03 December 2009

Carbonite's 90-Day OId Trouble Ticket: Prelude

Carbonite is one of several online backup services.  Previously I was a customer of HP's discontinued Upline service, so I was somewhat hasty in the search for a replacement service. There's been considerable marketing of Carbonite of late, and several Twitter posts that were worth responding to.

The service did appear to back up several hundred GB over the expected week or so of uploading. Everything seemed normal until my RAID crash forced a restore.  The requirement was a 100% restore of everything backed up for this account at Carbonite.

The restore succeeded only partially.  The restore, which operated by restoring the smallest files first, stalled and would not resume.  

In addition to losing the unrestored backups, this has meant that the Carbonite client must remain in restore mode, meaning that it is unusable for new backups until the problem is resolved. Customers in this situation must use other backup methods in the interim, and figure out how to merge the two if Carbonite is able to ultimately resolve the problem.

This incident occurred a few days before 22 June 2009.

Since then, the following CSRs have handled the case: Shawn, Amy, Leena, Vince, Abe, Pam,  Arthur and Ashton.  There were three separate (unrelated) attempts to log in remotely (using GoToAssist), but the extensive logs produced by Carbonite were -- even when zipped -- too large to transfer successfully using the file transfer service built into the remote application.  I offered to put the archives on my ftp or web servers for them to download, but the CSRs were apparently prohibited from taking this step.

The current status is that the problem has been "referred to Engineering."  The case has been in this status now since June.

Carbonite's underlying technology is nontrivial, based on what can be seen from the logs on the client machine.  It's probably not possible to diagnose this particular problem without the logs, though it would not be surprising to be asked to try again with a new release.

A longer version of this incident with commentary will follow. 

Some problems (not this one, unfortunately) are addressed at the Carbonite Community at GetSatisfaction.  Visit their profile on Crunchbase or learn who participated in their last venture round.

See Carbonite's lightly visited BBB listing in Boston.

Following is a list of other reported technical or other issues with Carbonite.  Claims and counter-claims, for and against the Company, should be assessed with a skeptical eye:
Update 19 October 2009  Was recontacted by a Carbonite Representative to reopen the case.   Will report on disposition.

Update 3 December 2009  I was finally contacted by a capable technical support representative.  According to Carbonite's Technical Support Rep, there was a breakdown in support workflow within Carbonite; despite my repeated requests for status on my escalated trouble report, escalation apparently did not occur.

Kirk, a senior Technical Support Representative, was able to install a new version of the Carbonite client, which successfully connected to some of my archives on the Carbonite farm.  A  detailed Carbonite log analysis was unnecessary for this exercise.  The TSR was capable and knowledgeable of the product.  However,  I noticed that entire partitions that had been put on the backup list did not appear and could not be restored.  Kirk asked others in the organization to look at older versions of the backup, and after a few weeks, he notified me that no further data could be restored.

I have a guess as to what happened, but it's highly speculative.  Since my rebuilt system had a slightly different layout of drive letters and partition identification, it's possible that the older Carbonite client was unable to associated items to be restored with the new layout.  The Carbonite client application operates as an extension of Windows explorer, so it's easy to imagine how this confusion might arise.  Just a guess. That said, it does not explain why the missing partitions weren't on the backups at Carbonite, where they should have been saved in the May-June 2009 timeframe.  It wasn't the case of a few missing files, but perhaps 50GB of files, including almost 10,000 lossless (FLAC) rips of music files.

Conclusion  The Carbonite technology can be quite good, especially if you have high speed broadband.  I have this with an upgraded Verizon FIOS that features fast inbound and (this is important) outbound speeds.  But it should be not relied upon as the sole backup, especially for whole-system outages that require recreating entire machine environments. As the old saying goes, miniscule software errors -- or simply design limitations -- can have large consequences. This is the case with a few hundred gigs of precious data.  On my network, I've implemented a local backup capability using Backup for Workgroups.  I'm happy with this so far, especially since it has a good de-duplicating capability and works with both server and client operating systems.  It's not a disaster recovery solution for the next Nor'easter,  broken water pipe in the basement, or California wildfire.  More than one backup solution is needed, even for casual home users.


  1. Hi Mark,

    We'd like to get in touch with you to resolve this issue. Please e-mail me at Len.Pal @ Carbontie.com with your contact information as well as the best time to call, and I'll have one of our senior support reps reach out to you with a solution right away.


    Len Pallazola
    Manager, Customer Service Systems
    Carbonite, Inc.

  2. Hi Mark,
    You should give Memeo a try. We have millions of users worldwide using our top notch backup software. Unlike Carbonite, we backup locally AND online - not only protects you quicker, but restores quicker too. And our customer service is top notch (if you even need it).
    Here's the link: bit.ly/16Hvl0