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Author Topic: Not-so-mini review of CrashPlan backup software  (Read 34075 times)
JavaJones
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« on: March 29, 2011, 05:43:30 PM »

Basic Info

App NameCrashPlan+ Unlimited
App URLhttp://www.crashplan.com/
App Version Reviewed3.0.3
Test System SpecsWin7 x64 on a Core i7 920, 1x500GB, 1x640GB, 1x2TB internal drives, 2x1TB external drives
Supported OSesWindows x32/64, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris
Support MethodsWiki, Email, Forum
Upgrade PolicyYearly subscription
Trial Version Available?Free version available, various limitations. Details here: http://www.crashplan.com/consumer/compare.html
Pricing SchemeCrashPlan Free $0, CrashPlan+ 10GB $1.46-$2.50/mo, CrashPlan+ Unlimited $2.92-$5.00/mo, CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited $6.00-$12.00/mo. Pricing depends on length of term commitment.
Reviewer Donation LinkDonate to JavaJones, the Review Writer
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and Product No relationship to company and no promotional considerations.

Intro:

CrashPlan is yet another entry in the increasingly crowded online backup marketplace. Pricing is competitive, they offer unlimited online backup storage space, and they have a "family plan" that allows up to 10 computers for a single account. Seen as simply another cloud backup option they are appealing enough, but there are some important additional features that may make CrashPlan more appealing to the power user and/or those particularly concerned about data redundancy.

In particular CrashPlan distinguishes itself by providing both local and off-site backup, supporting a large number of platforms, and having a free version that supports unlimited backup size to local devices. In addition - and of particular importance to me in selecting CrashPlan as a solution - they have options to seed your initial online backup and get a restore copy through the mail on a 1TB drive they provide. They are one of a very few providers to offer this and for those with a huge amount of data to backup and restore (like me, about 1.5TB), this is critical as most home broadband would take literally months of constant use to upload or download that much data. In the event of a restore, it's simply unacceptable to wait around for your data. These are optional services that do carry additional cost, but the fees are reasonable and competitive.

As some of you may know I had a big "data disaster" in late 2010 and that prompted me to spend some serious time setting up a good backup system. CrashPlan is forming a key part of that system and is the first element of it to go into place. It has already saved my butt, too. A few months ago I was shuffling around some drive letters for external drives and Picasa, which I use to catalog all my photos, noticed it could no longer find the photos it had cataloged and so it somehow decided to erase all info about them. My entire catalog was basically gone. Fortunately I had already created a backup with CrashPlan and was able to easily restore just the Picasa catalog to a folder I specified, then I moved out the now apparently broken catalog and replaced it with the backup and viola, everything was back to normal. That's as sure a test of any backup product as I can think of (short of a *full* restore which I have not done yet), so I'm pretty happy with it thus far.


Who is this app designed for:

CrashPlan seems to target the whole spectrum of backup customers, from novices to experts, but I find its unique mix of features and services particularly suited for advanced users with serious backup needs and demand for multiple redundancy. One of the things that's interesting about it is that, unlike many other "cloud backup" tools, it also allows for backing up not only to other folders on your own computer or on your network, but even other people's computers across the Internet (with appropriate authorization of course).

So fundamentally it is designed for anyone who wants to backup their data, which should be everyone, but there are hundreds of such tools, many of them entirely free and potentially more flexible or lightweight (more on that later) than CrashPlan. Where it stands out is really for people who want to do more than just backup to an external drive as that's where its unique features lie. Anyone serious about data integrity will want off-site backup and CrashPlan provides at least 2 different ways to make that possible, one of which can be had for free, which is entirely unique in the market as far as I'm aware.

The Good

There's a lot of good stuff to talk about, but I don't have direct experience with all of it. I'll point out the features I've either been using, or am excited about.

