Online Data Backup Services
Hello everyone! I talked a little bit about online data backup in my earlier post about Disaster Planning, but did you know that data backup is critical to your organization, even in the absence of a disaster? You probably did. But are you doing it?
Whether you use old school tapes and autoloaders, an external hard drive, or an online solution, the important thing is that you create backups. Of course, we’re here to advocate the online backup solution. Online backups have a number of advantages: first of all, data is stored off-site and thus far away from whatever disaster (large or small) prompts you to need it. If your office burns down, your external hard drive is going with it – but remotely stored (that is, online) data remains safe.
Online backup also tends to be cheaper, at least as an initial cost. You’ll pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee, but many solutions out there are very reasonably priced.
And as far as security goes, your data is probably safer through a (legitimate) online backup service than it is in your office. On the whole, data will be encrypted (with at least 128-bit SSL encryption, which is what banks use) and compressed before it even leaves your computer. It’s sent to a center secured against break-ins, fires, and other disasters, and often to another backup server after that (depending on which company you choose). Since data is encrypted before it ever leaves your computer, not even employees of your backup service can access your data. Security measures will of course vary by company, but all will be something like what I outlined here (if not better).
One drawback to online backup versus local backup (that is, on a hard drive or CDs) is the time it will take to (a) make an initial backup of all of your files, and (b) to complete a full system restore. Transferring all of your data at one time over the Internet will invariably take time, in many cases two or more days. To mitigate this, consider a mixed solution of both local backups as well as online backups.
So, given that you’re now ready to start backing up in the Cloud, how do you decide which of the many services out there will work best for your organization? There are a number of factors to consider, the first of which is online storage versus online backup. Services like Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive will store your data, but will not automatically conduct backups. Assuming that what you want is a true online backup system, we won’t examine these types of products. Also consider whether you want to only backup user files - documents, photos, videos, spreadsheets, etc. - or if you need to backup your servers and email exchanges as well. Backing up servers is more expensive, but is probably necessary.
Other factors that we will look at (and which are overviewed in greater detail in this manual) include: (1) cost and storage space; (2) access and sharing capabilities (covering mobile access or file sharing with non-subscribers); (3) how often the system updates or syncs files (immediately, every 12 hours, every 24 hours, etc.); (4) how a system or file restore works; (5) whether files are “versioned” (that is, whether a complete file will overwrite a previous, partial version or if all increments are stored); and (6) any introductory or overview materials that will give you a quick snapshot of the service, as well as a link to a free trial if there is one.
Mozy is a well-renowned and fairly cost-effective service. It’s supported on both Mac and Windows, but not Linux. Its offsite storage is very secure: encryption is military-grade. Mozy also has the advantage of allowing both bandwidth throttling (which sounds very violent but actually just means that you can reduce the amount of bandwidth taken up by backup, freeing up space for other activities) and scheduling backups for times when the computer is idle. Read an independent overview or review of Mozy for more details.
1. Cost and storage space: There are several pricing plans available here. You probably want MozyPro instead of MozyEnterprise; if you aren’t sure, watch this video. The exact price will depend on (a) how much data you want to back up, regardless of how many separate computers it’s spread across, and (b) whether or not you want to back up your servers. For 250 GB of MozyPro backup, one year costs $1,044.89; if you add in server backup, the cost rises to $1,220.78 for a year.
2. Access + sharing capabilities: The web interface “console” allows you to access and search through your files from anywhere. There is a free mobile app available for both iPhone and Android which allows you to securely access your stored files to view them or send them as an email attachment.
3. Frequency of backups: You can choose to backup the changes to files automatically when a computer is not in use, or to schedule backups daily/weekly/monthly. You can also customize limits on bandwidth usage or backup speeds to ensure that computers retain functionality and aren’t slowed down by the backup process.
4. System restore details: Data can be restored on the web, via the Mozy software client, or by ordering a DVD restore. You have 30 days after data is lost to restore; after that, files are deleted.
5. Versioning: Versions are stored for 30 days.
Crash Plan is another great backup solution. It’s supported on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, but – unfortunately – cannot back up SQL or Exchange Servers. Read a CrashPlan how-to and (slightly outdated) review for more details.
