Big news in the technology industry this week as Yahoo’s board authorized the purchase of Tumblr, and Flickr announced 1 terabyte of photo storage. One terabyte of storage. That’s a lot of photos. By their estimates over 500,000 of them, maybe even more, depending on the resolution and quality. We think this is great! Having your pictures in more than one spot is a great idea, and one that we whole-heartedly recommend. That’s why we started the Backblaze online backup service, to make sure all of the photos, videos, documents, and memories you’ve accumulated along the way are backed up and ready for you, should anything happen to your computer.
The Flickr news is great for folks that have a lot of pictures and want a place to store them, but what about the other data? You may not think about it too much, but the documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, and videos you’ve accumulated throughout the years is just as important as the photos you’ve taken. For that, we’d like to recommend ourselves!
What do we offer? Well Backblaze is:
Unlimited – We’ll take all of your user generated data, no matter how much you have!
Unthrottled – Have a great internet connection? Awesome! We won’t hamper your upload speeds.
Uncomplicated – Get started in under 5 minutes. Just create an account, download the trial, and go!
Unexpensive – That’s not a word, but for $5/month per computer, we figured we could make it fit the “un-scheme”, plus that’s the most you can pay!
Want to use Flickr, or a service like it, and Backblaze together? Fantastic! The more places you have your data, the better off you are in case of data loss on your machine. Plus, folks tend to upload less than 1% of all the photos they take to various services; we’ll back up all of them! A good backup strategy is a lot like a good investment strategy, diversification is good!
Sometimes when you first hear an idea you think, “OK, that’s crazy.” That’s what happened when our PR folks came to us in marketing with the idea of having Backblaze be on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It was a crazy idea.
For those of you who know Backblaze, we have grown from a gleam in our founders’ eye to a profitable, reasonably well known company in the Online Backup business. We didn’t spend our money on TV commercials, radio ads and the like, we relied on making a great product, and having our customers tell their family and friends about us. So when someone said, “you can be on Ellen,” you can understand why we thought they might be a bit of a loon.
It was just before Christmas when we were first approached with the idea of having Backblaze be on Ellen. We weren’t ready. We were approached again just before Valentine’s Day, then again before Mother’s Day. Each time we’d talk through it and each time we’d get closer to saying yes. But we still said no. This was a really big deal. Was it the right thing for Backblaze to do? Could we handle the new demand without compromising service to our existing customers? What would happen if nothing happened?
We talked around this for months. Our PR folks continued to nudge and slowly the rest of us in marketing got comfortable with the idea. It could work, we could do it, and it would be amazing.
So we said yes.
Contracts were signed, emails were sent, and we were on our way. A couple of Backblaze folks went down to Burbank to watch the filming (more on that in another post).
A few weeks ago we told you we had been selected as a finalist for the 2013 SIIA Software CODiE Awards in the Best Cloud Storage and Back Up Solution category. We were very proud of being selected as a finalist, that was really cool.
Well guess what, WE WON! So, we are no longer a finalist, instead we are the winner! You can read all about the CODiE Awards on the SIIA website. Winning the award was awesome enough, but then they gave us the trophy you see above – is that cool or what? We’ve been admiring it for days and taking turns taking it home to show off. OK, so maybe only I took it home, but it is still an awesome trophy.
So we’d like to say Thank You to the SIIA and its members for naming us as the 2013 Best Cloud Storage and Back Up Solution winner. We will do our best to live up to the high standards they have set for being selected as a CODiE Awards winner.
We announced Backblaze Mobile a few months ago, and while it took a little longer than expected (we couldn’t help but add in features) Backblaze Mobile for iPhone is now ready for you! That’s right! If you have a Backblaze account, you’ll now be able to access your online backup on the go, from your iOS device! What about Android? That’s coming up next, stay tuned!
What Does Backblaze Mobile Do?
Backblaze Mobile is a free app, available in the App Store, that allows you to access, download, experience, and share all of the data that’s been uploaded from your desktop or laptop and to your active Backblaze account.
(click on any picture above to see it in full size)
How it Works:
Access: After signing in to your Backblaze account, you’ll see a list of all the computers (Windows and/or Macs) you are backing up with Backblaze online backup. Select one of these computers. Next you’ll see all the drives for that system that Backblaze currently has backed up. This can include multiple internal as well as connected external USB, Firewire and Thunderbolt drives.