First of all there is a basic version that is free. I am happy to pay for products that provide a lot of value (which CrashPlan does, and I did pay), but I always appreciate free options, especially for use with friends or family who aren't serious enough about their computer use to be willing to pay for much software. As is the case in many free versions of products, it is ad-supported and there are some limitations, but they're quite reasonable. Essentially CrashPlan operates as CrashPlan+ for 30 days, including notable features like Backup Sets as well as online storage, after which the + features are disabled. You can then continue using CrashPlan in free mode without access to online backups. Fortunately this does not remove all of its usefulness by far as it allows backup not only to your own local drives (internal, external, over the network), but also - optionally - to friend's computers in remote locations. So in essence CrashPlan free is similar to most other non-cloud free backup apps, but with the addition of the "backup to friend" option. The ads are also fairly unintrusive.

The friend backup option is really a genius feature. Essentially if you and your friends have some spare hard drive space, you can each help each other provide off-site redundant backup for the others. Form a network of 3 people, each agreeing to buy a 2TB external drive for backup purposes, and it's likely you can each have 2x off-site backups of all your data, along with 1 on-site backup (to the same 2TB drive). You can also use this to help give your family off-site backup for their systems, for example. This feature is part of the free version, so there's really no reason not to use it, and it provides a remarkably easy and cheap route to off-site backup which I'm not aware of anyone else doing as simply, cleanly, or cheaply.

As with all other backup options CrashPlan provides, encryption is available for "backup to a friend". The encryption of the free version appears to be less secure than the + version, but should still be adequate.

CrashPlan+ adds the ability to define "Backup Sets" which basically mean you can define an unlimited number of differently configured source and destination sets. The free version is limited to 1 set of sources and 1 set of destinations, e.g. backup my User folder on C and my Docs folder on D to my external drive on E and my friend's computer remotely). With CrashPlan+ you can do something like back up different folders on C and D drive to different folders on E and F drives locally, which is an important thing for my needs, but not for everyone.

The + version also comes with unlimited online backup space and while many other competitors have been moving to restrict the amount of online storage, CrashPlan remains unlimited, another big reason I chose them. Hopefully it stays this way.

The UI is fairly nice and clearly laid out though the distinction between + and free version features can at times cause confusion, e.g. something may be grayed out either because it's not applicable, or because it's not available in the free version. Usually this is indicated but it can be easy to miss. That being said there are a lot of nice options for resource use control when user is present vs. away, for example, as well as versioning and more, and the controls are organized such that they don't overwhelm the average user. It's a good mix between ease of use and advanced control. You can even secure the CrashPlan desktop app UI with a password.

Notifications are provided in the UI, as well as optionally by email and even Twitter (not sure why they offer Twitter and not other systems, but I guess it's a nice option). The email notification option is particularly nice and is handled by their website not your computer, so even if your system is off it will notify you when you haven't backed up for a while, and of course when a backup completes successfully, any errors that occurred, etc.

I have yet to use the cloud backup portion of the system as I will need to get my first backup seeded, so I can't speak to its effectiveness or features, but judging by the feature list, including versioning, web access, and encryption, it seems at least as good as most other such offerings.

As mentioned above, the option to "seed" your backup as well as receive a hard drive shipped with your restore data is awesome and, while not entirely unique, their pricing and storage size options seem to be more appealing than the competition (e.g. 1TB drive vs. 500GB, $125 vs. $189).

Pricing is competitive, especially for the "family plan" if you have lots of computers. This is really a system and service that can service the needs of advanced users as well as novices.

There are a lot of other features I didn't have a chance to mention or haven't yet tested too. It includes most of the key features of other similar apps like deduplication, compression, etc. Overall a very comprehensive product.

The needs improvement section

No app is without its flaws and CrashPlan has a few. Of most concern for the audience of this app would be issues with the backup process itself and resulting data integrity. Almost every option I've looked at, from DropBox to SugarSync to Carbonite to Mozy to Humyo and more had discussions in their forums of data integrity issues, restore problems, etc, etc. It seems like virtually every backup system has such issues, including enterprise-level stuff (the corrupted backup is a classic enterprise nightmare and the reason places like DriveSavers exist). CrashPlan has had its share of controversy as well, including concerns about undetected backup corruption, unrestorable files, and more. Fortunately most of those issues seem to be in the past judging by the forum discussions, and while some issues still remain such as occasional high CPU or memory usage, overall it seems like a mature and stable product.

