What to look for in online backups

by Daniel P. Dern - Online backups offer an additional, separate layer of insurance against losing data, for road warriors, users working from homes or remote offices where there may be no on-site backup, or in case your on-premises backup goes belly up. Plus, they can be used to retrieve files.

A better way to do online offsite backups

Yes, multi-terabyte hard drives are dirt cheap, and good backup software or appliances are very affordable, but online backups offer protection and access that on-site ones can't.

(I've been using an online backup for several years now, quite happily; I'm overdue to also up my game in terms my local on-site backups.)

There are lots of providers, from the usual suspects like Carbonite, KineticD (formerly Data Deposit Box), and Mozy, to smaller and newer players wooing consumers, SOHOs, SMBs, and/or enterprises.

Here are some things to look for, questions to ask potential providers, and decisions you have to make, in order to pick an online backup provider.

How To Choose an Online Backup Provider

(Note, this is about backups, not online "drive in the sky" storage you can access as quickly as a local or network drive.)

1. Inventory what machines you've got

(An IT asset inventory program may be helpful here, especially for stuff that's on your network.)

  • Identify what machines need backing up. Some backup services have per-machine charges, so this can be a big decision driver. How many machines do you have - servers, desktops, notebooks? While you're at it, how many mobile devices - smartphones, PDAs, or whatever - do you have that should be backed up.
  • What OSs? Some online backup services are Windows-only, some also do MacOS, Linux/Unix, some may also handle mobile OSs.
  • Do you have external storage - DAS (Direct-Attached Storage, like external USB drives), NAS or SAN - that need backing up?
  • How much data, total, do you have that you want backups of?
  • What about software - system images, original disks, etc.?
  • Is data you want backed up always in MY DOCUMENTS, or might it be elsewhere?

Decide what you want to be able to do with the backups

This, along with #3 below, also determines/limits what online backup services you can choose from. Some examples:

  • Let users recover file(s) they accidentally deleted.
  • Recover previous versions of files
  • Recover individual email messages, versus an entire mailbox.
  • Let users retrieve file(s) when they aren't at or can't access the computer that the file is stored on (e.g., when the computer is off, offline, or not working; or when they're out of the office.)
  • Full directory, partition/disk recovery/restoral of data
  • Full system restore/reboot (e.g., for software rollback, bare-metal restore, etc.)
  • Restoral for off-site Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery.
  • Search/restore for compliance/regulatory/discovery searches.
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