Disaster Recovery

Five tips for backing up your data to the cloud

Cloud backups may seem like an ideal offsite storage solution. But as Brien Posey discovered, you need to do your homework before selecting a cloud backup service.

In many ways, the cloud has solved the problem of storing data backups offsite. In spite of all the marketing hype the cloud has been receiving lately, though, it is not necessarily the ideal solution when it comes to backing up your network. Here are a few factors you may want to consider before you adopt a cloud backup solution.

1: Determine how fast your Internet connection really is

In this day and age of high-speed Internet connections, it's tempting to sign up for a cloud backup service without giving much thought to the speed of your organization's connectivity. However, it's a good idea to check with your ISP to find out how fast your connection really is.

I say this because it's common practice for ISPs to provide much higher speed for downloads than for uploads. With my own service, for example, I receive seven megabits per second downloads, but I can upload data at only a maximum of 512 kilobits per second.

Even if your Internet connectivity speed is adequate, it's a good idea to perform some speed checks to find out how well the connection is really performing. Remember that the speed quoted by your ISP is the maximum throughput you can achieve under ideal circumstances. The actual speed of your connection may vary considerably, especially if the connection is shared with others in the area.

2: Find out whether the provider throttles uploads

Before you commit to a cloud data backup solution, find out whether the cloud service provider throttles your uploads. Back around Thanksgiving, I signed up for a cloud data backup plan. I knew it was going to take forever to upload my data, given the speed of my Internet connection, but I was willing to take a chance in the interest of having a copy of my data stored offsite.

When my uploads ended up being a lot slower than I expected them to be, I read the fine print. Apparently, this particular cloud service provider allows you to upload the first 20 GB unthrottled but severely limits your upload speed after that.

3: Make sure the provider doesn't block the types of files you need to back up

Another thing I ran into with that particular cloud service provider was that even though it claims to allow you to back up an unlimited amount of data, it prevents you from uploading certain types of files. Among these file types are system files, ZIP files, and video files. This proved to be a real problem for me because I create Web content for a living, and much of that content is video.

After digging through the provider's help files, I discovered that you can configure the service to back up video files. But you have to manually specify which video files need to be backed up, one folder at a time. Although I tried to do this, it ended up being so tedious that I switched service providers. My advice is to find out whether the provider you are considering restricts backing up certain types of files before you sign up for the service.

4: Take advantage of free trials

Take  advantage of the free trials offered by the various backup service providers. Almost all cloud-based backup service providers will allow you to try out their service free for a couple of weeks. I highly recommend taking advantage of this offer before you pay for the service. Using the free trial can help you find out whether the service provider throttles your connection, restricts the types of files you can back up, or does other things that may prevent you from backing up your data. For example, many cloud-based backup service providers won't allow you to back up network drives.

5: Don't use a cloud backup provider as a replacement for traditional backups

Finally, one of the best bits of advice I can give you is that you should not expect to replace your existing backup infrastructure with a cloud-based backup solution. Right now, most of the cloud backup providers simply can't provide anything other than file-level backups. Therefore, using such a service to create a system image for bare metal restoration is out of the question. Likewise, most cloud backup providers don't support application backups for things like Exchange Server or SQL Server.

Even if a file-level backup is all you need, a cloud-based backup still might not be a sufficient replacement for the backups you're creating right now. After all, if you ever have to perform a mass restoration, all the data will have to be downloaded from the Internet. Depending upon how much data you have and how fast your Internet connection is, such a restoration could take days or even weeks to complete. My advice is to treat cloud-based backups as supplementary backups that are stored offsite, but continue to depend on your existing backup infrastructure as your primary means of backing up your data.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

20 comments
muralim
muralim

It would be wonderful if there is an article on the data security when back up of data is on a cloud...