That being said I did personally run into a few issues. Most notable was memory use, particularly during my first experiments with CrashPlan which were actually on Vista x64. On that system CrashPlan used up to 400+MB of memory at times, particularly while performing backups, and at the time there were multiple forum threads about the issue. Several months later as I begin a proper ground-up implementation of a new backup system with CrashPlan as a key component, I am so far seeing memory use under 200MB on the same hardware but now Windows 7 x64. Hopefully this either means they've partially addressed the problem or that it behaves better under Win7, and even more importantly it will hopefully stay this way. 200MB for a resident app is not ideal, but it's potentially acceptable given the breadth of features; 400MB however is not acceptable IMO. Note that the memory use of the GUI is around 100MB in itself (only while it's open, you can close to a tray icon that only takes up a few MB). The high memory use I'm referring to here is with the CrashPlan backup *service* (CrashPlanService.exe), which runs resident and won't show up under Win7 unless you "Show processes from all users".

Backup speed did not seem particularly fast either. I would not call it slow, but it's certainly slower than a basic file copy (it is encrypting the files and optionally compressing them so this is not surprising). One thing to check on if you're seeing slower than desirable backup is that the various throttles, especially CPU usage throttle, are not limiting things too much.

It's possible to have a first-time backup run that doesn't back up all data. This sounds worse than it is and is not something I have a good explanation for or way to easily duplicate. But basically if you're adding a backup source and destination and then messing around a lot with the CrashPlan config while it's scanning, it seems like its initial backup scan won't complete fully before it starts to back up. This is not a huge issue since the next time it backs up it will figure out what is missing and take care of it. I have it set to backup every 2 hours (this sounds frequent but isn't because it's all incremental, so it usually takes very little time), so at most it will be 2 hours before the proper full backup begins. Still it's an annoyance.

I also found the "adoption" feature for backups from a previous system to be a bit confusing and eventually opted not to use it. The idea is good in principle - check if the current computer is backing up the same things as a previous one and avoid re-backing up stuff that is already backed up - but it provides too little feedback to be sure of what it's doing.

The file format it backs up to seems to be proprietary. This is understandable but a frustration for some, and a deal breaker for others. If there is ever any indication that CrashPlan may be going away, you should of course find a new solution ASAP. I believe it also requires an account with CrashPlan's server to initially setup, so this could also be a concern for some, and a long-term survivability issue. In this case I think it's really a choice between convenience and absolute data archiving security, where CrashPlan may not last 100 years but in the short-term it lets me backup and restore my data quickly and easily, so I'm less concerned about it lasting into the next century for the moment...

I did not have a need to use support, but there are some complaints in the forums about slow ticket response time. That being said responses in the forums do seem quick and helpful in general, so if you're comfortable with forum-oriented support it should be fine. There's no direct support phone # I could find though so if that's important to you this may not be a good option.

Finally I should mention that the benefit of multiple platform support comes largely from CrashPlan being developed in Java, which does likely contribute to some slight GUI sluggishness at times, as well as possibly being a factor in the memory issues mentioned above.


Why I think you should use this product

I think everyone should have a good backup strategy, and any good backup strategy should involve off-site backup. Period. Unfortunately most options that provide this require a regular fee because storage costs money and generally they'll have you put your data up in the "cloud". Not only is this a cost issue, but it also means backup and restore are slower than need-be.

CrashPlan solves many of these issues by allowing you to backup both locally and remotely with the same app. Not only that but the relatively unique feature of backing up to a friend's system means you can have off-site backup essentially for free (assuming you have a friend with spare storage space). This can also potentially be an improvement over cloud backup providers since if your friend is in the same city or general area and you need to run a restore, you can just go over to their house and copy your backup. In addition I believe you can do "seeded" backups in the same way, again solving a common issue with online backups (long upload times for initial large backups).