Download: The folders and files are organized just like those on your computer, so the files you want are easy to find. Once you’ve located your file it can be downloaded to the iPhone. Remember, the current the file size limit for a single file is 30 MB. You can download as many files as you want and you can see a list of your recently downloaded files by selecting the “downloads” button.
Experience: Once the file is downloaded you can see and/or hear the file. Viewing a PDF, listening to a MP3, or previewing a Microsoft Word doc are all possible. You’ll be able to see and/or hear all the file types your iPhone knows how to present.
Share: Once you’re sure you have the right file you can share it. The options you get depend on the type of file, for example, if the file is an MP3, you may not see the “print” option, but it will be present for a JPG or GIF file.
The Backblaze Mobile app will give you greater access to all the data you’ve backed up with Backblaze throughout the years. Forgot a presentation? No problem, just download it to your phone. Have a picture on your computer that you want to show to a friend? No problem, just download it to your phone. Hanging out with friends and remember a fun picture you took, and then have an urge to post it to Facebook and tag them in it? No problem, just download it to your phone and share it! With Backblaze Mobile you can finally take control of your data.
We are very proud to announce that Backblaze was selected as a finalist for the 2013 SIIA Software CODiE Awards in the Best Cloud Storage and Back Up Solution category. The SIIA CODiE Awards are the premier award for the software and information industries, and have been recognizing product excellence for 27 years.
To become a finalist, Backblaze had to be evaluated by a panel of industry judges and be compared to the other category entrants. There were a myriad of questions to answer and the judges ran Backblaze through it’s paces to make sure it did everything we said. We also had to address how Backblaze delivered in the areas of agility, flexibility, redundancy, reliability, scalability and most importantly security. The thoroughness of the evaluation not only included the Backblaze client like the one on your PC or Mac, but the entire Backblaze infrastructure. This makes sense, given the breadth of the category “Best Cloud Storage and Back up Solution”.
While many people find our service to be the easiest online backup solution around, the real magic is masking the complexity that is inherent in backing up, storing and restoring our customer’s data. Over the past 5 plus years Backblaze has safely backed up and now stores nearly 50 Petabytes of user data and so far we’ve restored over 3 Billion files for our customers.
We’d like to thank the SIIA for naming us as an SIIA CODiE Awards finalist in the Best Cloud Storage and Back Up Solution category. And we’d like to thank you our customers for believing in us as well.
Backblaze is giving away one million dollars worth of the Backblaze online backup service. “Whoa”, you say, “Backblaze is like the thriftiest company ever, now they’re giving away a million dollars worth of their service, what gives?”
That’s a fair question. Here’s the deal…
Starting immediately and running through the end of World Backup Day (March 31, 2013 11:59 PM PDT), Mac and PC users new to Backblaze can sign up to receive 3 months of the Backblaze online backup service for free (a $15 value). To sign up, all you need to do is go to www.backblaze.com/worldbackupday and enter a valid email address during the promotional period. The first 66,667 unique and valid email accounts to sign up will receive an email containing their personal code, providing them with 3 months of unlimited online backup from Backblaze. That’s it. A new Backblaze customer can sign-up, get a code via email, and run Backblaze for free for 3 months.
“OK, that’s cool, but what about us existing customers, are we being left out?”
Of course not. We have entered all of our existing customers into a contest. We will randomly select 5 lucky winners and each winner will receive an iPad Mini. We’ll select the winners on April 2nd and contact them via email at that time.
“Nice, but three free months of Backblaze is nearly as good as an iPad Mini. Any chance I can get the free Backblaze?”
To use the free 3-month code, you will need to create a new Backblaze account. You cannot add the 3-month code to an existing Backblaze license. So if you have a second computer laying around that you’ve been meaning to back up with Backblaze, now’s your chance. Or maybe you’ve been thinking of getting Backblaze for your Aunt Polly or Grandpa Roger, now’s your chance. One thing to know, if you cancel your existing Backblaze license so you can use this new free 3-month code, you’ll have to resend us all of your data again – is it really worth it?
So that’s it, one million dollars worth of the Backblaze service for free for new customers. Now there’s no excuse not to back-it-up with Backblaze.