jahman8991
jahman8991

I work for RackTop Systems and our RackTop EBR (Enterprise Backup and Disaster Recovery) solution provides a cloud backup option that does all of the things this article mentions. It works in a local only version of online disk backup in a addition to the cloud backup option. Our product will allow you to do Bare Metal Restores (BMR) from the cloud, AES-256 encryption, bandwidth throttling & scheduling, and it can backup exchange and sql databases. Also, you can create local copies of all of your backups to create a local backup which is more reliable than traditional tape solutions. I invite you to check out our product. I think its a great value and it addresses a lot of the concerns the author lists in this article. He brings up a lot of important points and factors to consider when selecting a backup solution. For a commercial user some other points you should consider are data retention rules. Being able to backup multiple versions of a file, de-duplication of the same file, and being able to granularly set which files are backed up how frequently. It's not just about data backup it is about data recovery. Getting the file or system you need back when you need it.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

The best cloud backup software also allows you to offload your backup to a local hard drive for fast recovery.

guy
guy

You might be a little behind the times Brien, or maybe you're just referring to free online backup solutions? We provide online backup solutions (www.cloudpockets.com), we do not throttle and we have agents for Exchange, SQL, Lotus, etc. Yes, there's a monthly fee involved but as the old adage goes; "you get what you pay for". Your other points are on track though and I definitely recommend trying before you buy. We offer a 15 day trial that is fully functional with 5Gb of storage. /Guy CloudPockets.com Off-site backup to the Cloud

learkl
learkl

Good article. Thanks for sharing. I always like to make sure that my SLA's are in place and that I "test" all backup procedures. Not just once but on a periodic basis. Testing the process and making sure it is all that you expect from the SLA is very important.

Michael.Abdullah
Michael.Abdullah

Just wondering if you are talking about the free trials like Mozy offers or a real full blown cloud backup like the Barracuda Backup Service. (BBS) We have switched our main backup to BBS because of the mindlessly easy interface and robust options it offers compared to traditional tape backup. Some of which are: 1) Deduplication (speed) 2) Full Exchange and SQL support 3) Agent and Agentless options 4) Centralized backup administration 5) Local appliance to restore from. (If network is down) 6) Two offsite encrypted data vaults. 7) Affordability We still run tape backups at the end of the week, month and year but these are our second option for restoration which we have not had to use ever since we switched about 10 months ago. Instead of having to be a tape monkey and insert, catalog and restore data, I can quickly find any file version from any date easily from the web interface. It is truely mindless. I have restored emails with ease (but I can also do this with our Barracuda Message Archiver which is equally a great product in its own ways)and I have restored SQL databases seemlessly as well. I know this sounds like a commercial for BBS, but believe me, once you give this backup a try, you will truely love it. Tape restore is a thing of the past. I am not affiliated with Barracuda Networks in any way. Just a very happy customer.

tflynnhk
tflynnhk

If I wanted to hack someone these days, I???d set-up a fly-by-night off-site storage company. Wait for people to upload their confidential information and then run away with it! Once you have their browser settings you have access to all their username and passwords. Not to mention passport and identity card scans, financial/bank statements, etc... From a company you would get financial records, payroll information, contracts... Who needs all the trouble of setting up a botnet? Even if the service is legitimate, who???s to say the company will be there in 6 or 18 months time if you need to recover your data? My idea of Cloud off-site backup storage would be... Configure a Linux server and storage at an IaaS provider like Amazon; make sure all backup storage is mounted encrypted; open VPN connection to backup server; and use rsnapshot/rsync as backup software (full backup, but only transfers delta). You have full control over the backup server, storage and the data. No one can troll your data. If the IaaS provider goes bust, set-up same config at another. My current backups total 143GB. I estimate it would cost me less than $40/month including all server, storage and data transfer charges. BUT, I would still keep my local backup server. Cloud storage is protection against a real disaster!

dkrasner
dkrasner

great Article Brien! when it comes to backup traditional and any other means, reduntant redundancy is my answer, as many backups as I can get before people walk in the office for the work day.

dshipp
dshipp

I am using GO daddy's on line file folder. They provide a Sync program that keeps files on my main computer, my office computer and my laptop not to mention the files are also on their server. Only issue, I ran into was to have two way sync on all my computers. I found for my purposes I had to set my main computer to delete files not found on that computer. Other wise there is no way to delete a file or folder. It would keep reappearing. Now, I have to make a mental note to delete only from the main computer. This does not affect changes made from any computer. All files and folders are synced. Can be set to save more than one version as well but you pay for additional space. As an addon to other godaddy services the Online file folder is only about twelve dollars a year. I originally had a smaller web space and have been using this for at least ten years. Very effective for my purposes.

bikingbill
bikingbill

On a similar note, I advised my student son to copy his essays etc. to an online office apps service (I won't name it). This gives him both backup in case anything happens to his computer, and easy access from multiple locations including his 'phone while he's travelling. He still keeps a local copy on his computer as well. Needless to say, he didn't follow this advice until after he'd accidentally deleted the wrong file and missed a deadline!

