You can spend hours sifting through every online backup company on the net. They say the same thing; we are easiest, most reliable company that has everything you’re looking for. Find out what consider before making your choice.
If you’re smart and take their claims with a grain of salt, you’ll realize you have a lot of homework to do. Where do you start? What do you want in an online backup company? I hope this list can save you time before you trust your data to anyone.
- Reliable Software. If you’re in the market for software—any software—then it needs to be reliable. While no software is perfect, I don’t want to find complaints about unreliable software. This is software you will entrust with all of your irreplaceable computer data. Are you able to find complaints where people say they lost their data? How about praises for its reliability? All features aside, the software needs to do what it says it will do ~ nothing less, and nothing
- Storage Plans That Meet Your Needs. Your storage plan needs to fit you. Figure out what you need. Sure, math may be involved, but if you don’t find out what you need, it’ll be tough to judge what plan might work best for you. Nothing is worse than finding out you’re overpaying for something. Perhaps you need not back up everything. Maybe your budget allows you to back up your precious photos or videos and not much else. You might have a large music collection. Whatever your needs are, make sure your plan works for you.
- Stellar Reporting Tools. There is a fine line online backup solutions must draw. On one side of the fence, their software needs to be easy to use and understand. The other side needs to be feature rich with abilities that show you metrics like available storage, where your files are, and end dates (if they exist), among others. Companies often sacrifice one for the other. The best middle ground I’ve found is if they have two user interfaces. For example, one interface can be simple where most options are set to default because they don’t matter to the user. The other interface can be more advanced, allowing you to change and adjust every available option. In either case, you need excellent reports and reporting tools to keep you informed about the whereabouts of your data.
- An Approachable Backup Application. This means two things. One, the software needs to be easy to use. If the software is too convoluted or packed with ads, I will choose another provider. While packing all the features on one page is a tall order, I don’t want to be bombarded with all sorts of options at once. That makes it difficult to find what I’m looking for. The other choice encompasses their software, their website, and the company itself. Are the owners transparent? Is the company open and inviting? I want to approach the company feeling like I matter to them and my needs are important. There are several solutions to choose. Price doesn’t drive the bottom line; customer experience does.
- Simple Recovery. This ought to be the goal of every online backup solution. File sharing is one thing; file recovery is another. When my data gets compromised, I’m already in panic mode. When I reach that point, I couldn’t care less about my computer; I can replace it. I care about my data, but anger, fear, and panic replace rational thought. It needs to be easy. The easier and faster the software works, the more likely I’ll continue to be a customer. If I’m confident that the software is reliable, I won’t panic.
- Secure File Transfer. Secure file transfer is often on the top of the list for most businesses. Find out what level of protection providers offer. Educate yourself on the different encryption standards, comparing them to your needs. You may find you don’t need iron-clad military grade protection. Most offer serious protection like AES-256 bit encryption. Data privacy is paramount to every company. Data must be kept safe in transit. Keep your eyes peeled for a company that offers a secure connection to their server and encrypts your data before leaving your computer.
- 24/7 Support. With technology entering a global marketplace, online backup solutions who don’t offer 24/7 support are left behind. Why would I choose a company who must support me in the middle of the night because they are located halfway across the planet? This issue becomes critical when you need immediate access to your files. If you’re a business client, your files might be so critical you stand to lose business if you’re not up and running around the clock.
- Free Trials. If you’re serious about shopping around for the best solution that works for you, then free trials will become important. There are two free trial models companies use. One works on time, offering you an account that expires after a short time. Model two offers storage space adequate for one or two small files. Shy away from companies that want up-front payment for service without allowing you to dip your toe in the water and try them out. How can you find out if they are the right fit for you if you can’t experience them for yourself?
- Version Tracking. Version tracking is a feature not everyone includes in their lineup. When a file you’re working on gets backed up, you get one version of the file that has a date attached to it. Later on, after you’ve made changes and edits to the file, you save the file again, this time with a different date. With each date, you have different versions of the same file. When a company offers version tracking, they are offering to keep an archived copy of each version of your file, just in case you need to go back. Some offer this for a set period while others offer to keep archived versions forever.
- E-Mail Alerts. As one of those reporting tools, email alerts keep you informed about the where, when, and how of your data. This setting is often set to email you when you back up your data although some companies offer custom settings. If you’re like me, you might have signed up to receive email ads from a company. When the company emails me daily, I’m not sitting at the edge of my seat to read the email. Daily alerts are fine if you’re a business client. When your inbox fills up with the same email every day, you’ll lose your reading interest and you’ll press delete without even opening it. This poses a danger if the company sends you critical information about your backup and you delete it without reading it.
