Data Centers

Pros and cons of remote data backup service

Remote data backup service has been around for several years. This IT Manager has never had a need to consider it seriously until recently. We are updating our disaster recovery plan and looking into remote data storage options. When we sat down and ran the numbers, we were amazed at how expensive it is compared to the value returned.

Are you frustrated with your backups and tired of hassling with tapes?

That's the title of the e-mail I received from a new breed of companies that are jumping onto the bandwagon offering remote data backup and disaster recovery services. The sales guy is aggressive and has called several times asking if I have reviewed their service offerings and the quote they sent me.

Frankly, I don't get it. Why would we want to pay $600 a month to tie up our T1 every night blasting Gigabytes of our data to somebody else's server? I back up the same stuff every night to disk and to tape. They promise a 3-7 day turnaround time to get our data back. Are they kidding?

They offer more expensive services that promise faster turnaround time. For $999 a month, they will provide an on-site data appliance with data recovery in only 4 to 48 hours. For just $3,299 a month they will guarantee a "bare metal" recovery using the appliance and their expertise at $225 an hour.

Maybe you could help me out. I trust my Tech Republic readers much more than I trust this naive sales guy. Am I missing something? Are there other companies that are doing this successfully? I can't imagine anyone willing to fork over that kind of money each month for next to nothing in return.

Here's why they say I should use their service:

  1. No user intervention. No tapes, no CDs, or other local storage required.
  2. The data is safely off-site without having to manually take a tape somewhere.
  3. Multiple locations for storing the off-site data - in case of single site failure.
  4. Only backs up incremental changes after the initial backup.
  5. Stores up to two weeks worth of nightly backups off-site.
  6. Encrypts and compresses on-site before sending off-site via HTTP.

Here are some disadvantages I see:

  1. They say a T1 is sufficient bandwidth, I suspect the initial dump will be slow.
  2. How will this affect remote sites and remote users who VPN in through the T1?
  3. Other than the encryption, what guarantees that our stored data will be kept private?
  4. What happens if we lose the encryption password or the encryption process fails?
  5. When I need to recover data, will it be on tape, external disk, or over the Internet?
  6. The remote backup service company could go out of business or raise costs.


  1. We have about 1TB of data on our servers, including SQL and Exchange Server.
  2. Our critical data has been tagged and the backup set is down to less than 400GB.
  3. We already have a two-step backup procedure in place - to disk and then tape.
  4. We store four weeks of tapes in a local vault and take one tape a week off-site.
  5. When I need to restore data I am able to do it from disk in minutes, not days.
  6. This small local company has no track record. They compete with Iron Mountain.

My conclusion

I would be a fool to take this kind of proposal in to management as something they should seriously consider. Our current backup plan is adequate and provides for quick and easy restoration of data. Should we lose a critical server, we have a spare on site, already configured with SQL server. It could be configured and the data transfered from backup in less than four hours. If needed it could also be configured as an Exchange server. We do not have continuous data protection but our business does not require that kind of backup. A data restore from the previous night's backup is sufficient.

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