So those are all good arguments for using the free version and for virtually anyone to do so. For those considering paying for CrashPlan+, if you're an advanced user wanting to customize your backup sources and destinations more, and/or you just want good online cloud backup with unlimited space, + is definitely worth paying for. So far, aside from Backup Sets, I've been happy with just the free features, but definitely pay for the online backup option if you don't have a friend to backup to. Although the CrashPlan+ subscription also includes some additional features in the client, it's best to think of the purchase as being for the online storage rather than a $50/yr price just for the software upgrade since that's where the majority of the value comes in.


How does it compare to similar apps

As I said above, I spent some time looking into backup options for my new backup system. This included a number of desktop as well as cloud-oriented backup systems. There are too many to mention here, particularly of desktop backup clients, and I did not test any of them in serious depth because none of them combined the best of both local and online backup like CrashPlan does. That feature alone means I have 1 less app I need to run constantly.

CrashPlan does not have every feature of other desktop or cloud backup systems; in particular it does not do 1:1 syncing locally (it backs up to its own proprietary format) and for the cloud storage option it does not provide easy sharing of files to others online like DropBox and others. There are other good tools that cover those needs I feel.

I do have specific direct experience with SpiderOak (didn't like it, frankly I don't remember why) and Humyo (decent, used it to replace SpiderOak for my mom's system and on a client's machine due to 1:1 sync across multiple systems). I also checked out Backblaze in my search as it's one of the few places that does provide a "seed" option for initial large backups. Nobody could match the pricing for multiple computers and the combined features for local and remote backup that CrashPlan has, which are very applicable to my needs.

For those interested in other online backup providers, here's a comparison from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/w...of_online_backup_services


Conclusions

CrashPlan is a great piece of software that combines several important aspects of a comprehensive backup strategy into a single easy to use app. It also has a free version, which means almost anyone can use it to help increase their data integrity and availability. The "backup to a friend" feature is unique and highly valuable. Their pricing is reasonable if you do want to use their online backup storage (which is still unlimited), especially for multiple computers (up to 10 with their "Family Plan").

If you do not yet have a good backup strategy, or your existing strategy does not include a remote storage component, I highly recommend looking at CrashPlan as a part of your total backup solution (and maybe even the core of it).

As with all backup products and processes, I highly recommend you attempt to restore files from time to time, just to make sure the system is working. Ideally you would be able to attempt a full restore after the first full backup as well. Also keep a close eye on the error log and the status report emails.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2011, 07:46:25 PM by JavaJones » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2011, 07:53:43 PM »

Awesome review and very helpful.   thumbs up thumbs up thumbs up
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cranioscopical
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« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2011, 09:12:54 PM »

Thanks JavaJones, useful information there.

It's always useful to be reminded that another look at one's own backup strategy would be a good idea!

Useful information there.
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2011, 05:34:10 AM »

Excellent review.

Nice to read that one can also have a literal $5-per-month solution, instead of, say, pay-(48x$2.92=)$139.99-here-and-now.


The seed/harddrive solution is for US citizens only.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2011, 05:36:09 AM by Curt » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2011, 10:25:38 AM »

Nice review Thmbsup.

