When it comes to where your data is stored, location matters. This is the premise behind Mastermind Backup, a Canadian online backup service that is seeking to capitalize on the backlash against NSA surveillance programs and other anti-privacy legislation. Mastermind lets you encrypt your cloud backups with a password only you know, and all files are stored in their Canadian data centers, outside the reach of the Patriot Act.
I was invited to take a look at this service, to see how it performs and whether it’s something you – the online backup customer – should consider.
- Secure offsite backups to the cloud
- Completely private encryption
- Many advanced features
- 100% Canada-based data centers
- Continuous data protection option
- Flexible scheduling options
- Database and server backups
- Windows, Mac, and Linux clients
- No documentation; steep learning curve
- No mobile apps
- Below average speeds
- No bandwidth throttling controls
- No web-based restore option
- Local and system backups didn’t work
The Bottom Line
Mastermind Backup has more features than just about any online backup service, although the steep price and learning curve puts it out of reach for home users. I also wasn’t able to restore from local backups with the software, or create system state backups.
Plans and Pricing
Mastermind Backup provides a 30-day free trial for their Basic plan, letting you try out all the features the software has to offer.
The paid plans are as follows:
- $9.95 per month
- 16 GB storage
SMB / Professional
- $19.95 per month
- 32 GB storage
- $39.95 per month
- 66 GB storage
- $79.95 per month
- 132 GB storage
- $480 per month
- 1,000 GB storage
Additional storage is $0.60 per GB.
Why so Expensive?
The monthly fee is more expensive than consumer-level backup services. When I asked what separates their service from competitors, Keith Green explained:
…it’s really a matter of premium service and Canadian operations. We compete on quality rather than price, primarily targeting the enterprise market.
- ISO 27001 approved
- Are 100% owned and operated in Canada, meaning data stored in our servers is protected under Canadian privacy legislation and not subject to the Patriot Act.
- Offer 1 gigabit upload speeds with eight fibre trunk lines available for fast and reliable communication.
- Have extensive security protections and use military grade 256-bit encryption transmitted using a 256-bit SSL connection.
- We offer unlimited backup sets and data retention up to 10 years.
- For a comparison with our major competitors, see: https://www.mastermindbackup.com/our-products/compare/
I was looking forward to trying out the service, to see if it met the expectation of “getting what you pay for.”
Interface and Performance
Backing up my data with Mastermind was a pretty straightforward process. When I first started the program, I was prompted to log in with my user name and password.
Next, I went about creating my first backup set.
A file and folder type backup is the default, however you can also choose many other types of backup sets:
- Lotus Notes Client Backup
- Lotus Domino Server Backup
- MS Exchange Server Backup
- MS Exchange Mail Level Backup
- MS SQL Server Backup
- MySQL Backup
- Oracle Database Server Backup
- System State Backup
- ShadowProtect System Backup
- MS Windows System Backup
- MS VM Backup
- VMWare VM Backup
What’s the difference between a “System State Backup” and a “MS Windows System Backup”? This is something I had to ask Mastermind support, as I didn’t know. The answer is that they are the same, except the System State Backup uses more space.
I chose “File and Folder” as my backup type.
Next, I chose which folders I wanted to back up. By clicking “Advanced” I could select custom folders.
After that, it was simply a matter of scheduling the backup to run automatically, setting encryption options, and running the backup set. Some of these options will be discussed later in the review.
When restoring files, I could choose which version of a file or folder I wanted to recover. There are filtering options, and a search box to find files. There’s also a checkbox to restore file permissions. One limitation is that there’s no web interface, so you can only restore files from within the software.
I had no problems backing up and restoring my data from the cloud.
When it comes to the integrity of restored data, Mastermind Backup passed a cyclic redundancy check (CRC) for all restored files. They matched the original files bit-for-bit.
Mastermind’s Local Backup Problem
I ran into trouble when trying to restore from a local backup. It didn’t show up in my backup sets (even after I verified that the data was copied to my external hard drive). Also, trying to create a system state backup resulted in a “temporary directory is invalid” error.
Both of these issues affected the usability of the software. I was only able to use it for file/folder backups to the cloud.
Features and Settings
Mastermind Backup has plenty of settings to customize. In fact, it is one of the most feature-packed backup programs I’ve tested.
From the general tab, you can change the name for the backup set, and give login details for the Windows computer.
Specify what folders you want backed up. You can choose from predefined folders such as “Documents” and “Pictures,” or click Advanced to specify custom folders. Backing up external hard drives and network locations is fully supported.
