands now in beta, and if they achieve everything on their to-do list before the public release, will be a very good product for those in its target market.

What Exactly is CloudBerry Online Backup?
CloudBerry Online Backup is actually a desktop application that acts as a front-end interface to the cloud storage provided by Amazon S3, or Amazon Simple Storage Service. Storage “in the cloud” is essentially (and very simply put) storage using someone else’s resources, which you access via an Internet connection. In the case of Amazon S3, you (or CloudBerry, in this case) use their software interface to their hardware. Technically, all online backups are backup services “in the cloud,” but in this case—Amazon S3—the cloud is really, really, really big and with that size and corporate history comes with it incredible ethos. At least it does for me, which is to say that I absolutely trust Amazon’s infrastructure and would be comfortable having my data in their cloud (Kindle DRM issues not withstanding). CloudBerry Online Backup, like JungleDisk, acts as an interface to your buckets of data stored in the Amazon cloud.

How’s the Interface?
Short answer: good. Longer answer: surprisingly good.

I say “surprisingly” because when I through the information at the web site, including the list of features and planned support, the information seemed geared to a more technical audience than your typical online backup user. cloudberry2 For instance, I know what “volume shadow copy” is, and why it’s a plus not to depend on the Windows Task Scheduler, and why it’s very cool that there’s a command line interface to the service, but I don’t know that the average user would. Given that text, plus my extensive experience with software designed completely by engineers (that usability folks then have to “adjust”), I was worried the interface would be troublesome. It is not. The interface is clean and simple, it makes sense, and I think is a winner. There are a few tweaky things in that I’d like to see ironed out, such as estimated time remaining in the transfer, and more control over the size of the window and its elements, but those are minor and I believe are already on the fix list.

Here’s an example of the backup and restore wizards in action.

I noted above that CloudBerry Online Backup is actually a desktop application, despite the word “online” in its name. When I think “online backup” I think “web-based application for backup and restore.” According to the web site, that seems to be on the to-do list. Because this is a Windows-based application, I worry that the web-based interface will be an Internet Explorer-only deal. If that is the case, I would never use it, thus making the product overall less valuable to me. But if the web-based application will be cross-browser and as cleanly done as the current desktop app, then I have no issues.

System/Account Requirements

  • A Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7 machine running the .NET framework
  • A general account
  • An Amazon S3 account (it’s an add-on to an existing account)

CloudBerry Lab provides a very clear set of instructions for signing up for Amazon and Amazon S3. The need for the Amazon S3 account will be explained in the next section on costs.

CloudBerry Online Backup is currently in extended beta testing and therefore is free. Sign up for the beta and you will get a free commercial license when the product is out. When the product is released, it will be a one-time fee of $29; that fee gets you a year of updates and tech support. I am unsure what the pricing would be for later updates or extended tech support. However, according to the company there will be volume discounts and free versions for students, teachers, and educational institutions.

Paying for (or not, in this case) CloudBerry Online Backup is only one piece of the puzzle. The reason for the Amazon S3 account is so that you can pay Amazon for the storage that you use. Currently, that rate is $0.15 per gigabyte. You also pay for transfer: $0.10 per gigabyte. This price structure is exactly the same as JungleDisk, as both CloudBerry Online Backup and JungleDisk are interfaces to the same service. You pay for what you use, not what you don’t. For instance, I currently owe Amazon a nickel.

I ran through a few pricing scenarios and with the education discount CloudBerry is the winner on cost for Windows users. Given a 10 GB backup (number selected for easy math) and no special deals, a year with Backblaze would cost $60, a year with MozyPro would cost $59.40, a year with JungleDisk would cost $43.00, and a year with CloudBerry would cost $19.00—only the price of the Amazon S3 transfer and storage. Note that the Backblaze and MozyPro numbers are for unlimited storage. Once you store more than 30 GB with CloudBerry the cost per year is just about the same, so after 30GB CloudBerry will end up costing more per year than Backblaze or MozyPro.

The main differences between CloudBerry Online Backup and JungleDisk are JungleDisk’s cross-platform product, its appearance as a virtual drive, and its web-based interface. CloudBerry Lab says that the virtual drive feature is being worked on (and for me, that is more important than the web-based interface). If CloudBerry Lab completes their to-do list before the final release of their product, and if the free-for-education pricing remains, then I think Windows users looking to store less than 30GB should absolutely consider CloudBerry Online Backup when selecting a cloud-based backup service.

Disclosures: Although CloudBerry Lab asked Prof. Hacker to review their product, we received no promotional considerations. The private beta is available to you as well: sign up if you’re interested. The author of this post currently uses MozyPro as her primary cloud-based storage system.

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