I ended up using CrashPlan as well. A couple of the points that got me to choose it were:

  • You can choose to encrypt the backup data locally with your own password before upload, so only you can access it (meaning the company has no way to look at your files). Some of the others only support secure upload, but the files are encrypted on their servers by them with a key they have access to.
  • Even though the backup service uses a bit of memory while performing backups, the perceived impact on my fairly slow computer has been minimal -- I simply do not notice it running
  • With CrashPlan+ you get online backup and also local backup to a removable drive and/or to a friends machine in one piece of software

A few things I've noticed that you might want to be aware of in choosing CrashPlan:

  • If you choose the family plan, there is no separation of the users, so all the computers will have access to the files backed up from others
  • Having access to the restore interface appears to give you read access to any file on the computer since the backup service runs as system and can backup any file which you can then restore. It is possible to restrict access to the application with a password though
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« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2011, 11:11:02 AM »

Thanks. Well written and interesting. I also read your, ahem, "blog post" (chapter?).  smiley Which reminds me that I need to backup to my off site hard drive...
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« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2011, 01:13:17 PM »

Thanks for the feedback everyone. Glad this was a helpful review. You can probably guess I don't do many "mini" reviews because they all turn out a bit less than mini like this. Wink

Jibz, how long have you been using CrashPlan? How much data do you backup with it? Do you have the Family version?

- Oshyan
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« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2011, 01:50:42 PM »

JavaJones, I am happy to join the chorus of positive comments.

Very nice comprehensive review. thumbs up
« Last Edit: March 30, 2011, 01:52:22 PM by sajman99 » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2011, 05:34:12 PM »

Jibz, how long have you been using CrashPlan? How much data do you backup with it? Do you have the Family version?

I've been using it for about 2 months now, backing up 20 GB of data. Now that all the data is uploaded, I got it set to only perform backup when I've been away from the computer for 5 mins.

I chose not to get the family plan due to the way it works like one account. I was planning to use it on our laptop as well, but I don't want that to have access to all the files on this machine. So I went with the one unlimited license and then I can buy a separate 10 GB one for the laptop if needed.
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« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2011, 04:56:00 AM »

great review Oshyan thumbs up thanks!

The friend backup option is really a genius feature. Essentially if you and your friends have some spare hard drive space, you can each help each other provide off-site redundant backup for the others. Form a network of 3 people, each agreeing to buy a 2TB external drive for backup purposes, and it's likely you can each have 2x off-site backups of all your data, along with 1 on-site backup (to the same 2TB drive).
-
as this works presumably online too (i.e. slow for large quantities), I wonder can one make an initial backup locally on the drive and then give/send it to the friend?
Similar to their 'seeding' idea of sending out a drive that you can do your backup to & then return.

==================
On another note it sounds like they dont do partial file backup (?)  
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« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2011, 05:02:56 AM »

I love the seeding and per-post DVD option, if I were in the US that would be a killer feature. As it is with my current backup services I self censor what I backup because it is just too slow to be worth it. So I dont use 20% of my 100Gb space and that is a shame, really..

Also it's great to see another option supporting linux - what's behind it, amazon S3?
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 05:10:11 AM by iphigenie » Logged
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« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2011, 11:51:50 AM »

tomos, yes you can do a "seed" approach with a friend backup too. Just take their drive/system over to your house, attach it to your computer/LAN, do the initial backup, then they go back to their place and the backups continue. Pretty awesome. Same could be done by mail for more distant friends.

Not sure what you mean about partial file backup? Are you talking about only backing up the changed blocks of a file? In that case yes, they definitely do that. Also general deduplication, so if you have for example 3 copies of an identical file in several locations that are being backed up, it will only backup 1 actual file and just make references.

iphigenie, I think they have their own data center/collocation, not sure. With S3's storage prices I doubt they'd be so cavalier about offering truly unlimited storage if they weren't on their own system. I believe they get the fantastic cross-platform support from a Java front-end.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2011, 04:02:27 PM »

tomos, yes you can do a "seed" approach with a friend backup too. Just take their drive/system over to your house, attach it to your computer/LAN, do the initial backup, then they go back to their place and the backups continue. Pretty awesome. Same could be done by mail for more distant friends.
wunderbar :-)

Not sure what you mean about partial file backup? Are you talking about only backing up the changed blocks of a file? In that case yes, they definitely do that.
-
is it called delta backup as well?
e.g. I have a database file of roughly 100MB - if the complete files gets backed up each time, I could fill 10GB with it fairly rapidly. If it just copies the changed blocks of the file that sounds good.
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« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2011, 05:35:02 PM »

 Nice review thumbs up
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« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2011, 03:03:07 AM »

Yep, just copies the changed blocks. "Delta" might also be a term for it.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #15 on: April 01, 2011, 01:53:29 PM »

Update: CrashPlan has reached 270MB peak memory use (for the service). Now back down to ~245MB. Still not the 400MB I saw previously, but higher than I'd like. Will continue to monitor...