1. Cost and storage space: Like Mozy, Crash Plan has a number of pricing plans for personal, small business, and large enterprise use (here’s a comparison). You will most likely want Crash Plan Pro, the medium/small business option. Crash Plan Pro has two types of plans: either unlimited computers or unlimited data. On the unlimited computer plan, 250 GB of backup costs $799 for a year; on the unlimited data plan, backing up 10 computers costs $898.80 and backing up 15 computers costs $1,348.20 for the year. Figure out which plan is best for you on their pricing page.
2. Access + sharing capabilities: Crash Plan has a desktop application as well as online access to files. They also offer a mobile app for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones which allows access to files on the go and file sharing.
3. Frequency of backups: Choose continuous (every minute) or scheduled (every few hours/days/weeks), whichever is most convenient.
4. System restore details: Restore from the web or from a mobile device.
5. Versioning: The default option for Crash Plan is to have more versions of newer files, and fewer versions as files get older. However, it’s customizable down to individual files, so you can specify how many versions to keep of individual files, groups of files, or types of files. The number of versions stored is unlimited and is never deleted by the system.
Rackspace boasts mainly of its “fanatical” tech support from “Rackers” (i.e. employees). It’s actually for the most part a cloud hosting company, offering website hosting, email and app hosting, and storage space for files. They do, however, offer automated backups for Windows and Linux as well: choose between Cloud Backup and Cloud Server Image Backup (the difference being whether you can restore individual files or must restore the entire hard drive at once). By all accounts either one is pretty easy to use and if you can’t figure something out, that “fanatical” tech support really is, well, fanatical. I’ve read a few good reviews, but there are some negative - though outdated - reviews out there as well.
1. Cost and storage space: Rackspace charges about $10 per month per server for backup, plus $0.10 per GB per month for file storage. So, a year’s worth of backup for 3 servers and 250 GB of storage would cost $660. You don’t have to choose a storage size up front, though; you just pay for what you use. They do, however, also charge $0.18 per GB of outgoing bandwidth (the data that you transmit to Rackspace).
2. Access + sharing capabilities: Use the Cloud Control Panel to access files online, the MyRackspace Customer Portal desktop application to manage your files, or an iPhone or Android mobile app to view and share files on the go.
3. Frequency of backups: Can be manual or set to a schedule that’s convenient for you. Rackspace can also be set to notify you via email when backups complete successfully, or when they fail to complete.
4. System restore details: Complete a restore through either the Cloud Control Panel or the MyRackspace Customer Portal (see above).
5. Versioning: You can choose to keep a backup for 30 days, 60 days, or indefinitely.
Carbonite is a great, low-cost option and is supported on both Mac and Windows. Bonus: if your organization handles any confidential medical data, rest assured that Carbonite’s security is HIPAA-certified. Plus, according to this reviewer, Carbonite’s ease of use is great for the less tech-savvy. If you know your way around a computer, though, don’t look for the same level of control that other services offer. Also, Carbonite’s default is to ignore large files (bigger than 4 GB). This wouldn’t be a big deal - except that the giant PST files used by Outlook will therefore be ignored. You can manually add your more gigantic to the backup list.
1. Cost and storage space: Carbonite offers three home backup plans and two for businesses. Both business plans cover unlimited computers; the basic Business covers 250 GB of data and the Business Premier plan covers 500 GB, including Windows server backup. The former costs $229 per year and the latter, $599 per year. Both plans allow you to add extra data storage if you need it ($46 per extra 50 GB or $89 per extra 100 GB). They also offer a nonprofit discount!
2. Access + sharing capabilities: Carbonite has both a desktop application and an online administrative dashboard. The desktop app allows users to find and restore files (for example, if they’re accidentally deleted). The online dashboard allows you to see current backup status by individual user or as a whole, so that you know when you’re approaching your storage limit. You can also invite new users to install Carbonite and buy more storage space if needed. You can also create groups of users to make management easier. Carbonite also has mobile apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android so that you can browse, view, and share files from anywhere with a 3G connection.
3. Frequency of backups: Individual users can schedule backups for whenever is convenient - or just tell Carbonite when NOT to back up (such as during the work day). The default option, however, is for Carbonite to run continuous backups. It runs in the background, whenever the computer is connected to the Internet.