*Update* – Thanks everyone for signing up! Codes are going out soon, and the iPad Mini winners will be notified on April 2nd, 2013 (so they don’t think it’s an April Fool’s joke)!
We thought ten people would care; instead a million people read our Storage Pod 1.0 blog post where we open sourced the Backblaze Storage Pod design and introduced the world’s most cost-efficient way to store big data. The interest grew when we published our Petabytes on a Budget: Revealing More Secrets blog post that announced Storage Pod 2.0, which doubled the amount of storage and reduced the price. Since then several companies have built businesses selling Storage Pods inspired by Backblaze to hundreds of organizations around the world who are storing hundreds of petabytes of data on their own Storage Pods. Today we introduce Backblaze Storage Pod 3.0 which stores more data, costs less, is more reliable, and is easier to service.
For Storage Pod 3.0 we redesigned the chassis and upgraded many of the components. Most of the changes are aimed at improving the reliability and flexibility of the Storage Pod. The full parts list is in Appendix A at the end of this post.
Here are the highlights:
180 terabytes of storage. With the availability of 4 TB hard drives a Storage Pod can now be configured to store 180 TB (45 x 4 TB). As a bonus the same chassis and components can be used with any capacity of 3.5” hard drives.
Anti-vibration drive bay assemblies. There are now 3 assemblies, one for each row of 15 drives. Each assembly is designed to lock down a row of drives in place. These assemblies replace the “drive bands” around each drive. This saves nearly an hour during Pod assembly and makes drive replacement easier as well.
The key advantage of the drive bay assemblies is to reduce vibration. These assemblies not only keep the drives still, they also keep them firmly seated in the backplanes. Over the past several months we have tested different models of drives in the new drive bay assemblies and we have seen a dramatic improvement in overall system performance along with lower drive failure rates.
Upgraded motherboard. We now use the Supermicro MBD-X9SCL-F motherboard which replaces the previous model. The new motherboard adds a host of advanced processing features from Intel, as well as upgrades the PCIe slots to double throughput. Note that while our currently specified SATA cards do not take advantage of this increased throughput, it’s nice to know we can use it in the future.
More motherboard choices. We added standoffs to the chassis to provide better support for Micro ATX motherboards while still supporting the Standard ATX form factor. Specifically the new standoffs support the outer edge of the Micro ATX boards.
CPU. We upgraded the CPU to a 2nd generation Intel Core i3-2100 processor to replace the end of lifed (EOL) i3-540 model. This also gets us a little bump in clock speed (3.06 to 3.1 GHz), lower power usage (65 versus 73 watts), and more supported RAM (32GB up from 16GB).
Memory. We changed memory suppliers, so now the memory is certified by Supermicro.
Boot drive options. With Storage Pod 3.0, boot drives can now be 2.5” or 3.5” and we allow a second 2.5” drive to be attached for use in a redundant RAID1 boot volume. Boot-up drives can also be traditional HD or SSD drives. Backblaze switched to 2.5” boot drives because they are less expensive and are more reliable, but we didn’t want to eliminate support for 3.5” drives in case anyone needs a higher capacity 3.5” drive.
Backplanes. While we continue to use the same backplanes (Sil3726 chipset) as with Pod 2.0, there is another backplane based on the newer Silicon Image Sil3826 chipset that can be used. If you do use the Sil3826 based backplanes, you’ll notice that boot up can take a long time due to a large number of time-out/retry errors during the boot process. Eventually the boot up process will succeed. To fix this, you can use these instructions to update the backplane driver in your Linux kernel so you can use the Sil3826 based backplanes.
SATA cables. We replaced our SATA cable vendor with Nippon Labs. If you decide to use another vendor, look for cables that are SATA II or SATA III compliant and test them extensively. While any SATA II or SATA III cable should work we have found quality control problems with a number of vendors. In all cases it was the connectors, not the cables, which were defective.
Metal standoffs in the chassis. We replaced the plastic standoffs with metal components that can be manufactured as part of the chassis to reduce the cost and assembly time.
Improved airflow. The vent design was improved to increase airflow through the pod. We’ve never really had a problem with heat in the pods, and we’d like to keep it that way.
Chassis rivets. We replaced many of the screws with rivets. This simplifies the manufacturing process and saves times during the assembly process. Note, if you end up buying a case from Protocase (more on them later), they continue to use screws versus rivets. The two manufacturing processes produce the same basic chassis regardless.