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

We're in the process of switching backup strategies. Currently we use tape autoloaders and we looked into using cloud backup. The cost for a professional service would have been horrendous, circa ??4000 per month to back up 5TB (deduplicated), and that's not including the cost of the hardware required at this end and an upgraded internet connection. Then as Brien mentioned, there's the fact that restoring a full server would have been nigh-on impossible. Also the initial backup would have to be done on site and then shipped to the cloud datacentre. We have ended up going for a backup to disk solution using Backup Exec 2010 which is far more cost effective and has many more benefits. Cloud would just not be suitable for us. I can see it would be useful for very small volumes of data for home users and small businesses but for anything over a few GB it just does not make sense.

ora726
ora726

Hi Brien, Using the free services does not tell you much, because most of them are max 2 GB in size and once you have installed one of this services, the problem is to get rid of them entirely. On a mac it should be easy as deleting the app, but believe me it's not. I Bet the app you tested that did not backup video files was Carbonite, I had exactly the same problem and spent my time trying to remember which folder contained a video file and always ended up forgetting one. I also had to deal with several re-installs and finally abandoned Carbonite after 2 years of use because at the time they still had no Mac client. This said Carbonite had some good points, like for example their integration with Explorer. I moved to Mozy which after a week of trouble with the installation worked flawlessly for 2 years, The uploads are a little slower than Carbonite (Or maybe I have more data) and the program was less invading than Carbonite, The only time I notice it is when it occasionally spin my disk to do some indexing. I am now Evaluating Crash Plan because the unlimited data plan of Mozy is history and although I am only using the 30 days trial (Unlimited data) is being even less invading than Mozy and offer this fantastic local backup and remote backup (Onto a friend machine for example) for free. At least on the mac it's just simply like if the app is not there. I am sold on Cloud backup but the possibility of making 2 or 3 backups on different destinations and with a minimum of Fuzz is just fantastic. Would love to hear about other services you have tested, please be more specific and share some names and pro and cons. Regards Raymond

WacoJohn
WacoJohn

I can see the ONE advantage in cloud backups .. you can get at them with just about any 'net connection .. I suppose .. never tried one. On the otherhand, can't beat a drive image backup to CD, DVD, or external USB drive. Get your system 'just how you want it', and do an image copy .. and put the copy somewhere convenient. I use DriveImage and create a copy of C: and put it on a DVD-RW. I can go 'back' as many volumes as I wish to create and save. Cost .. a few cents. I can restore an entire image or a single file. No upload restrictions, costs, or other 'bottlenecks'. Cloud just doesn't make any sense .. not even as a 'secondary' backup .. not with the other approaches that are available.

nils.hagner
nils.hagner

I definitely agree. You almost need a higher degree of trust in your cloud backup provider than your "normal" cloud server provider. Not only would bite my nails a bit on whether my sensitive and mission-critical data ends up where it shouldn't, but also that the provider plays ball (and is still around to play ball) the day a quick do-or-die recovery situation comes up.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Which is what I did for a (very good) friend of mine. He has a freelance photography business -- LOTS of large image files as you can imagine. After I converted his business to Linux (with the one Win7 machine for running Adobe products), I implemented a Linux-based fileserver (from 'outdated' hardware) serving up 2 TB of SATA drives (in RAID-1 configuration) on his gigabit LAN... Backups necessitated another machine, basically a clone of the fileserver (on even slower hardware) located off-site to avoid the obvious issues of theft, fire, etc. Where to locate it though? I have spare bandwidth (much higher than his upload speeds), and I also don't use my network at night -- so it's in my basement, miles away. Rsync over an encrypted connection keeps the backup sync'd to the fileserver. It connects each night to a stealthed (forwarded) port using FWKNOP for single-packet authentication to get in. He's not concerned about encryption, but something like Duplicity could take care of that for anyone who does. If/when he has a disk failure on his fileserver, he gets an email about it, and I only need show up with a replacement drive for the RAID-1 array (which can restore in-situ while he continues to use his system). If the entire machine takes a lightning strike or gets stolen, etc., I need only replace the box, split the backup array, add more blank drives, and he's back up once again. A pair of cheap, old machines, a small fee to increase his upload speeds, a few dollars a month of electricity for me, total control of the system, high security, at next-to-no cost. Bonus: Almost immediate restoration in case of disaster -- no waiting for 1.2 TB of data to download if the system needs to be restored. (I can have him 100% in less than 1 hour. Beat that, cloud providers!)

