Backblaze

Reviewing options for backing up to Backblaze B2 with Window Backup

I’ve reviewed the different possible options for backing up your Windows 10 computer with Windows Backup (formerly known as File History) to the ultra-cheap backup storage provider Backblaze B2. The software required to do this isn’t quite there yet, but you still have some options.

Backblaze B2 hosted network storage service is really affordable for storing backups. At about 5 USD per month per TB, you can cut cost if you have multiple computers or a backup smaller than a Terabyte compared to Backblaze Personal Backup at 5 USD per month per computer.

You get an easy-to use software for macOS and Windows with Personal Backup, but with B2 you have to bring your own software and connect it to the B2 service. FreeBSD, Linux, and macOS all have several great software options for using B2 for backup, but the selection on Windows isn’t as good.

Windows has a built-in backup system that provides file versioning so you can restore earlier versions (“previous versions”) of documents and files right from File Explorer. This tool was known as File History in earlier versions of Windows, but you can now find it in the Windows Settings app under the name Windows Backup.

Mounting a B2 storage bucket in Windows

A prerequisite of using Windows Backup is to mount the destination, a Backblaze B2 storage bucket in this case, as either a network share or hard drive in Windows.

This proved surprisingly difficult to achieve in Windows. There are several good software options for Linux and macOS, but the Windows options are more pricey.

The two available options for Windows are ExpanDrive (80 USD) or Mountain Duck (40 USD with paid upgrades). Both programs lets you mount Backblaze B2 among other hosted storage providers as local network shares in Windows.

Mountain Duck offers a free trial version, but that somehow expired more than six months before I installed the program and the program kept nagging me about the license.

Both programs use a taskbar icons with menus/guessing game as their primary interface with no clear path to progression. Neither program show any sign of ever having gone through any user experience testing and they were frustratingly unclear on their use. Frankly, neither of them are worth their asking price.

They both work, however! They’ll even optionally let you automatically mount the partition when you boot the computer. You can use them as-is to backup your computer with Windows Backup but without encrypting your backups.

Both will fail if your network take a long time to come online or if the network connection comes online, drops out, and then comes back online. I’ve also fully copied some test files onto a mounted Backblaze drive, rebooted the computer, and then discovered that all or some of the files were missing. I only spent a few days with each of these and I was seriously unimpressed with both programs.

There is a third option and it’s the only free and open source software for Windows in this category. I’ll get back to the third option after first addressing encryption solutions.

Windows Backup encryption is an unsolved problem

Windows Backup itself has no support for on-device encryption of backups. As discussed earlier, you have to rely on Microsoft BitLocker for encryption. BitLocker is only available in Windows 10 Professional and not available on non-NTFS file systems. It also won’t work on network shares and can’t work with ExpanDrive or Mountain Duck.

If you have Windows 10 Professional, you can work-around the network share limitation by creating a virtual hard drive and storing it on your B2 network share. If you don’t have Windows 10 Professional edition, you can use a third-party solution like Cryptomator instead. Cryptomator is a free and open-source utility that creates an encrypted virtual hard drive that can be used as a Windows Backup destination.

Mountain Duck has support for automatically detecting, unlocking, and mounting virtual drives stored on its network shares through Cryptomator. I never got this to work under Windows, and it was really unreliable and failed to detect and mount the Cryptonator volumes more often than not when I tried it under macOS.

Virtual hard drives stored on remote system and accessed over the internet — whether it be a Windows virtual hard drive with BitLocker or a Cryptomator drive — can be quite unreliable and prune to data loss and corruption. In the event of a network or local system disruption, your file I/O will have to go through two extra layers with higher than normal latency before it’s securely stored on the drive.

You can reduce the risks involved with this by storing the virtual hard drive on a secondary local disk rather than directly on a network share, and then copy or sync the local copy onto a network share or B2. This more than doubles the storage requirements and costs on the local system, and as such isn’t really a desirable solution.

