Small Business Backup Review: The Carbonite Appliance HT10

Wednesday Sep 17th 2014 by Joseph Moran
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This hybrid data backup appliance integrates local and cloud-based data backup. It did a great job with local data backup, but it ran into trouble backing up to the cloud.

Small businesses generally have two options for backing up data—local and cloud. The former (backing up to a storage device located on company premises) will usually get you out of a run-of-the-mill jam such as a hardware failure or malware infection. Cloud backup lacks the convenience and immediacy of a local backup, but—in the event of a true calamity, such as a fire or flood, that could claim your local backup as a casualty—it could be the difference between getting your business back up and running or not.

Hybrid backup (local plus cloud) represents the best of both worlds, and that's what Carbonite—a company that's almost synonymous with cloud backup—aims to deliver with its HT10 appliance. In essence, the Carbonite Appliance HT10 backs data up to its own internal storage, and then backs up your backups by uploading them to Carbonite's servers in the cloud.   

Carbonite Appliance HT10: Pricing and Availability

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what the Carbonite Appliance HT10 does, we should first mention how it's sold. Specifically, you can't buy the Carbonite Appliance HT10 directly from Carbonite the way you can with the company's various cloud-only backup offerings. Rather, the Carbonite Appliance HT10 is available only through Carbonite resellers, which the company refers to as "partners". (You can search for a Carbonite partner here.)

The upshot of this is that the reseller handles the delivery, installation, technical support, billing, and so forth for the HT10, so as the customer you will always interact with the reseller rather than with Carbonite.

Data backup: Carbonite Appliance HT10 review

The Carbonite Appliance HT10 looks like a Dell Optiplex desktop PC, but it actually runs the Ubuntu operating system, and it's designed to back up your data both to itself and to the cloud.

This arrangement can have ramifications for pricing as well. The company's MSRP for the Carbonite Appliance HT10 is $1,200 annually, which gets you a Carbonite Appliance HT10 with 1 TB of local storage plus 500 GB in the cloud. You can purchase additional cloud storage for $100 per 100 GB per year, but there are no separate lease/rental fees for the Carbonite Appliance HT10 hardware. As of this writing, Carbonite offers new customers 20 percent and 30 percent discounts if you sign up for a two- or three-year subscription, respectively, a promotion that's scheduled to end on September 30 2014.

The aforementioned prices are Manufacturers Suggested Retail Prices, which means that Carbonite partners are free to determine final pricing—e.g., they may mark it up, particularly if they bundle it with other services. Bottom line, check with multiple partners to compare pricing, support responsiveness, etc., before you buy. Of note, Tech Data offers the Carbonite Appliance HT10 on a $100 monthly plan, which might be of interest to people who don't like the prepaid commitment of annual subscriptions.

Carbonite Appliance HT10: The Data Backup Basics

Looking at the Carbonite Appliance HT10, you'd swear it was a Dell OptiPlex desktop laying low in the Witness Protection Program (it's clearly recognizable but for the lack of an obvious Dell logo on the front). Dell actually manufactures the hardware, though it runs Ubuntu operating system (OS) and its specs (a Celeron 1.9 GHz CPU and 4 GB of RAM) are appropriate for that OS—as well as its singular mission of data backup.

Carbonite Appliance HT10 main dashboard

The HT10's dashboard shows at a glance how many backups have been performed and how much local and cloud storage space is in use.

The Carbonite Appliance HT10 backs up Windows systems only—no Mac or Linux support yet—and supports Windows 2012, 2008, or 2003 server, as well as all desktop versions from Windows 8 back through Windows XP SP3. (But you're not running XP anymore, right?) This is a good time to mention that the Carbonite Appliance HT10 doesn't limit you to backing up one server or computer. You can back up as many servers or desktops as you care to, subject to the amount of storage you have available.

Speaking of available storage, although you can bump up your cloud storage in 100 GB increments at an extra cost, there's no option to expand the local storage beyond 1 TB. Carbonite plans additional models with more storage, and since the Carbonite Appliance HT10 stores backups compressed, you could very well wring a bit more out of the 1 TB subject to how compressible your data is (documents/spreadsheets: very; but pictures: hardly).