4. System restore details: Restore can be completed in a few different ways. Individual files can be restored by the user with the desktop application (within 30 days). If a full system restore is needed, you can either do it through the website on your new computer or, in the absence of Internet access, request Courier Recovery service and Carbonite will mail you your data.
5. Versioning: Carbonite keeps past versions of your files for up to three months. It keeps one for each day in the previous week, one for each of the three weeks before that, and one for each of the two months before that.
Symantec Backup Exec.cloud is the newest release in the well-respected Backup Exec line of products. It is the first to transfer data to the cloud - previously, all of Symantec’s products backed up to disks or tapes. This one still has that option, but will also transfer data to the Cloud, making it a hybrid option for maximum security (see above). It’s only available on Windows, but can back up SQL servers and Exchange. If you’re a veteran Symantec user, I’ve read that the interface is considerably different, but this reviewer is nonetheless very enthusiastic.
1. Cost and storage space: Other Symantec products come at a huge discount on TechSoup; unfortunately, the Cloud version hasn’t made it over there yet.One year of backup for 250 GB of data will cost $62.96 per 10 GB; that is, $1,574 total for the year. Buying more years of backup brings the per-10 GB cost down.
2. Access + sharing capabilities: Files can be retrieved on any computer with the Symantec software installed - they’re not available online nor, as far as I can tell, on a mobile application. There is a web-based management console for administration purposes.
3. Frequency of backups: You can set a schedule or set files to update when changes are made.
4. System restore details: With the hybridized storage, it’s possible to either quickly restore from a local backup, or to access the online backup if your local backup is compromised.
5. Versioning: Data is stored indefinitely unless it is deleted or replaced, in which case it is removed from your backup after 90 days.
EVault offers several products which - to me, at least - are not as clearly defined as some of the other services. Basically, you’ll be looking at EVault SaaS (meaning software-as-a-service; i.e. a web-based application) or EVault Endpoint Protection (meaning that each computer accessing the network needs to meet certain security standards). The differences between the two are very subtle; for an idea of which would work for you, try this quick quiz or visit this page. For the most part, it seems that the Endpoint Protection option offers more control over security for organizations that have a lot of remote staff or laptop users, while the SaaS is the option focused on ease of use.
Other services available through EVault include EVault Software (which allows you to install, maintain, and update the software yourself), EVault Managed Services (EVault will maintain your data and handle backups for you), EVault Replication (allows you to replicate your data to, say, a hard disk as well as the Cloud storage), and EVault Cloud Disaster Recovery Service (which quickly restores your data after an emergency to a virtual environment in the Cloud). For the following topics, I’ll just discuss EVault SaaS and Endpoint Protection.
Bonus: If you find yourself wondering what in the world “seeding” means, see EVault’s handy Online Backup Glossary.
1. Cost and storage space: EVault doesn’t publish its prices on its website and I haven’t heard back from their sales staff yet, but one member of our LSTech listserv said his organization paid $8,500 per year for EVault. The company does offer a discount for nonprofits.
2. Access + sharing capabilities: Individual files can be restored over the Internet; the interface has a search capability. The Endpoint Protection option includes mobile apps for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones and also allows sharing with other users.
3. Frequency of backups: Schedule backups or make it continuous.
4. System restore details: EVault allows either onsite, Cloud, or hybridized backup. Depending on which you choose, data can be restored locally or over the Internet. EVault Premium Data Transfer Services is available to speed up transfer over the Internet. In addition, the Endpoint Protection option allows you to remotely delete data if a computer is stolen, as well as track the stolen computer.
5. Versioning: If you use EVault’s Cloud (called Azure), versions are stored for 180 days; otherwise, they’re stored indefinitely.
iDrive is one of the cheaper options out there, and it’s been around for awhile. It’s also one of the least user-friendly, with an at-times inscrutable interface and no set up wizard to help you get going. iDrive is available for both Mac and PC, but the two can’t share an account. This means that files backed up from a PC can’t be downloaded or restored to a Mac, and vice versa. Still, iDrive has some nice features (such as bandwidth throttling) and is worth a look. If you’re not convinced, read this review or this one.