Costs Less. For Storage Pod 2.0, the price for the components without drives was $1,984.00. For Pod 3.0 the price is $1,942.59, or $37.41 less – or about a 1.9% decrease in the cost (see Appendix A for a parts breakdown). The main component in the total cost will be the hard drives. The lingering effects from the Thailand drive crisis and consolidation in the drive industry have meant that even today hard drive prices are higher than they were when Pod 2.0 was introduced back in July of 2011 but here’s one way you can save a little on the price of hard drives.
Backblaze currently has over 450 Storage Pods deployed and manages nearly 50 petabytes of data. There are also many Storage Pods being used by organizations around the globe. Along the way we’ve learned a few things:
Firmware revisions matter. Watch out, manufacturers update hardware and upgrade firmware without changing their model number. These updates are intended to fix bugs but in the process new bugs can be introduced. Read the release notes carefully and downgrade the firmware to the version you’ve tested whenever possible. When updates are unavoidable, test them thoroughly before deploying them.
Let your vendors do the testing. Components like memory, PCIe cards and hard drives are modular and should all play well together. Unfortunately, the specs that allow for this interoperability (PCIe, SATA, DDR3, etc) are as complicated as are the components themselves. Because of this, use ‘certified’ components whenever possible. This will minimize problems and avoid finger pointing between vendors if problems do arise.
Don’t make random changes to our design. It might be tempting to try a build a pod out of the spare parts lying around your office but don’t do it. The components specified in the parts list in Appendix A are known to work well together. We believe in iteration and experimentation but don’t reinvent the wheel unless you have to.
There is more to power than just Watts. ATX power supplies deliver power at several voltages or ‘rails’ (12V, 5V, 3.3V, etc). Each vendor imposes unique limits on the amount of power you can draw off of each rail and unused power on one rail cannot be used on another. In particular, most high end power supplies are designed to deliver most of their power on the 12V rail because that is what high end gamer PCs use. Unfortunately, hard drives draw a lot of power off the 5V rail and can easily overwhelm a high wattage power supply. You will hit serious problems if power requirements for each component are not met so be careful if you don’t use the power supplies we recommend.
Keep it simple. For hard drives, SATA cards, SATA cables, backplanes, etc. you should use the same vendor, part number and/or model number as much as possible. By keeping things simple you reduce the number of variables that need to be considered if things go wrong. If you do mix components do it intentionally and for a good reason like comparing the performance of 3 different hard drives. And when you do this, make sure you’ve set things up in a way that allows you to draw clear conclusions. For example: with hard drives, if you want to compare the performance of 3 different models you should arrange them so that each RAID array is homogeneous. You should also take care to make sure each array is spread across all backplanes and SATA cards so that you don’t have IO hotspots which could taint your results.
Things change. Just when you get comfortable with a part, it will be discontinued or upgraded. We buy in quantity, we buy spares, and we have substitutes ready to go at any time. We also look for parts that have long-term support policies. We realize you may not be able to do these things, so be prepared when you upgrade one component that something may break.
The Uses and Users of a Storage Pod
In general there are three types of storage:
Transactional storage that provides real time or near real time access to data.
Bulk storage which stores a large amount of data yet provides access to that data within seconds to minutes.
Archive storage which keeps all of your data and often requires hours to days to access the data you need.
All are important. Our Backblaze Storage Pods were designed, built and implemented to economically hold large amounts of data yet provide access to that data in seconds to minutes, thus they are purpose-built for bulk storage. The economics of using a Backblaze Storage Pod for storage have driven many organizations and people to build and utilize Storage Pods inspired by Backblaze. This community has also built upon the Backblaze design and specifications to build Storage Pods for all types of storage needs. Here are a few examples:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Heritage Auctions, the University of New Mexico and many more.
