Backup 101: iCloud Sync and Backblaze Backup

By | November 29th, 2016

iCloud and Backblaze

Apple’s iCloud gives Mac and iPhone users an easy way to sync data between devices. Now more than ever Apple is blurring the line between sync and backup, but don’t mistake iCloud for a true backup solution like Backblaze.

Let me say at the outset that this isn’t a warning against using iCloud. I use it and so do some of my colleagues at Backblaze. Many of us with iCloud accounts just assume all our data is backed up. Some of us only find out too late that it isn’t, and lose precious information as a result. Let me save you that fate by exploring what iCloud is and is not.

What is iCloud?

iCloud syncs calendars, contacts, mail, Safari bookmarks, notes and more. You’re always up-to-date regardless of whether you’re working on the Mac, iPhone or iPad, or even just signing in on the web.

Having all your files synced among your devices is convenient, but it’s not the same as a backup.

iCloud also serves as a repository for photos and videos and lets you store files. iCloud Family Sharing lets you share iTunes music, movies, apps and iBooks purchases with other family members. You can even use iCloud to locate missing devices. You can also backup your iOS devices to iCloud.

iCloud Drive is Apple’s alternative to Dropbox. It lets you sync files and folders between devices. Apple’s most recent Mac operating system update, Sierra, also allows you to upload the contents of your Desktop and Documents folders to the cloud.

Store In iCloud

Sierra can also automatically clear space off of your hard drive by “purging” old files and uploading them to iCloud Drive. Here’s a big problem: You’re trusting Apple with those files alone, which is counter to the triple backup best practice. Even if you’re using Backblaze, our software can’t backup what’s not there.

How iCloud Works

iCloud is linked to your Apple ID. Most of us use the same Apple ID to download apps and purchase music in iTunes. Your Apple ID is the key to the Apple realm. One of the first things you’ll be asked when you set up a new Apple device is your Apple ID.

You certainly don’t have to use iCloud, but it makes syncing and sharing files easier. Apple gives each iCloud account 5 GB for free. That’s not that much. That’s about 1,000 songs, 2,000 photos, or less than half an hour of HD video: Not really very much, given the capacity of modern devices. To get more storage space, you need to pay.

While iCloud is an Apple service that’s become a differentiator for Apple products like the iPhone and Mac, it’s not exclusive to them – you can access your iCloud account, and much of your iCloud data, from the web (by logging in to using your Apple ID), or on a Windows PC (using optional software you can download from Apple).

iCloud is linked on both the Mac or PC and the iPhone, and much of it is “under the hood” – that is to say, it’s syncing specific types of shared data, like your Contacts database, your Calendar files, Mail accounts, and photos.

Cloud Sync vs. Cloud Backup

Having all your files synced among your devices is convenient, but it’s not the same as a backup. A backup provides you with a robust way to recover your data in the event of a catastrophic failure. That’s not really what iCloud is designed to do.

That’s why it’s good to complement iCloud with an unlimited cloud backup service like Backblaze.

  • There’s a big difference between syncing, which is what iCloud does for the most part, and backup, which is what Backblaze does. Syncing lets you use the same files or data on more than one device, which is great, provided nothing goes wrong with that data. Backblaze lets you restore multiple versions (we keep up to 30 days’ worth), so if anything goes wrong with your iCloud data, you can recover using Backblaze.
  • iCloud can sync the contents of your desktop and Documents folder, but it doesn’t copy any files outside of those two locations. Backblaze will seamlessly back up all your data so you don’t need to worry about making sure to drag things into the “right” folder.
  • iCloud can back up iOS devices to Apple’s servers but doesn’t offer that same feature for Macs. If you’re using a Mac or a Windows PC), you need something else for backup altogether. If you’re backing up your iPhone or iPad to your Mac or PC using iTunes, we’ll backup that data for you too.
  • To get the latest iCloud capabilities, you need to be using the latest software on both your iPhone and your Mac. If they can’t run the newest software, they won’t be able to take advantage of all the new features. Backblaze supports Macs back to those running 10.6 “Snow Leopard.”
  • Apple charges you more for anything greater than 5 GB of space. Even the smallest iPhone these days has 32 GB of storage or more, and the smallest Mac is 128 GB. It’s very easy to run out of space in iCloud and have to pay more. Backblaze is unlimited – $5 per machine, per month, no muss and no fuss and no additional fee.

iCloud makes it easy to share and sync essential files between your Mac, iPhone, iPad and other Apple devices. Backblaze makes it simple and affordable to backup all your data on any Mac or PC and access it from anywhere. Together they provide you with the ability to share and access your data easily with the peace of mind to know that your data is automatically and safely backed up.

Have questions about iCloud or Backblaze backup that I didn’t address here? Fire me off a question in the comments below!

Peter Cohen
Peter will never give you up, never let you down, never run around or desert you. He also manages the Backblaze blog.

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  • Nicholas Screenstoryteller

    I’ve been looking all over the Backblaze site for the answer to this question, without success. I have several large external drives that contain the “family archives” of photos and videos going back to in utero photos and video of my children. I keep a main and a semi-clone of the main one; it’s several terabytes of material. QUESTION: Do I have to connect these drives to my computer at least once every 30 days so that Backblaze doesn’t erase my data?

    That used to be the case with Backblaze, but I’d like a clear confirmation about whether that rule is currently still in place.

    It’s one thing to connect a drive for an hour or so once a month, but it’s another if the drive has to be fully scanned to re-verify its contents, as that takes many hours, in my experience. I don’t want to leave my family archive drives connected to the computer when I’m not home because of the exposure to the possibility of theft. Even overnight often doesn’t complete its scan / backup.

    Please tell me what my best options are for this kind of scenario with about six terabytes of media on external drives.

    Thank you,

  • Toni

    As I use Backblaze and iCloud Drive with desktop an documents: Will all my documents still be backed up? Using this new Apple Option the Mac copies all files to iCloud folder, which is located in the Library folder. An this folder is part of the exclusions in the backups and I am not allowed to delete it from the exclusions. This means right now desktop and documents are not backed up by Backblaze. How is the workaround?

    Thank you in advance,


    • Kalle Kantola

      I also use iCloud Drive with desktop and documents but both are nevertheless backed up by backblaze. I just checked (using the backblaze app on my iPhone) that I have full access to all my desktop and document files.

      • Toni

        I just got the message below from the support, and the are right..

        Thanks for answering :)

        “You may be confusing /Library, which Backblaze does not back up, with ~/Library (the same as /Users/yourusername/Library) which contains the iCloud folder, and Backblaze does back that folder up.”

  • F Harvell

    I use iCloud regularly and the new service feature that automatically migrates old files out to iCloud opens up the possibility that files will be automagically removed from any particular machine leaving only an iCloud reference. Since I work on the same iCloud synced files from several Macs, I can have files on some machines and not others. Does Backblaze have a strategy to ensure backing up those files? What happens to the online backup of the file if it is migrated off to iCloud?

    • Courtney Huntington

      I need to know this, too. Thank you!