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.)
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.
3. Decide what type(s) of backup you want done
- How frequently: Daily/weekly? Every time a file is saved? Every time a file is written to?
- What types of files/data: Structured (email and databases), unstructured (documents, images, video), or both?
- Do you want to save previous versions, and if so, how often (every time a change is done? Every 5 minutes? Daily?), and how many (up to 4? 12?)?
- What types of data do/don't you want backed up? (e.g., no MP3s)
4. Questions to ask a potential provider
- Are backups full or incremental? (This impacts bandwidth consumption, and how long a save takes - especially important for email!)
- Does each computer need an agent program installed? Can the agent be set to throttle down when it detects keyboard/mouse activity?
- How flexible/granular is the do/don't save configuration (e.g., per directory/subdirectory, by data type)
- How many data centers do you have, and where are they?
- What encryption is used for the backup connections, and for stored data?
- Can files/directories be retrieved via a web browser? What browsers do/don't you support?
- How, and how much, do you charge? Per machine? Per gigabyte? Per account? Or some combination of the three?
- Will you (for a price, of course) provide larger restores on DVD or hard drive? Can I send a DVD or hard drive in to initiate my backup?
5. Try before you buy
Try it, using a computer. Do files get backed up? How easy/hard is it to retrieve them, including from another computer? How long does a restore take?
And consider still doing local backups. They may be faster and easier to recover larger restores from.
But whatever you do, do something.