Storage Pod Economics
When we announced Storage Pod 2.0 in July of 2011, the price dropped by 15% and we doubled the amount of storage versus Storage Pod 1.0. So with Storage Pod 3.0, this should be the section where we would say something like “as hard drive prices have dropped, the economics have continued to improve.” We would say that, except that the Thailand drive crisis which began in October of 2011 raised hard drive prices dramatically. That event, and perhaps the continuing consolidation of hard drive manufacturers, has meant that hard drives prices have yet to return to their July 2011 levels. For example, the hard drive we specified in the Storage Pod 2.0 blog post was listed at $120 (Hitachi 3TB 5400 HDSS5C3030ALA630). To purchase that same drive today you would pay $199 with very limited availability. To be fair there are other drives available that we use, but even the least expensive drive is $125 and that’s an external USB drive that must be ‘shucked’ before it can be used. With the increase in drive prices and decrease in availability, we have validated a variety of drives that work in Backblaze Storage Pods. Here is a list of the drives we have tested and currently use:
4 TB drives
Hitachi – HDS5C4040ALE630 (Just starting to use these, but they look good.)
Another thing we expected to happen was wide availability of 4 TB drives with the subsequent price drop. Only recently have we been able to get a reliable supply of 4 TB drives and prices are starting to drop. While we have built and deployed 180 TB Storage Pods (forty-five 4 TB drives) and we expect to move to exclusively building 180 TB Storage Pods in the near future, the cost per TB for 3 TB systems versus is 4 TB systems is nearly the same.
The table below compares the total cost of different Backblaze Storage Pod configurations.
Our cost per drive
Number of drives
Total size in TB
Cost per TB
Cost per GB
While it looks like the cost of a 4TB drive system is more expensive, when you factor in rack space, electricity, installation labor, etc. the long term cost for Backblaze leans towards using 4 TB drives. Our monthly cost for a full rack of Storage Pods with 3 TB drives is $0.63 per TB, while a full rack of Storage Pods with 4 TB drives is $0.47 per TB. When you factor all the costs together, it takes about 5 months for us to recover the extra cost encountered when building 4 TB based Storage Pods.
Building Your Own Storage Pod
Since Backblaze has given away the design, you can build your own Storage Pod. You’ll want to start with the parts list in Appendix A. From there feel free to change out some of the components, redesign the case, or completely change out the design. It’s up to you, but pay attention to the “lessons learned” noted earlier. To help you out, here’s a nice screen shot assembly walk-through from Protocase you can review and here’s a Storage Pod assembly overview (PDF-1.5MB) that you can download. You may also find some fellow Pod Builders by visiting the openstoragepod.org web site for information on their efforts to develop “affordable & energy-efficient high-capacity storage servers, built from commodity components”.
One thing to know is since we don’t sell the Storage Pods and don’t make money off any ancillary services, we don’t provide support or a warranty for people who build their own. To all of those builders who take up the challenge, we’d love to hear from you and welcome any insights you provide about the experience.
Buying a Storage Pod
If you are interested in buying a Storage Pod or having one built for you we recommend you talk to the folks at Protocase. They have built hundreds of Storage Pods. They can also help you with design changes for a reasonable fee. Also, their 45 Drives wiki site contains useful technical information about their Backblaze inspired Storage Pods.
As noted earlier Protocase continues to use screws versus rivets in the assembly process of their Storage Pods. From a functional point-of-view you will notice no difference in the finished product.
Another thing to know about Protocase is that they do not include hard drives with their Storage Pods. Protocase does test each Storage Pod they build with drives before they ship the unit to you, but it’s up to you to buy and install the hard drives. This is pretty easy to do, but be forewarned; sometimes buying 45 hard drives at Costco can be an issue.
Thanks for All the Fish
Thank you to everyone that has helped with ideas for how to improve the Storage Pods and to those who have helped spread the word on the reality of inexpensive big data storage. We welcome your continued feedback and support. Enjoy the design!
Appendix A – Price List:
The prices listed below are what we pay for the parts. To obtain these prices we do purchase then in quantity.
