Carbonite - Not Ready for the Real World

Carbonite LogoA few months ago I decided that I needed to add an offsite option to my backup plan (I use the amazing CrashPlan+ to backup everything to my home server but what if my server gets stolen or bursts into fire?). To solve my problems I went looking for an offsite "in the cloud" backup solution. I considered Mozy, Carbonite, DropBox, CrashPlan+offsite and iDrive. Right away I had to toss out DropBox, CrashPlan Offsite and iDrive, to backup the volume of data I had I would be paying in some cases more than $1000 dollars a year.

So this left Mozy and Carbonite and  I decided to give Carbonite a try first.

The first week with Carbonite was great. The backup speed was awesome. Carbonite was installed on my laptop and plugged into a 10Mbps link, I had all of my data (about 30GB) backed up in a few days if not less (or so I thought, more on that later). I didn't notice any issues and in general things just seemed to work. I'm a big fan of simplicity when it comes to backup software. I don't need a lot of options, I just want it to backup everything I tell it to and not bother me. (CrashPlan does this really really well btw).

After about a week with Carbonite on my laptop I decided to install it on my home server. At home I had a 512KBps upload speed (Comcast) but that was still pretty good. Again no issues and it seemed like it was backing everything up so I was happy. By the time my trial was about to run out things were still flying along so I decided to buy Carbonite.

At this point I was traveling a lot so I didn't get a chance to check out my home server for 2 weeks, I assumed when I got home I would find hopefully most of the backup finished. When I did finaly check my server I found that it had backed up about 170GB but now seemed to just barely moving along. Whats more, this time I looked a little closer and noticed that the amount waiting to back up didn't add up to the amount of data I had on my drives.

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Performance Issues Emerge

I started with the performance issue. It looked like I was uploading at about 128Kbps, I thought maybe my provider had throttled me down but other uploads  flew at ~512Kbps. Next I thought maybe Comcast was specificly throttling Carbonite. I had  AT&T DSL as a backup at the time which I switched over to but no luck, still the same speed issue. Not sure what was going on, I decided to put that issue on hold while I went and figured out why all my files were not in the backup queue. What I discovered started to really worry me.

Not all my files were being backed up!

I found that Carbonite has a file blacklist that blocks specific file types from being uploaded. No where does Carbonite tell you this, nor is this blacklist available in the UI, you have to go searching for it on the web. Carbonite does not release this information easily, you have to request it. Look closley at that list of excluded files BTW, you will notice that .key files are blocked. My server is a PC but my laptop is a Mac where I use Keynote, guess what file extension is used by Keynote? Yep, I found that none of my presentations (as of April 2009) had been backed up, this could have been a disaster.

So I decided this was a good time to try Carbonite support, I wanted to know how to turn off this blacklist and backup ALL of my files. This was an unlimited backup right? Unfortunately Carbonite support was not too helpful. There was no way to turn off the blacklist and if I wanted to backup my Keynote files, I would have to remember to right click on each one and mark it to be backed up. Thats strike #1.

I dug in more and found that none of my VMware images and ISO images were being backed up. (I don't keep any CD's or DVD's, even data CD's laying around, when I buy software I immeditly make a backup copy and put the orginal in storage) - Strike #2.

Back to the performance issues

Customer support is often the most overlooked yet the single most important thing a company can invest in. Unfortunately for Carbonite, this is where my experience with their customer support put the final nail in the coffin on Carbonite for me. Strike 3, your out.

So what happened? I started my conversation with Carbonite on 5/28, here is a rough summary and timeline. Check out how many different support people I talk with over 2 weeks, at no time during this exchange does anyone actually help me troubleshoot the real problem!

5/28: Me -> Carbonite: Backup is slow.

5/30: Carbonite (Shirley) -> Me: It's your Internet connection, we benchmark against our competitors and we know we are the best

5/31: Me ->Carbonite: It's not my connection, I have two, and they both won't upload fast to Carbonite. In 47 days I've backed up 238 GB, but at the current rate it will take almost 60 days to backup the remaining 57 GB, WTF? I want a refund.

6/1: Carbonite (Shirley) -> Me: We don't give refunds, you agreed to our terms of use, and you got to try before you bought, so it's your fault.