- Oshyan
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« Reply #16 on: April 02, 2011, 03:34:24 AM »

Update #2: It's official, the CP service has reached over 400MB. Sad It's been running continuously for the last several days, no reboots or sleep. There are 10 files it can't backup (due to permissions I think), which I haven't bothered excluding yet. Other than that there is nothing unusual going on and no reason I can see why it would be using this much memory when, in the midst of backing up 100s of GBs a few days ago, it barely used more than 200MB. Very odd.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #17 on: April 02, 2011, 04:47:09 AM »

That sounds like a bit much huh.

Here it sits at around 40 MB, but like mentioned I have it set to use 0% cpu while I'm present and 80% when I'm away (gone for more than 5 mins). I have no idea what it uses when I'm not at the keyboard, and don't really care much as long as it doesn't bother me while I am here working embarassed.
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« Reply #18 on: April 04, 2011, 01:30:03 AM »

Yeah, I suspect it has something (a lot, hehe) to do with the fact that I'm backing up 846GB+675GB=1.5TB, consisting of 294,000+351,000=645,000 files. So yeah, I imagine having to process and keep in memory that many file references (or something?) is at least partly responsible. Still, it seems like there should be a more efficient way. If nothing else maybe cache the backup list to disk and unload it from memory when not in use? I dunno. I'll play with the various tuning settings to see if I can improve it at all.

- Oshyan
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« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2011, 06:22:12 AM »

That is a rather sizable portion of data cheesy.

I don't know if breaking it up into backup sets might help. I have one set for my work which has the highest priority, one for images, one for user folders and one for other stuff.
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« Reply #20 on: April 04, 2011, 04:04:57 PM »

Yeah, I'm using 2 backup sets already. I'm not sure that would make it less memory-intensive or perhaps *more*...

- Oshyan
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« Reply #21 on: April 17, 2012, 12:07:08 PM »

This thread might be useful for people thinking of CrashPlan -- it goes into more detail about some alternatives and my personal mixed experiences with CrashPlan.
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« Reply #22 on: October 20, 2012, 03:48:24 PM »

I posed an update on this thread about my recent (and someone reluctant) purchase of CrashPlan family plan.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #23 on: November 21, 2012, 07:23:38 PM »

Sooo, I started running into a persistent crashing issue with, er, CrashPlan (hah!). Upon contacting support, they indicated it seemed to be running out of memory and that I should up the amount allowed for the service process. OK. Default is 512MB. Increased to 768MB. Nope. 1024MB. No... 2048MB? Yes, it works! And oddly, for a few days, seems to be using little more than the 500MB it was originally allowed, even though a 768MB allowance did not let it run. But wait... a few more days later and the service process is now using 1.5GB!? Oh damn. A week later, ~2GB. Well crap. Response from their support is "You have a complex/big backup set, CrashPlan is doing a lot of work, it's going to take a lot of memory." OK, I say, "Do you think this is "normal" for anyone backing up this much data in general, or is this just CrashPlan?" Unsurprisingly, their answer is "I can't comment on other software." So now I'm really wondering if this is just what I have to put up with because of my "big data" needs (I hope and think not!). Hence my new thread, hehe: http://www.donationcoder....rum/index.php?topic=32951

- Oshyan
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« Reply #24 on: November 22, 2012, 11:50:10 AM »

Sounds like they have a memory leak in CrashPlan. Yep, memory leaks in garbage-collected languages, whowouldathunk? Wink
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- carpe noctem
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