1. Cost and storage space: iDrive Pro, designed for small and medium businesses, is priced by how much storage space you’ll use. For example, 200 GB of data costs $199.50 for the year, and 500 GB costs $499.50 for the year. If you back up more data than you’re paying for, iDrive will charge you $0.50 per gigabyte per month.
2. Access + sharing capabilities: Not only can you access backup data (just contacts and images, it appears) on your phone or tablet with iDrive’s mobile apps (for iPhone and Android), you can also back up your phone or tablet. You can access your files from anywhere with the iDrive Web Client, which keeps the same folder structure as the backed up computer and allows you to search through, download, and share data.
3. Frequency of backups: You can set iDrive to conduct backups on a schedule, or in real time (that is, when a file is updated).
4. System restore details: You can complete a system restore using iDrive’s Web Client, as long as the computer you’re restoring to is the same type (Mac or PC) that you backed up from.
5. Versioning: iDrive will store 30 previous versions of any file, including files you delete from your computer. The space needed for the older files is not added to the storage space you pay for; that is, older versions are stored for free.
SOS Online Backup is available for both Mac and PC. It’s a little on the pricey side, but with that extra cost comes extra functionality and a very user-friendly interface (which, according to this review, neither techies nor novices will find frustrating). SOS is also supposed to be one of the fastest out there, in terms of initial backup and later, restore times.
One great feature is that SOS can be set up to backup your entire computer and/or servers (or whatever portion thereof you specify) simultaneously to both a local destination (like an external hard drive), as well as to the Cloud. You can also set bandwidth throttling levels. You can even backup and protect your Facebook account. SOS can notify you via email when backups finish, so you don’t have to wonder. Finally, in addition to SOS’s military-grade security, it (like Carbonite) is HIPAA-certified.
For more, read this excellent PC Mag review.
1. Cost and storage space: Find out exactly how much SOS will cost you on this page. As an example, backing up three servers and 350 GB of data would cost $599.99 for one year of storage and $1,590 for the server backup, for a per-year total of $2,190.
2. Access + sharing capabilities: SOS has both a desktop app and a mobile “dashboard,” which allows searching, viewing, and sharing files. Like iDrive, SOS can also back up an unlimited number of mobile devices (as long as the backup is within your storage limits), has both iPhone and Android mobile apps that enable access to, viewing, and sharing of files.
3. Frequency of backups: You can set SOS to run incremental backups hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly so that bandwidth isn’t taken up by constant updates.
4. System restore details: Restores can be completed through both the website and the desktop application. Through a simple calendar interface, you can choose the date to which you’d like to restore your data (i.e., which version to restore). SOS allows for a Bare Metal restore (meaning that you don’t need to install the operating system or applications needed to run your files) for servers and, unlike iDrive, data can be restored to dissimilar hardware (i.e. PC data restored to a Mac).
5. Versioning: This is one of SOS’s standout features: it keeps unlimited versions of your files, even if you delete them from your computer.
In the interests of time, space, and everyone’s sanity I’ll curtail my list here. There are exactly one bazillion online backup services available out there and we could all be here for days if I went through all of them. Above, I discussed some of the services I had heard the most about or that had the best reputations, as far as I knew. Among the other services that I stumbled across in my research are Amazon Web Services, BeInSync, iBackup, myPCBackup.com, justcloud.com, Backup Genie, ZipCloud, SugarSync, Jungle Disk, Livedrive, ElephantDrive, Egnyte, Backblaze, Acronis, StudyBackup, Zoolz, SpiderOak, ADrive, OpenDrive, MediaFire, FilesAnywhere, FlipDrive, Syncplicity, Symform, Bitcasa, Storegate, 4sync, CloudZow, and Box.
You see what I mean? One bazillion. Some of these one bazillion services will be worth your time and money, while others may not be. Hopefully what I’ve gone through above will give you some grounds for comparison of any other services you look into.
So, check out some of the others if you didn’t like anything I said above. Or, comment. Does your organization use any of the services I talked about? What has your experience been like? Did I get something wrong? Would you like to see other factors of the listed services compared, or analysis of another service altogether? Please tell us about it!
Happy backing up, everyone, and happy holidays!