(This article is the first in a three-part series exploring how to evaluate and select a cloud backup and recovery service. Future articles will explore how different data types are treated by backup services and different backup methods. Read Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.)
For anybody whose computer activities include creating “data,” frequent, reliable backups are as important as, perhaps even more than an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) or an anti-virus security suite.
This applies to everyone from those using their laptop purely for personal activities to Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) folks like me large enterprise organizations.
And like any purchase, whether you’re looking to buy a new car, big-screen television, smartphone service plan, a hamburger — or an account with a cloud-based backup service — it’s important to do some research and think before you choose.
With a car, for example, you need to know what you want it for — commuting 50 miles each way every day to work? Being a “tornado chaser” in bad weather on bad roads? Transporting half a dozen teen soccer players? A two-seater electric vehicle is good for the first, but not the other two. You get the idea.
For backing up your computer data to a cloud service, the same holds true. Different backup services work differently. In order to select one that one, you need to both know what your backup requirements are, and how backup services work.
Backups, of course, mean, “a separate copy of data on your computer, in case something happens to your computer.”
“Data” can include not only Microsoft Office-type documents (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, email) which business and personal life increasingly rely on, but also address books and contact information, photos and videos you’ve taken with your digital camera, scans you’ve made of important documents. And it can include copies of data from your smartphone(s), tablet(s) and other mobile devices. Plus music, videos, ebooks and other multimedia you may have purchased and downloaded.
“On your computer” may include not only data on its hard drives (including solid-state drives) but possibly also on external hard drives, and removable media. And data uploaded from your smartphone, etc.
Having a backup means that if you accidentally delete a file, or if your computer is damaged, lost or stolen, you still have to replace the hardware, but at least you can recreate your files, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, contact information, photos, scanned documents… all the information that your personal and/or business life relies on.
“Local” backups, typically done to an external hard drive or even to a USB flash drive, are affordable and increasingly easy to do. But they can require daily attention — remembering where they are, to plug them in, turn on the application. And because they’re local, which typically means right next to each other in the same room, the odds are good that the same incident — electrical surge, theft, fire, flood, tornado, meteor strike — may also wipe away your backup, leaving you with no copies of your data.
Plus, “local” backups can be harder to do if you’ve got a notebook and are travelling away from your home or office.
To the cloud
Online backup, saving copies of your files to a service in the cloud, avoids the problems of local backups. Backing up to the cloud does, of course, require your computer to be connected to the Internet, but the odds of this are high. (For example, otherwise you couldn’t read this article.)
Cloud backup services — like local backup products — come in a range of approaches, with a corresponding range of prices, features and options. Selecting one isn’t “which one is best?” (Although some will be better than others.) Of course you want one that’s good. But it’s also a matter of determining which one best matches what you need in a backup.
So you shouldn’t pick a cloud backup service without first identifying what you want to back up, and how different cloud services do backups — so you can pick a cloud backup service that matches your goals.