(This article is the third in a three-part series exploring how to evaluate and select a cloud backup and recover service. Previous articles explored how to evaluate your data needs and how different data types are treated by backup services. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)
Backups, whether they’re local or to the cloud (or “hybrid,” doing both at the same time), can be done in a variety of ways. Just like if you’re planning to buy a car that can accelerate quickly–like driving on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway, whose entrance ramps are often very abbreviated)–you need to know whether a cloud service’s operation matches your needs. Some services do schedule backups, e.g. daily at 2 a.m. This means if your hard drive crashes at 4 p.m., you’ve lost everything you’ve been working on all day.
Other services apply a more frequent schedule, perhaps every six or three hours–again, possibly not good enough for your needs. Other services do backups continuously, meaning they check your files for changes. Even here, there are various ways this may be done. Some services do backups only when you exit an application, e.g., close down Microsoft Word. Some backup services back up a file when you save and close the file, which still may not be good enough if it’s a spreadsheet or other file you typically keep open all day long. (Or you have to change the way you work.) Other backup services save changes to a file every few minutes, or however frequently you specify, or even every time the application does “writes” to the computer’s disk.
Incremental and versioning
Obviously, continuous or very frequent backups offer the most protection for your data.
But you also need to know two important aspects of what the cloud backup is doing.
One, does the backup have to upload the entire file each time? For big files, like an Outlook .PST file, this can take a long time, and consume a lot of bandwidth. Or does the backup do an “incremental” backup — upload only the changes, applying them to the cloud backup?
And you also need to know, and be able to set, backup “versioning.” What if you want to get back a file the way it was the day before, for example? Does the service offer “versioning”? If so, how many “versions” will it maintain?
Other important things to determine about a cloud backup provider (by reading their website, and, if need be, asking a sales person) include:
- If you delete a file from your hard drive, does the backup service delete its copy? Or does it preserve these files, and if so, for how long?
- Recovering files: can you do it through any web browser on any computer (assuming you haven’t lost your password)? How long does it take to recover a few files, or a few directories?
- Recovering large amounts of data: How long to recover a gigabyte, or many gigabytes — how long does it take the cloud service to get the recovered data available, and how long will the download take? And for very large recoveries — many gigabytes or tens-to-hundreds of gigabytes — can you request them sent to you on a DVD or hard drive? And if so, how much extra does this cost, and how quickly can it be done?
- How much does the cloud backup service cost, and how are charges determined? Are charges based on the amount of data “being protected” — what’s on your hard drive(s) — or the size of the stored backup? Can you backup several computers to a single account, and if so, are there per-computer charges? Are you charged for retrievals? Customer service calls?
- What operating system(s) and version(s) does the cloud backup service support? For example, if you’ve got a Mac, and they only support Windows, that doesn’t do you any good.
- How long does it take for the first backup — which, if you have a lot of data, can take a long time? Can you “prime the pump” by sending in a copy of your data on DVD or hard drive (make sure secured with encryption and a password!)? And if so, what does that cost?
Once you know what a cloud backup service is doing, you can see if it’s a match for all, or some, of your data backup needs. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know when you look at cloud services which ones may be a match, and which ones clearly aren’t.
Then you look at which of these is the best match based on the way you work and your back up needs.