Backing up your data can be such a trivially easy affair that you don’t have an excuse for putting it off—and risking your data in the process. Today we look at the CrashPlan backup suite and how you can use it for free remote backups.

A good backup solution is simple to use, creates multiple copies of your data (including offsite versions), and is inexpensive enough that you’ll continue to pay for it. CrashPlan offers a free and cross-platform solution that makes it so easy to backup your data both locally and remotely that it’s criminal not to.

CrashPlan: The Basics

What is CrashPlan? You’re likely familiar with online backup services like Mozy and Carbonite. You install an application on your computer, buy an account with the cloud-based backup provider, and then it uploads your files for safe keeping. CrashPlan is like Mozy/Carbonite on steroids. Instead of limiting you to simple cloud-based storage, CrashPlan offers a multi-tier backup strategy that includes the following:

  • Cloud-based storage (for pay, but very reasonably priced)
  • Remote storage (friend-to-friend backups)
  • Local network backup (backup to home server or NAS unit)
  • Folder backup (backup to secondary or external hard drive)

If you simply use the CrashPlan software without a CrashPlan account you can backup your data to a secondary drive on your computer, another computer on your home network, and to your friend’s/brother’s/mom’s computer all for free—don’t worry the data is encrypted via the Blowfish algorithm. Want to add cloud-based storage into that? You can backup 2-10 computers for a mere $10 a month with unlimited storage—it’s an outrageous bargain compared to other cloud-based storage solutions.

For this tutorial we’re going to focus on using your friend’s computer for remote storage; even if you intend to use CrashPlan for local/network backups reading through the guide will give you a solid look at CrashPlan and the menu system.

Getting Started: What You’ll Need and Installing CrashPlan

For this guide you’ll need the following things:

  • A copy of CrashPlan for Windows, Linux, or Mac.
  • A free CrashPlan account.
  • A friend/relative with a broadband connection and a copy of CrashPlan

Again, we’re focusing on using your friend’s computer as a remote backup location. If you lack for a friend willing to share some hard drive space and/or their broadband connection you can easily follow this tutorial to do the backing up over the local network.

Installing CrashPlan is straight forward. Download the application, run the installation file, select a location, and install. When you run CrashPlan for the first time after installation it will prompt you to create an account. That too is a simple process, simply plug in your name, email, and create a strong password. When you’re done with the process you’ll be greeted with the CrashPlan interface, like so:

It might seem a bit sluggish for the first minute or so as it scans for files. By default it check your user directory and indexes the files there. You can easily subtract or add drives/folders to your backup. For this guide we’re going to cut down on the size of the backup considerably so we don’t have to wait for all 16.2 GB in our user folder to seed. The size of your remote backup is limited only by your broadband speed and the space your friend is willing to share.

Configuring Your Backup

Depending on how large the original sweep was you may want to reconfigure the size of your backup before dumping it to your friend’s computer. Look at the bottom of the interface in the Files section and click Change. There you’ll find a directory list with your entire User directory checked. If your backup size is reasonable you can leave it as is. If it captured a lot of bulky directories (like your entire MP3 collection for instance) you might want to opt to locally backup your music instead of chewing up the time and bandwidth transferring it all to your friend’s computer. As we mentioned above, we opted to reduce the number of files for our tutorial in order to avoid a lengthy seed time.

Once you’ve selected the folders you want included in your backup, click on the Friend link in the Destinations section. You’ll see this in the lower section of the screen:

Here you can get your backup code (to share with a friend who wants to backup to your computer) or plug in the code they’ve sent you. We’ll presume that you’ve already cleared this backup-sharing plan with your friend or relative and have their code on hand (and thus can skip the invitation step).

With the code in hand, plug it into the Enter friend’s backup code slot and click start backup. It will immediately start backing up the files if your friend is online. When it’s done you’ll see a screen like this one:

Your files are now stored on the remote machine, a veritable Poor Man’s Cloud Storage. It’s worth noting here that if your total backup size is small (say, a few GBs of documents and photos) it’s worth it  to set up this arrangement with multiple friends. You’ll backup their documents and in turn you’ll be able to spread your documents and such across even more remote locations.

Advanced Configuration and Backup Sets

CrashPlan is astoundingly simple to set up, as we saw in the above tutorial steps (in a mere handful of mouse clicks you can set up a remote backup). There are a few things you’re going to want to tweak, however, to take full advantage of the application.

The first thing you’ll want to customize are the Backup Sets. Click on Settings –> Backup Sets. Here you’ll see the original backup set you created, labeled Default. The Backup Sets feature allows you to create individual backup sets for different scenarios. You can create a backup set that is just your critical documents to backup to a friend’s computer who doesn’t have much room to spare, a more generous set for another friend who has a home server with ample space, and yet another (and more complete set) for backup to your local USB drive. Each Backup Set can be independently configured and assigned to your unique backup locations.

In addition to configuring your backup sets you’ll also want to head over to Settings –> Network. The default settings for transfer speeds may be a bit weak for your taste. The software tends to error on the conservative side. If you’re running backups up at night without any other apps competing for bandwidth you’ll likely want to raise the upload speeds.

Finally, if you’re hosting backups for a friend you’ll want to put the backups on the most suitable drive. By default the backups are stored on the disk you installed the application to. You can change this by going to Settings –> General –> Configure, and switching the Default backup archive location at the bottom of the Inbound Backup Settings menu. This is definitely a step worth sharing with your friends so they can pick an optimal drive to store the backups you’re sending their way.

CrashPlan is a robust program and after following this tutorial you’ll have at least one, if not multiple, remote backups. If you take full advantage of the CrashPlan software and subscription service you’ll have redundant local backups, remote backups at your friends’ houses, and backups in the CrashPlan cloud. If that doesn’t help you sleep easy knowing your data is secure, we’re not sure anything would.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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