Lastly, you can technically force enable Encrypting File System (EFS) — a file/directory-level encryption built-in to Windows — on a non-NTFS file systems or a network share. However, this is something that not even experts should attempt as its much more likely that your files will be irrecoverably encrypted with no way to decrypt them than that you actually get this setup correctly.

OpenDedup to the rescue?

OpenDedup sounded promising and features data deduplication and encryption by default and it directly exposes B2 as a local hard drive. It requires some manual command line configuration to setup, but will mount on boot and handle network disconnection and reconnection on its own. The documentation is good and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes to set up.

Unfortunately, it uses its own custom SDFS file system which is incompatible with Windows Backup. You can force Windows Backup to use it anyway, but you won’t be able to perform more than the one initial backup and Windows won’t be able to recover data from the backup either. It’s essentially useless for this use case, though OpenDedup shows promise for anyone who want to mount Backblaze B2 as a local drive on Windows for purposes than don’t rely so heavily on features of the NTFS file system.

In my experience, OpenDedup was unfortunately unreliable when it came to actually mounting drives even with perfect network conditions as I ran into several different software exceptions. I ended up having to reboot the system to mount some drives. I never lost any of my test data with OpenDedup, however, which is an overall improvement over the other options.

Other solutions for backing up to B2

In , Microsoft accidentally pushed an update over Windows Update that marked Windows Backup/File History as deprecated and removed the option to create new backups using the tool. Microsoft have since said that this was a mistake but it also shows that Microsoft is considering deprecating Windows Backup to the extent that they’ve developed an update to Windows 10 that strips away the feature.

While Windows Backup is an interesting tool for backuping up your computer and it enables new use cases (such as restoring previous file versions), you don’t really want to be using tools that the software vendor is considering to remove in the near future.

I personally backup my Linux and macOS computers to Backblaze B2 using Restic. It’s an open-source console based application with data deduplication, encryption, versioning, and an overall impressive feature set that I’ll likely cover in more details in a future article.

Restic is also available for Windows but it’s missing a key feature that makes data recovery more difficult than on Linux and macOS. Under the other two operating systems, you can mount your B2 backup and explore your files and previous versions of files and browse it in your file explorer. As has been a recurring topic in this article, this feature seems to be difficult to deliver on Windows.

Another alternative for Windows that has kept popping up on my radar over the years is Arq (80 USD, for one user on macOS and Windows). It’s a graphical tool that handles file versioning and on-device encryption and integrates with many different hosted network storage providers. You can even configure it to backup to multiple hosted network providers including low-cost options like Backblaze B2 and Amazon AWS glacier. It’s easy to setup, but don’t expect to get much use out of the file versioning function as the software is clunky in use. The encrypted data blobs it creates out of your backup is well documented, and Arq even provides an open source tool for decrypting your backups on other operating systems.

I’ve never ended up using Arq mostly because I want to use the same backup tool on all operating systems — and Arq doesn’t support Linux. If Arq added support for Linux today, I’d probably be among the first to buy a license and swap out my existing desktop backup solutions for Arq.

If you only use macOS and Windows, then I believe Arq to be one of the strongest contenders in this space and it’s a much better option for macOS and Windows than SpiderOak ONE

Conclusions

Third-party software that integrates with hosted network storage providers is too expensive (plus requiring paid upgrades) and is too difficult to use on Windows. OpenDedup — as the only free and open source option available for Windows — shows promise for general purpose access to hosted network storage providers even though it can’t be used for Windows Backup. OpenDup requires more stability work and a human-friendly user interface.

Backup encryption with Windows Backup is a big challenge unless you have a Windows 10 Professional license and are backing up to a local storage medium where you can enable BitLocker.

Don’t hold your breath for Microsoft adding encryption support to Windows Backup either, and you’ll probably want to find another alternative to Windows Backup anyway. Microsoft seems to be on the verge of deprecating it entirely.

Arq is a solid alternative for macOS and Windows users, while you may look into Restic for your Linux desktop and server needs.