Local vs Cloud backup

Many of our clients ask about cloud backup solutions. Cloud is a marketing buzzword, so it’s important to understand why a cloud backup solution may or may not be right choice for your home or business. The primary benefit of a cloud-based solution is that your data is backed up off-site. It’s always important to keep data backed up off-site in case of fire, theft, or other mishaps. A secondary benefit of cloud storage is that it’s elastic. The cloud service will accommodate your additional storage needs over time. (Most of the backup companies have a tiered pricing structure. You’ll need to pay for the privilege of unlimited storage, if available.) A third benefit of cloud storage is that your data is accessible anywhere there’s an internet connection available.

Of course there are drawbacks to cloud backup solutions which are not touted by the cloud companies. Here are some things to think about:

  • Uploading your data to the cloud can be incredibly slow. It can take days to upload your data, even with a reasonably fast internet connection. The large cloud backup companies offer a seeding solution to address this problem. They will mail you hard drives for the initial backup of your data. Once your data is backed up locally, this seed drive is mailed back to the cloud provider. (After the initial backup, only changes in your data, the deltas, are uploaded. Deltas will take considerably less time.)
  • The same situation applies if you need to retrieve your backed up data. Internet downloads are often faster than uploads. Even so, if you’re a business that needs your data now, cloud backups may not be the best solution. Some cloud providers offer the reverse of a seed drive, which would be FedEx’d to you when you need your data back quickly.
  • All of these services have varying fees. The basic services are subscription-based and generally reasonably priced. Additional services, like seed drives, can really add up. I saw one company that charges you when downloading your data over the internet, so read the fine print!
  • Most of the cloud backup providers go to great lengths to protect your data, including encrypting it. However, backup companies don’t always spell out their internal procedures to ensure that your data is safe. For example, does the company back up your backup? Could a rogue employee steal or erase your data? Some of these questions are unlikely to be answered in sufficient detail by the backup companies. The takeaway is that it shouldn’t be assumed that your data is safe, just because it’s in the cloud.
  • Backup companies can change their pricing and terms of service at any time. They bank on the fact that most customers won’t want to deal with the hassle of switching cloud providers if the pricing goes up.

While cloud backups have their place in a robust backup plan, they are not a panacea. I recommend having both on and off-site backups. Cloud backups might be a viable component of a complete solution for your home or office.

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