This post is part of a periodic series about The Tools I Use.

Everyone knows backups are important, but many of us never get around to setting them up. I’ve been backing up my computers for a long time, since so much of my life is stored in bits on my hard drive.

On Windows machines, there are a number of options for backup software, now including a built-in option. Macs have Time Machine. And on Linux, there are a number of options as well.

These solutions are largely designed to back up to a second hard drive or similar device. That’s a good first step for backups. It protects against accidental deletion and hard drive failure. But the backups are kept in the same location as the computer being backed up, which doesn’t protect against fire, theft, and other catastrophes. It’s really a good idea to have backups stored at another location as well.

When I used to work in an office, I would swap my backup media weekly and lock up one of the copies at work. That way, I’d have relatively recent data available somewhere other than my home. Once I started working from home, that became less of an option. For a while, I didn’t have any off-site backups. When I went on vacation, I’d bring my backup drive with me just in case something happened while I was away.

With the advent of faster Internet speeds, the idea of online backup started to make sense.

Enter CrashPlan.

CrashPlan is an online backup service, but is also more than that. You can use it to back up to a local hard drive or to a friend or family member’s computer. Both of these options are free. In addition, it offers unlimited online backup to CrashPlan Central with individual, family and business plans.

The client application is built in Java and runs on Windows, Macs, and Linux machines. There is also a mobile app that allows you to access any file from your mobile device as long as it’s been backed up.

The client application lets you create different backup sets with different settings. You can also choose how much of your CPU and network bandwidth you’re willing to let it use, with different settings for when you’re at your computer vs when you’re away from it. I set it up once, and then it just runs in the background and I don’t notice it. I get a weekly e-mail telling me that it’s still doing its job, and I get a warning e-mail if any of my computers hasn’t been backed up for a few days.

CrashPlan seems to do a pretty good job of data de-duplication. I’ve moved large files around on my hard drive, and CrashPlan doesn’t seem to need to back the files up again. There is also a very handy “adopt this computer” feature that allows you to associate a new computer (or hard drive) with your existing backup set. I’ve used this feature twice, and it really saves a lot of time, because I didn’t need to upload everything again.

My biggest concern about online backup when I started was the security of my data. With CrashPlan, the data is encrypted before it ever leaves my computer, and then the data transmission itself is further encrypted. While online backup is always going to be riskier than local backup, I feel OK with these security measures.

A backup is only as good as your ability to restore the backup in case of emergency. I’ve never had to do a full restore from CrashPlan, but I have had to restore individual files here and there. I had a slowly-failing hard drive that silently corrupted a number of files during the last week before it completely died. My local TimeMachine backups didn’t go back far enough to contain un-corrupted versions of those files, but CrashPlan did. I was easily able to restore those files onto my new hard drive. If a full restore over the Internet will be too slow, CrashPlan offers an option where they will ship you a hard drive containing all of your data.

The only minor complaint I have is that the price of my online plan increased by 25% this year on relatively short notice. It’s still a good deal, and I’m glad they’re doing what they have to do to stay in business, but that’s still a fairly steep price increase for one year. I’ve been happy with everything else, though.

Overall, I’ve been really happy with CrashPlan and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an online backup solution.