Carbonite Appliance HT10: The Set Up

Getting the Carbonite Appliance HT10 up and running was not difficult. The first step: connect it to the network and power it up. (There's no need to connect a monitor, keyboard or mouse, as you interact with the device over the network via a browser-based console.) Then you install the Carbonite Continuity Agent (CCA), which is conveniently preloaded onto an included USB Flash drive, on the system(s) you want to back up.

The CCA software locates the Carbonite Appliance HT10 on the network, and then it asks you to specify what which drives you want to backup, and how often. Once a daily is as often as you can backup your data on the HT10—an option to backup twice daily would be welcome—but you can also choose to backup weekly or monthly (though we're not sure why anyone would want to). The CCA also gives you the option to upload backups to the cloud only during certain hours, so that activity doesn't leech your Internet bandwidth while you're open for business.

Carbonite Appliance HT10: On-Premises Data Backup and Restore

The Carbonite Appliance HT10 performs image-based data backups, so it backs up a system soup-to-nuts—not just files and folders, but the operating system and installed applications too. This allows for a bare-metal restore in the event of a complete system failure. If you want to simply restore a file or a folder, you can do that too, via the CCA. Carbonite includes a second USB Flash drive—helpfully already labeled RECOVERY—that a reseller will configure, and which would then be used to boot the system when doing a complete restore.

We tried both file/folder and bare metal restores from the local backup on a server running a Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, and each one went off without a hitch. Not surprisingly, since the restores were being done over the network, they took somewhat longer than they would have had they been from directly-connected storage. 

As we were finishing our testing, Carbonite delivered a software update for the HT10 that addressed two shortcomings. First, it made the device HIPAA compliant by storing and transmitting backup data in an encrypted form. Second, it added the option to save a certain number (or timeframe's worth) of backups so they won't get overwritten when storage space runs out. (Prior to the update, backups stopped when space ran out, so you had to delete old backups manually from time to time.

And Then the Cloud Rolled In

Initially our test unit had an abysmally slow upload rate to the cloud. After running the unit for a week, it reported backing up more than 46 GB of data locally but a mere 96 MB of that to the cloud, which is less than one-quarter of 1 percent. This was in spite of the fact that we had a relatively healthy 5 Mbps of upstream bandwidth and had the Carbonite Appliance HT10 configured so it was free to upload at any time. A device reset followed by the aforementioned system update seemed to cure that issue, because afterward the HT10 reported backing up 5 GB of 41 GB to the cloud in a little more than 24 hours.

Carbonite dashboard configuration and scheduling

From the HT10's dashboard, your Carbonite reseller can specify how often data backups should take place.

But, late in testing, our HT10 began exhibiting even more problematic behavior. Namely, plugging it in to and running it on our LAN would eventually—within 10 to 15 minutes—kill the Internet connection for our entire network. Conversely, shutting down the HT10 would instantaneously restore connectivity.

We were able to reproduce the problem over and over again, but were unable to determine its cause before our deadline, even with the assistance of Carbonite Technical Support. (Presumably the HT10 was flooding the network with bad traffic.)  As such, we don't know how likely the typical customer is to encounter our issues, if at all. It's worth noting that the company's method of selling the Carbonite Appliance HT10 means such issues would be a reseller's rather than a customer's to deal with, though any potential problem with backups is ultimately the customer's since that's who owns the data.

Carbonite Appliance HT10: Bottom Line

By combining the immediacy of local backup, the redundancy of cloud backup, the security of HIPAA compliance, and providing someone to set up and manage it all for you, the Carbonite Appliance HT10 ticks a lot of boxes for small businesses looking to safeguard data. If we hadn't encountered the issues we did, we'd recommend it. Given what we experienced though, we believe that the appliance has few kinks that still need to be worked out before it's ready for prime time.

Price: $1,200 per year (MSRP, for 1 TB local storage plus 500 GB in cloud)

Pros: Backs up multiple systems without requiring additional license fees; performs both file/folder and bare-metal restores

Cons: Local storage fixed at 1 TB; only 500 GB of cloud storage included standard; abysmally slow uploading to the cloud in our testing

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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