Expanding your app-titude: CrashPlan

A monthly look at apps and websites that can make the CPA’s job and life better.
By Greg LaFollette, CPA/CITP, CGMA


Now that many, if not most, of us live our computer lives in a cloud-based world, local backup might seem less important. With Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and a host of other platforms storing, synchronizing, and protecting our data files, do we really need local backup? I submit the answer is yes. For two reasons: (1) Most of us aren't meticulous in our file saving. We often get rushed, and files get "temporarily" dropped somewhere other than in those special internet-based protected folders; and (2) call me paranoid, but I want my own copy of my data—a second copy just in case the online storage facility fails or is otherwise inaccessible. With that in mind, I decided to consider automated online backup systems this month. Among myriad good choices such as Carbonite, IDrive, Mozy, and SugarSync, I chose to focus on CrashPlan because it includes all the features that products in this genre should provide.


Like all automated backup systems, CrashPlan is pretty much "set it and forget it." Its desktop software, the system's local component, is free and easy to use. Most practitioners will be comfortable navigating and setting up an initial backup.

Once installed, CrashPlan automatically selects your user folders for backup. You can modify the list from a folder-tree view of your drives. I was impressed to find that external and network drives are available for backup. I was even more impressed to find I could choose the destination. Unlike others in the category, CrashPlan provides not only its own online storage but also allows you to direct backup files to a local drive or any internet-connected computer.

The next impressive feature is the ordering of file backup. CrashPlan assumes that the file you're working on is the one most in need of backup, so it processes the most recent files first, then makes sure you have a full backup as soon as possible.

Once the backup set is created, you can design the upload schedule. The default is for the program to check for changes once daily, but it can be set to check as frequently as once a minute. You can also set CPU usage limits, specify blackout times, and throttle internet usage to match your needs. Data are encrypted both in transit and at rest using a 448-bit Blowfish algorithm. When installed, CrashPlan bases the encryption key on your user password, but you can strengthen security by adding a separate password. One drawback is that if you want to bolster security with multifactor authentication, the enterprise version is the only one with that option.

In my experience, CrashPlan is reasonably fast in disk analysis and file preparation, upload, and download. My initial upload of nearly 800 gigabytes took well over a week, but it never seemed to cause a noticeable degradation in otherwise available bandwidth. Once the base upload is completed, the periodic uploads are virtually instantaneous.

The free mobile app is quite handy. You can access all your files from your phone (or any computer or device, for that matter) anywhere, at any time. This was a feature I hadn't expected and was pleasantly surprised to find.

  • Website: crashplan.com
  • Pricing: Free for a "bring your own storage" version; individual (single computer)—$6 per month or 12 months for $60 ($5 per month); family (2—10 computers)—$14 per month or 12 months for $150 ($12.50 per month); business—$10 per month per device (enterprise pricing available)
  • Operating systems: PC—Windows, Mac OS, Linux; mobile—iOS, Android

Greg LaFollette (greg.lafollette@hq.cpa.com) is a strategic adviser with CPA.com, the commercial subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs.


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