4U Custom Case Includes case, anti-vibration assemblies, power supply bracket, etc. (Available in quantities of 1 from Protocase for more money)
760 Watt Power Supply Zippy PSM-5760V Power Supply
Dampener Kits Vantec VDK-PSU Power Supply Vibration Dampener
Motherboard Supermicro MBD-X9SCL-F (MicroATX)
Port Multiplier Backplanes CFI-B53PM 5 Port Backplane (SiI3726 Chipset)
8GB DDR3 RAM 4GB Samsung BDDR3-1333 PC3-10600 (Certified by Supermicro)
CPU Intel Core i3 processor i3-2100
Case Fan Mechatronics G1238M(OR E)12B1-FSR 12V 3-Wire Fan
Port PCIe SATA II Card Syba PCI Express SATA II 4-Port RAID Controller Card SY-PEX40008
SATA Cable SATA cables RA-to-STR 3 ft locking from Nippon Labs
On/Off Switch FrozenCPU ele-302 Bulgin Vandal Momentary LED Power Switch 12″ 2-pin
Boot Drive WD SCORPIO BLUE WD1600BPVT 160GB 2.5″ Internal
Screw: 4-40 X 3/16 Phillips: Secure Boot drive
Standoff: Round 6-32 X 1/4 Dia X 5/16 Lng: Motherboard mount
Screw: 6-32 X 3/16 Phillips PAN SST: Motherboard standoff
Screw: 6-32 X 1/4 Phillips PAN ZPS: Motherboard standoff
Screw: 4-40 X 5/16 Phillips PAN ZPS: Backplanes
Crimp Terminal, 22-30 AWG Power (Tin): Fan Assembly
Fan Connection Housing, 1×3 with ramp and rib: Fan Assembly
Soft Fan Mount, AFM02B (1 flat end): Fan Assembly
Soft Fan Mount, AFM03B (2 tab ends): Fan Assembly
Foam Tape, 1″ x 50′ x 1/16 in black: Vibration lids
For all our talk about online backup, restoring data is what Backblaze is all about!
“Backblaze saved the day for me–not once, but twice in less than 6 months. My computer did one of those spectacular crashes where it seems most of its insides get replaced and I needed my BB restore files. Five months later both my new hard drive and my external hard drive died and I needed those BB restore files again…” —Marla, a Backblaze Customer.
“It works! My iMac crashed and I had to purchase a new one. All of my digital negatives, jpegs and documents were restored from Backblaze and in no time at all, I was back in business. I have more confidence in Backblaze than I do in my external hard drive backup…” —Kathy, a Backblaze Customer
2.5 Billion Memories Restored
Backblaze recently passed the 2.5 Billion mark for the number of files our customers have restored. We say files, but our customers think of them as graduation photos, videos of their children, music, financial records, genealogy data, scrapbooking designs, etc. That’s a lot of digital memories that have been returned home safe and sound to folks like Kathy and Marla. That’s nice.
Can’t quite comprehend what 2.5 Billion looks like? If each file were an 8×10 photo, printed out they would cover nearly 32,000 acres or 12,900 hectares for folks outside the US and Canada. In either case, that’s enough photos to cover the entire city of San Francisco or all of Walt Disney World in Florida, each of which is, coincidentally, the same size; 30,080 acres.
More Fun Backblaze Restore Facts
Users request more restores on Monday versus any other day.
In December 2012, we restored 280 TB of data
On average we restore the most files on the 5th of each month
On average we restore the fewest files on the 22nd of each month
The number of files being restored per user increased nearly 70% from December 2011 to December 2012
We estimate that we will restore our 5 billionth file in January 2014—stay tuned…
Big Gets Even BIGGER
We’ve doubled the size of our USB Flash Drive restore option from 32 GB to 64 GB, and we’ve tripled the size of our USB Hard Drive restore option from 1 TB to 3 TB. Even better, we didn’t raise prices.
So you can get a 64 GB USB Flash Drive restore for $99 (USD) or you can get up to a 3 TB USB External Hard Drive restore for $189 (USD). These prices include preparation and shipping anywhere in the world. We’ve sent restores to Singapore, Romania, Japan, and many other places all with free shipping. Of course you can always securely download your restore for free as a ZIP file over the Internet like 99% of our users requesting a restore, but just in case, we’ve made the USB restores bigger.
Things to Know About USB Restores
The 64 GB USB Flash Drive will hold about 60 GB of data after formatting, so if you have more than 60 GB of data to restore, you’ll to need buy 2 or more USB Flash Drives.
If you purchase an USB External Hard Drive restore, we will ship you a drive that will accommodate your data, up to about 3 TB in size. For example, if you are restoring 1.1 TB of data we could ship you a 1.5 TB drive. The price will be $189 no matter what size drive we send.
One more thing, if you order a USB Flash Drive or USB Hard Drive restore, you get to keep the drive we send you—enjoy.