jahman8991
jahman8991

For a small business with a low volume of files you may be able to do what you are talking about and still get the expected RTO and RPO you want. However, in more complex situations managing the duplicates of files and finding the one you want could be pretty difficult and unpredicatable.

dkrasner
dkrasner

Cloud Backups can be a secondary or primary role of BDR for a company. the fact is you really have to do your homework. do you want backup or a complete solution such as BDR? it is a question you must ask based on the criteria of the situation. BDR can be turned around to operate your infrastructure from the cloud in the event of a disaster, by changing a DNS entry. more can be found at our website, www.expetecnola.com. Dave

kylehutson
kylehutson

There's one other big plus to cloud-based backup. It's "set it and forget it". I've had great schemes for backups in the past, and had a couple of scares when I realized it had been over 3 months since I had manually gone in to make a backup. That can be a big "oops" if you're not diligent enough to make backups on a regular basis. I haven't thought about backups for weeks, but I just checked and my backups are all current as of a few hours ago. Score one for cloud. As I (as a small business consultant) see it, cloud backups make sense when: - There is a relatively small amount of data to be backed up (50GB as a rule of thumb). - Permissions are simplistic. For many individual and small businesses, everybody has access to everything, so restoring isn't a nightmare. - You don't have someone who's good at repetitive tasks. - You don't have constantly in-use data (e.g. Exchange or SQL server) where files are never available for backup. I may be missing some here (this list was off the top of my head), and I'll agree it's not for everyone, but I can tell you it's saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

sipr
sipr

this can only beat any other solutin if you are very good friends, on "you-can-use-me-anytime" base. what about those, who, amongst their good friends do not have at least one neversleeping-nevertravelling-neverweekending-neverhollidaying lowbudgetbackupandrestore expert ?????

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

It's sort of both -- he does me good turns, too. This was NOT meant as a business solution, but it certainly could work for a small business -- especially someone who has their business located somewhere other than their house. It is, I think, a good way for someone at home to implement "cloud backup" without the drawbacks of monthly cost, loss of control, exposure of your data, and FAST restores in case of disaster (which, we remind ourselves, is the entire reason for this whole exercise). What I hadn't mentioned, above, is that being Linux-based, my friend can easily surf into his backup box any time *he* wants to do maintenance, check on the system's health, update the OS, or restore a file or directory. Everything goes through one port: SSH -- and that allows such things as VNC (Remote Desktop), remote server filesystem mounts, Terminal CLI access, etc. Also, use of an app such as Duplicity encrypts the data being sent over, and stores it encrypted on the remote backup server machine -- to keep prying eyes out of your files. If you trust your friend, you can just rsync your files (as in our case). Since 1) the system rarely needs attending to (it's Linux), and 2) he can do most things himself "over the wire", I'm still just as free to travel, 'weekend', 'holiday', etc. -- which I do. (And even when I do, if he needs me to look at something with it, I can still (securely) remotely log in myself. So, it's still far cheaper than something like Carbonite, more flexible (he can add drives when/as needed), more accessible, and allows faster restores. I would think that anyone who spends a little bit of time learning how to set up SSH, Remote Desktop, RAID, and (I suggest) LVM can put a couple of these together and then have pairs of friends provide the basement space to mutually provide remote backups for each other as we do. Just an option.... :^)