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.