6/1: Me -> Carbonite: Seriously? You are telling me this is all my fault because I agreed to the terms of service? How about actualy helping me with the problem I reported: It's slow now, it was lightning fast during the trial! (I cc'd David Friend, CEO of Carbonite on this e-mail)

6/2: Carbonite (Thomas) -> Me: David asked me to contact you, please send us the Carbonite log files and we will try and help (This is done silently BTW when you submit a customer support request via the Carbonite application!)

6/2: Me->Carbonite: Here are my logs.

6/4: Me -> Carbonite: I sent you the logs a few days ago, did you get them yet?

6/5: Carbonite (Shane) -> Me: No, we didn't get them, can you do it again?

6/5: Me->Carbonite: Here are my logs...again.

6/5: Carbonite (David R.) -> Me: We benchmark against our competitors, we know we are the best BUT we might make tradeoffs and allocate bandwidth differently across our customer base. (Um where did this response come from? Out of the loop David?)

6/13: Carbonite (Maggie) -> Me: We got your logs but there is no request, what help do you need? (I was instructed to only put the ticket number in my request)

6/13: Me->Carbonite: Are you guys a bunch of idiots? The ticket number is in the request, why don't you go look it up?

6/15: Carbonite(Maggie) ->Me: "+ADw-html+AD4APA-head+AD4APA-style type+AD0AIg-text/css+ACIAPg-p +AHs-margin-bottom: 0+ADs- margin-top: 0+ADsAfQA8-/style+..." (this is the actual first line of a ~200 line e-mail I received from them)

6/15: Me->Carbonite: Wow, you guys are hopeless. You just sent me a bunch of jibberish. Any chance you might help me with my problem now?

6/15: Carbonite(Rosanne)->Me: Hi, Jeff Robison, VP of customer care asked me to contact you. Sorry about that e-mail, one of our senior Mac technicians will contact you (Ummm, yes, but the computer i'm having issues with is a PC?)

6/15: Carbonite(Marshall)->Me: It looks like yesterday things were working but have stopped. Are you using time machine? Do you use WiFi? I will be handling this case from here on out.

6/15: Me->Carbonite: Ummm, the computer i'm having issues with is my PC not my Mac and BTW, I just rebuilt that system from scratch and reinstalled everything to make sure you have a clean environment. Oh and it's on Gigabit ethernet.

6/16: Carbonite(Marshall)->Me: Please restart your computer, Carbonite hasn't established a connection since the 14th

6/16: Me->Carbonite: Are you SURE about that? It's backed up 0.4 GB in the last 24 hours and Carbonite is reporting it's backing up right now. I'll restart, but I think the information you have is wrong. Again, I have a PC.

6/16: Carbonite(Marshall)->Me: Did you just upgrade to Mac OS 10.5.7 recently? I am still not seeing any connections.

6/16: Me->Carbonite: Seriously? Are you reading my e-mail? I said I HAVE A PC.

And that was the last I heard from them...I uninstalled Carbonite from all my computers today.

The Verdict

If you have a lot of data and consider yourself a "Power User" stay away from Carbonite. Seriously, would you trust a company like this with your data? Hidden restrictions and horrible customer service are bad enough if you are talking about regular software. When you are talking about a service that has all your data and manages it remotely it's out of the question.

As a side note, I think the limitations that Carbonite has made to their service are likely acts of desperation to control their bandwidth costs and I doubt they saw bandwidth as gating issue when they put their business model together. With storage cheap and CPU perforamnce plentiful the one remaining bottleneck to the adoption of cloud computing and "in the cloud" services is bandwidth. If I'm right and cloud computing continues to grow the ramifications on the computing industry will be more far reaching than anyone has perdicted with ripples that could restart the telecom industry. This is deffinitly a topic for future research.

As for offsite backup, I just wish the price would come down on CrashPlan+ and their offsite option.

Update: I just received the following e-mail from Carbonite Support:

6/21:Carbonite(Pam) -> Me: "+ADw-html+AD4APA-head+AD4APA-style type+AD0AIg-text/css+ACIAPg-p +AHs-margin-bottom: 0+ADs- margin-top: 0+ADsAfQA8-/style+AD4APA-/head+AD4APA-body bgcolor+AD0AIgAj-ffffff+ACI- style+AD0AIg-background: +ACM-ffffff+ACIAPgA8-br+AD4- +ADw-font size+AD0AIg-2+ACIAPgA8-div style+AD0AIg-width:100+ACUAOw-word-wrap:break-....."

It just keeps on getting better and better!

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