The Mastermind software allows for Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Custom backup schedules. You can specify start times, as well as maximum run times (at which point the software will stop the backup).
By selecting Periodically as the start time, you can back up to the cloud as often as every minute, or as infrequently as every 12 hours.
When first creating the backup, you can encrypt it using the default method (a key controlled by Mastermind Data Corporation), choose a custom encryption option, or turn encryption off entirely. Algorithms include Twofish, DESede, and AES. You can choose 128-bit or 256-bit key lengths. You can even specify the block cipher mode of operation.
You can enter a custom encryption key – this will be your passphrase to access the backups. If you choose this route, you must remember to safeguard your encryption key. If you lose it, your backups will become inaccessible.
Continuous Data Protection
This will keep files continuously backed up, but it’s for local disks only. To achieve continuous backups with the cloud backup portion, you can set a short interval (such as 1 minute) as the backup schedule.
This setting only copies changed parts of files. The default is to only use it with files that are 25 MB and larger.
The in-file delta type can be set to incremental or differential. Incremental only copies parts of files that have changed since the last backup, while differential copies parts of files that have changed since the last full backup. This setting is so advanced, that you can even specify certain days or months to apply different delta types. For instance, you do a full delta type on Sundays (the entire file is copied), then incremental deltas on Monday through Saturday.
This is possibly the most important setting of any backup plan. The retention policy sets how long your files are retained, in other words how far back you can go to recover files.
The default is 7 days, and quite frankly this is not acceptable. Most online backup services keep previous versions of files for 30 days at a minimum, while some keep them indefinitely – as long as you have space in your account.
Luckily, this setting is easily changed. Deleted files can be kept from 1 to 365 days.
You can apply simple text-based filtering, such as including (or excluding) all files that end with “.jpg”. Filters can be applied to files, directories, or both.
If your pattern can’t be matched with a text filter, Unix-style regular expressions (regex) provides for additional filtering options.
Command Line Tool
Run command pre and post backup.
The extra backup setting is in case your internet goes down. It backs up to a local drive, until your internet connection is restored.
Keep a local backup of your files, in addition to the cloud.
A few advanced options are defined here, such as Windows Shadow Copy (VSS) and compression. Both of these are enabled by default.
Compression options are:
- Fast (compressed sizes are larger than Normal)
- No compression
There’s also a checkbox to back up file permissions, which is enabled by default.
My upload speed to Mastermind’s servers averaged 2.8 megabits per second (Mbps), which is below average, and less than half of the 8 Mbps I achieved with speedtest.net.
Mastermind Backup restored my 50 GB of data in a little over eight hours. Only 38 GB of data had to be transferred, apparently because compression was enabled on the backup set. The average transfer rate was 11.2 Mbps, which was less than my 30 Mbps maximum.
A possible explanation for the sub-par speeds is that I’m not located in Canada, and my data had to travel quite a bit farther to reach their data centers. However, when I chose a Toronto based server on speedtest.net, my speeds are able to be maxed out (although at a higher ping). So it appears location isn’t the problem.
Mastermind provides technical support via phone and email. Their support hours are 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST.
Unfortunately, there is no knowledgebase, FAQ, or documentation for the software. I felt like these would have helped a lot with the ease of use.
Summary – What’s the Verdict with Mastermind Backup?
Mastermind Backup has a steep learning curve, and this is not a backup service for the average home PC user. Some of the settings in the software wouldn’t even be touched by a home user, such as the in-file delta option. If you’re looking for a one-click backup solution, you won’t find it here. This, along with the price, is the biggest limitation. The service is really geared towards business users, not home users. I also had trouble with backups to external drives and the “system state” backup, which limited my ability to use the software.
On the upside, Mastermind Backup has more features than just about any online backup service. I was really impressed with how many settings were available in the software. Everything is highly customizable, from what to backup, to when to backup, to the “continuous data protection” option and more. Mastermind Backup is also also able to back up a variety of database servers and mail servers.
Possibly the biggest selling point is that the service is 100% owned and operated in Canada. This ensures your data remains under Canadian jurisdiction, protected by Canadian privacy laws.
|Average Upload Speed
|3 Mbps (8 Mbps connection)
|Average Download Speed
|11 Mbps (30 Mbps connection)
|Free Online Storage
|Keep Deleted Files
|7 Days (default, can be changed)
|Back Up to Local Drive
Sync and Share Features
|Public File Sharing
|Data Center Location(s)
|Canada (Mississauga, ON and Vancouver, BC)