Profit Minded

Backblaze: Backing up should not be hard to do

Gleb Budman is one of those techie types who is religious about backing up his computers. So, a few years ago, when he found out how his girlfriend was backing up the gigabytes worth of photos that she stored on her laptop, he was dismayed. “She had a COB flash key,” Budman says. “I said, ‘that’s only 1 gig. There’s no way all your stuff fits on it, you’re probably not backing up to it daily, and you keep it in your laptop bag, so your backup drive would go with the laptop if it were stolen’.”

It might seem obvious, but most of us are doing even less to protect our data than the woman who became Budman’s wife. Many people he encounters are uncertain whether their data is backed up or not. “There are a lot of things out there that seem like they’re maybe taking care of it,” Budman says. A reporter he spoke to, for instance, had a vague notion that her iMac was automatically backing itself up to iCloud for free. He set her straight: iCloud’s free storage limit is 5 gigs, and it only synchs contacts, calendars, and music among iOS devices; it doesn’t back up documents.

Others have told Budman they “back up” important documents by attaching them to emails they send to themselves. Or they copy everything to an external hard drive once in a while—maybe before they go on vacation. Budman says it’s also “incredibly common to own an external hard drive but not know how to use it.” Even he was unable to figure out how to operate a one-touch drive he bought at Costco. “I could never get it to work, and this is what we hear from people all the time.”

A serial entrepreneur who started his first company at age 15, Budman set out to find a way to make data backup “brain dead simple.” He believed users shouldn’t need to locate files in their computers to back them up, or even have to select which ones to back up. It would be simpler, he thought, to let people decide what not to back up, and otherwise back up everything except the operating system, applications, and temporary files.

He was also determined that storage should be at a remote location so copies wouldn’t be destroyed in fires or floods alongside originals. He also suspected that people who don’t know how much data they have would be leery of paying for storage by the gigabyte. A set fee for unlimited storage was his goal.

Backblaze is the cloud storage technology that he and a small team built from the ground up, and he says it’s the world’s easiest and cheapest to use. Budman and colleagues designed their own hardware, and built “Backblaze Storage Pods”—180-terabyte servers—for about $10,000 each. “That’s just between 10 and 30 times less expensive than you can get from Dell,” he says. At $0.003 per gigabyte per month, he says it’s the most cost-efficient cloud storage system available, at least 18 times cheaper than Amazon S3 and 14 times cheaper than Google Cloud Storage.

Customers do no more than enter an email and a password and click “download” to install Backblaze. “From that point it will simply take files and back them up,” Budman says. The user fee? Five dollars a month, or $50 a year. “Whenever you need your files back, you can go to the website from any computer, you can get them on your iPhone, or we’ll FedEx you a hard drive or a flash drive with your data on it,” Budman says.

What about security? Backblaze encrypts all data before it copies it from a customer’s computer. “It’s secure when it gets to the cloud,” he says. And if his company were to go out of business? Budman points to his profitability and track record as signs that he’s not going anywhere, but also points out that, unlike Salesforce or Facebook where users’ data is exclusively in the cloud, “we’re just keeping a copy of what you have on your own computer; the worst case scenario is that if you had committed to a year you would have lost $25 and you would find a new way to back it up.”

Seven years in business, Backblaze stores about 65 petabytes of data, with another 2 or 3 petabytes added monthly at datacenters in Oakland and Rancho Cordova, Calif. To date, the company has restored 4 billion files for customers, from family photos to business documents. Budman calls it a “feel good” business: “We constantly get people emailing us saying, ‘Oh my God, I thought I lost all my businesses tax returns or videos of my children’s first steps’.”

One of those customers was Shane Woodall, whose Brooklyn, NY, home was flooded by four feet of water during Superstorm Sandy. He lost his Mac computer as well as his Time Machine backup system containing 10 years’ worth of photographs, customer information, and important documents for his CPR and first aid training business. After grieving the loss for several weeks, Woodall remembered that he had registered two years earlier for Backblaze. He logged into the Backblaze website, saw that, indeed, all of his data was there, and clicked “send me a hard drive.”

For most of the population, however, the Backblaze slogan, “backup, before you wish you had,” is still a necessary warning. In a national survey four months ago, Backblaze and Harris Interactive found that 90 percent of American adults who own computers do not backup every day. Indeed, more than half of its customers tell Backblaze they started backing up after they or a friend lost data.

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