There's nothing new about the concept of backup. For centuries, or possibly even millennia, before the advent of computers people have been concerned with keeping important documents safe from theft, fire and other disasters.

Computer files can be just as important as those on physical media. In many cases, they may be the only record of important transactions. Keeping them safe is simultaneously easier and more difficult than strictly physical documents, simply because until and unless these files are written onto a physical medium, they are ephemeral -- only a set of bits located on some device.

Until recently, backing up computer files was a matter of putting those files and data onto some type of physical media that could, in turn, be placed in an assumed safe location. To a large extent, that approach still holds true. Many of us transfer mission-critical (and less important) files to DVDs, and hopefully safeguard them in a location separated from where this data normally resides.

The natural disasters and weather of the past few years have shown that, as well-intentioned as this approach may be, a wide swath of destruction, such as happened with Superstorm Sandy, can destroy the backup along with the original.

 

HERE, THERE, AND WAY OVER THERE

Given the increasing realization that storing backups of your and your clients' mission-critical data anywhere in the geographic vicinity of the original data simply isn't good practice, there are several ways you can go.

One way is to store your entire backup offsite. There are storage companies such as Iron Mountain that will archive a hard drive and return it for re-use or in the event of a data disaster. With portable USB drives the size of a deck of cards and with capacities up to 4 terabytes, doing a complete backup once every few days, with incremental backups onto DVD every evening, then express-shipping these to a storage facility, is another approach. With this approach, getting the media back to do a restore is going to take a certain amount of time.

You could also use a hybrid plan, backing up locally onto portable hard drives and DVDs, keeping these in a location that you feel is safe, and also backing up mission-critical data to the cloud, where it will be secure in case of a local disaster or fire.

Your decision should be based largely on what you feel you're going to need in the event of recovery from data loss. With the bad weather, earthquakes and other natural disasters that have occurred over the past several years, even companies and firms with good backup protocols were unable to recover quickly, if at all, simply because off-site backup was destroyed along with the onsite files.

Backing up into the cloud and retrieving the backup when needed can be a slow process, depending on the amount of data and the speed of the Internet connection you are able to maintain. But with this approach, for the most part, you and your clients can be back up and running fairly quickly once you have a secure location and Internet access. This makes backing up into the cloud, at least in part, almost a no-brainer.

 

GETTING IT DONE

You may (and should) already have a backup and disaster recovery plan in place. That's good, but technology changes quickly, and what made sense two years ago may not be the best course to take today. Too many backup plans are made without enough thought about the recovery process. And recovery, should you ever need to perform it, is the reason for backing up in the first place.

So re-examining your firm's (and clients') plan every year or two is a good idea, and isn't really very time-consuming. There are numerous approaches to backup planning, including simply running mission-critical applications hosted in the cloud, rather than in-house. By taking that path, if feasible, you offload the responsibility of backup to the application provider, though it's still always good practice to have your own copy of data, just in case.

Assuming that you decide to incorporate cloud-based backup into your operational planning, the rest is just getting it done. There are numerous vendors of cloud-based backup and recovery services, several of which are detailed in the accompanying sidebar.

When investigating vendors, keep in mind that some offer backup plans for both individual and home users, and for business use. At first glance, you may be tempted to go the consumer version route -- it's often less expensive. But in many cases, there's a difference in business class offerings, especially when it comes to recovery-phase customer service. And, if you have a large volume of data that needs to be backed up, business-class backup may be able to offer faster upload options than those available to consumers. But if cost is a major factor in your decision, a consumer-grade backup offering, or even one of the free/low-cost cloud storage spaces such as Dropbox, GoogleDrive, OneDrive, and iCloud, is better than having no geographically disconnected data storage.

 

APPROACHING THE FINISH LINE

It's tempting to make a decision, choose a vendor, then sit back and let things take their own course. Backing up partially, or completely, into the cloud requires its own protocol. Make sure that you follow through.

How are you going to handle network backup -- by backing up individual workstations to the network, then backing up the network to the cloud? In some cases, it makes more sense to back up individual workstations to the cloud at different times. In many cases, how you use the available Internet bandwidth is going to have some effect on your decision. Spreading the backup down to a more granular workstation level also offers some protection if the network crashes in the middle of a backup. If you're backing up the network, rather than individual workstations, a network crash during a backup puts the entire backup in jeopardy. If you are backing up individual workstations, you may lose less overall data if the network goes down during a backup.

And regardless of how you plan to back up, make sure that you give equal thought to how you will recover. Having a formal recovery plan, detailing the protocols and procedures given different scenarios, takes a bit of effort to prepare. But having it can be a business lifesaver if recovery ever becomes necessary. And as you examine cloud backup vendors' offerings, be sure to pay equal attention to how their recovery options work.

Finally, if you do decide to backup partially or wholly in the cloud, make certain that you obtain the highest-speed Internet service possible. And in selecting your Internet provider and plan, pay particular attention to upload speeds. Internet service providers all tend to emphasize download speeds, but with backup and recovery to the cloud, the upload side of the equation is of much greater importance, since the majority of your backup interaction is going to be into the cloud, rather than in the other direction. Keep in mind that for the most part, getting data into the cloud is going to be the slowest spot in cloud-based backup.

 

 

CLOSET PROVIDERS

Selected cloud backup vendors

Acronis Backup to Cloud

www.acronis.com

(781) 782-9000e Acronis is probably one of the best-known vendors in the backup software market. Backup to Cloud melds Acronis Backup with cloud storage, though you can easily set it to provide hybrid backup, putting some files in the cloud and some locally. One really nice feature of Acronis backup software is that the restore can be made to a completely different hardware setup. Backup to Cloud pricing starts at $99 per PC per year, or $799 for 500GB for an unlimited number of machines. For a fee, you can send Acronis a hard disk and they will back it up to the cloud for you.

 

Carbonite

www.carbonite.com

Another fairly well-known vendor, Carbonite offers varying levels of personal and business backup in the cloud. Business plans start at around $269, with server backup starting at around $799. They claim 50,000 small-business users, including many in specific industries - among them, accounting.

 

MozyPro

www.mozy.com

(877) 669-9776

MozyPro is Mozy's business-oriented service, and supplies cloud backup, hybrid local and cloud backup, as well as a Mozy Data Shuttle seeding service, which allows you to send an initial large complete backup to the vendor on hard disk, backing up from that point on over the Internet. Pricing is more expensive for servers rather than individual workstations. For example, 500GB of backup from individual workstations costs $2,090 a year, which includes backing up an unlimited number of PCs. For one or more servers, the same 500GB will cost you $2,310.

 

Wuala Business

www.wuala.com

Wuala is a Swiss cloud storage company owned by La Cie, which, in turn, was purchased by Seagate Technology. The vendor is not primarily in the business of backup and recovery, though with a business account, and backup software on your network server or workstations, Wuala can function quite well in this role. Pricing starts at $429 a year for a Starter Pack, which includes 100 GB of storage for five groups with five users each.

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