The IT Blog for SMEs

Everybody seems to be talking about online backup (or cloud backup) these days, but it's not necessarily the right solution for every business. Whether you're looking to back up a small number of critical files from your desktop computer or the entire contents of a fileserver, here's an overview of the different types of backup you should consider.


Online Backup

Online backup (or "cloud backup") is one of the more popular ways to backup data for small businesses - and for good reasons: it's flexible, secure and cost-effective. There's no expensive hardware or software to buy; your data is backed up to a secure datacentre and you pay only for the storage space you use on a monthly basis.

But before you entrust your data to the cloud, there are a few questions you should ask of your prospective online backup provider:

Where is my data stored?

Don't assume that your data will be backed up to a UK datacentre. Many of the online-only providers use European or even US-based datacentres, which have different regulatory standards. Ensure your provider has physical access to the datacentre themselves and can retrieve your data quickly should you need it.

How secure is my data?

Choose a backup provider that only uses datacentres accredited to ISO 27001 standard. ISO 27001 certifies that the datacentre adheres to the highest levels of data security. It is a rigorous (and expensive) process to implement, but it is your guarantee that the datacentre has the processes and procedures in place to keep your data safe.

How do I get my data into the datacentre initially?

Once your data is in the datacentre, only the changes are backed up on a daily basis. But how do you get all of your data into the datacentre in the first place? If you have a large amount of data, this initial backup - known as the "seed" - could take several weeks if you have to do this via your internet connection!

Find out if your online backup provider will seed the backup to (e.g) a USB hard disk, which can be sent or taken to the datacentre. Take care though, as some providers will charge you several hundred pounds just to seed data from a USB disk!

How quickly can I get my data back if I need it?

Most online backup services provide a simple procedure to restore files and even complete folders with just a few keystrokes. But what if your computer fails and you need to get all of your data back quickly? If you have a lot of data and the only option is to restore via the internet, you could be in for a long wait. Even more so if your broadband provider has a fair usage policy that means they reduce your bandwidth after you've exceeded your daily "allowance".

Make sure your online backup provider can return your data on a USB disk in an emergency. Find out how quickly they can do this. Will they charge for this service? Know the answers before you need to!

Our online backup service:
  uses only UK-based ISO27001-accredited datacentres
  can be seeded from a USB disk at no extra cost
  can be restored via a USB disk at no extra cost
  can be configured with a retention period of up to 365 days
  is encrypted for security
  is compressed for the best price per Gb

How can I get support when I need it?

In an emergency, you need someone you can talk to who will help you to resolve any issues. Make sure that your chosen provider has a telephone number with UK-based support staff who can help with any problems. If possible, choose a local company with people you can meet and forge a relationship with.

What happens if I accidentally delete a file?

Human error accounts for over 30% of data loss. If you accidentally delete a file, how long after the event will it be available from your online backup? Generally, you can choose the retention period for data - typically anything from 7 days to 365 days! Be careful though, as longer retention periods will increase the amount of data stored in your online backup account and could mean you pay for more storage than you need.

Example: you accidentally copy a large amount of data (pictures, videos, music) into a folder that is being backed up and you receive a larger bill than expected. You then delete that data - but it won't be removed from your online backup (or your bill!) until the end of the retention period.

Is it suitable for my business?

Online backup is ideal for most businesses due to its scalability and low cost of entry. However, if you generate or amend large volumes of data (> 1Gb) each day then you may find that a standard broadband connection will struggle to keep your backup updated. Professional photographers, videographers and design agencies can still use online backup for their critical business documents (accounts, customer lists, invoices, etc) but may find an onsite backup solution more suitable for backing up media files.


Local (Onsite) Backup

Backing up your data to a device located on your premises is not ideal from a business continuity perspective; a disaster such as a fire, flood or burglary could destroy not only the data on your computers but also any onsite backups, resulting in total loss of that data. However, having a local backup does protect against the single greatest cause of data loss - mechanical failure - and is therefore significantly better than nothing. If you have a poor internet connection or generate large volumes of data then a local backup may be your best option.

Traditionally, nearly all server backups were local backups, usually to a tape drive built in to the server. Now though, the majority of local backups are to a disk array (an intelligent device containing multiple disks, where data is automatically written to two or more disks to protect against failure of any one component disk). These are usually connected to the network rather than to a specific computer, which means they can be used by any computer on the network. For the smaller business, a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device with 2 or more disks is a good starting point for local backups and can be purchased from around £250 upwards. For the larger organisation, a Storage Area Network (SAN) provides greater capacity and processing power, but typically costs several thousand pounds.

You will also need suitable backup software that will schedule the backups to run at a time to suit and to allow selection of the files / folders to be backed up. This software typically costs several hundred pounds, although there are some adequate Open Source (i.e. free) software packages available.


Remote Backup

Companies with multiple offices have the option to backup the data from one office to another office (and vice versa). This is similar in concept to a local backup except that the data is copied over the internet to a storage device sited in the remote office. This provides greater data security than a local backup since a copy of the data exists at more than one location. Unlike cloud backup though, this mechanism requires capital investment in potentially expensive hardware and software.


Synchronisation vs. Backup

Backups should be scheduled as frequently as possible - at least once per day. Traditionally, server backups are scheduled to run overnight to minimise the impact on the network and the servers themselves, while desktop computers are best backed up at lunchtime or late afternoon (especially if company policy states that desktop PCs should be turned off at the end of the working day).

But what about laptops used by remote workers, such as field salespeople or engineers? If those laptops are not connected to the internet at the scheduled time(s) each day, they may miss the scheduled backup slot. This is especially worrying as these laptops are more likely to contain working documents that don't exist on any server in the office.

One solution is to use synchronisation software that runs automatically whenever the laptop is connected to the internet and synchronises any changes to a server in the office; those files are then backed up according to the server's backup schedule. Alternatively, files may be synchronised to a cloud-based server for greater security, eliminating any backup worries.

The advantage of this solution is that the synchronised documents can be accessed by authorised users from other computers - office-based or remote - making this mechanism ideal for sharing documents with remote workers.

Dropbox is probably the best-known synchronisation software, although business users may have similar concerns with Dropbox as with some cloud backup solutions (e.g. where is my data stored? How secure are their datacentres?). For that reason, it is preferable to choose a solution that synchronises with a "private" cloud in a UK-based datacentre; rcsb Ltd can provide secure synchronisation for laptops for just a few pounds per month.



At the end of the day, any form of backup is better than none at all when it comes to protecting your business data and it is very likely that the best solution for your business is a combination of the above.

We hope this guide has been useful in helping you to understand the options available. At rcsb Ltd, we provide unbiased advice on all forms of backup and can help you to implement any of the options outlined above. Contact us to discuss your individual requirements.

Image credit: FutUndBeidl, Flickr Creative Commons