- Mobile Support. Today’s workforce and home consumer are being driven by their mobile devices. Companies who ignore this market are losing out on significant business by dealing this way. Windows® phones didn’t gain popularity like Android and iPhone did, so it comes as no surprise when companies don’t support them. I want to manage my backup wherever I am. The whole portable movement unchains people from a desktop or laptop computer. Lack of mobile support is often a deal-breaker for people.
- Law Compliance (Hippa, Sox, Sec). Special laws govern information storage and information in transit. Compliance with these laws ensures the highest security and integrity to your data. Many businesses in certain industries, such as government or healthcare, are governed by strict regulations that include these laws. You may not find yourself in a situation where you need to follow these laws, but if you do, keep an eye out for providers who keep to these laws. HIPPA is a healthcare privacy law, SEC stands for Security Exchange Commission, and SOX is an acronym for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Each one has rules and regulations on information privacy.
- File Limits. Most online storage solutions have limits on the files you store on their servers. These limits include file size, file types, and the number of files. Apple iCloud, for example, has a limit of 30,000 files per user account or Apple ID. Other providers limit file size and even charge an extra fee for video files. I have an 11GB movie on my computer in one video file! My movie needs to be backed up. My choice eliminates those willing to charge an extra fee or refusing to back up a video file of that size because I won’t choose them. Examine your file backup needs and find out if your provider can fulfill your needs.
- Data Restore Options. This is often overlooked with people assuming you restore lost files over the internet. Slow download speeds or internet availability might be issues for you. What about those people who share internet connections regularly, like college students and travelling professionals? Other restore options I’ve seen providers offer include:
- Mailing you a USB hard drive with your data,
- The ability to offer a local backup,
- Restoring from their software, and
- Restoring via a web browser.
- Restore Speed. Speed can make or break your provider decision. You might find a provider who satisfies all of your needs, but if they take a long time to restore your files, you might search for providers elsewhere. Small files might not take long. But if you’re restoring your entire computer or network, you could be looking at a difference between 6 to 24 hours for a full restoration. Find a provider who can offer competitive download speeds.
This list isn’t in any order; assess your own needs and find out what’s important for you. Some of these may not apply while others are important. Use this list as a jumping off point. Educate yourself, make your own list, and narrow down your options. Take your time. Your data is worth it.
Best Backup Practices To Keep Your Data Safe
Way back when I was a wee little tot…okay not that far back. About 20 years ago I had an excellent explanation of what a driver was when it came to computer hardware. I still use the same explanation to explain it to others. Hardware without a driver is like a car without a driver; it just sits there. This was back in the day before you could plug a device in a computer and have it automatically recognize it. It took an hour just getting to where the computer would recognize it. You had to turn it off, unplug all the cords in the back (often with screwdrivers), take the case off (also with screwdrivers), and spend the next 40 minutes messing with tiny screws and flat cords that impeded my big hands from getting anything done. Once physically installed, with the case back on and the cords plugged in, you had to boot from an installation disk—one of those 3.5 inch floppies. This was just to get the computer to see the hard drive, let alone start using it.
Those days are long gone. Fast forward to today. When you plug a hard drive into a computer, the computer sees in within 15 seconds and you can save stuff on it within 20. Things have come a long way.
Walking down memory lane is fun, but not relevant to backing up today’s data. To get to the meat of the question, we must know what the data contains. The methods businesses use to back up large amounts of data often differs from backing up the occasional photo or text document.
I started small and worked my way from there. This list takes the most common—and perhaps not so common—backup methods of today and tells you how to use them.
- Micro Cards. This category includes all the little cards and chips we use in our phones and cameras. Most modern computers come equipped with card readers ~ the necessary hardware to read them directly. These cards increase the storage capacity of our phones and tablets. I’m including cameras here because some people still use digital cameras instead of phones.
- USB Drives. USB drives have a few common names such as Flash Drive, Flash Stick, Thumb Drive, etc. They come sized from 1GB to 512GB. These are ideal for individual files such as academic papers and file transfers from one computer to the next.
- CDs & DVDs. These two methods are still in use today, but have become obsolete to make room for USB drives. They are fragile, susceptible to scratches, and slow. A burner and a blank CD or DVD is required.
- Hard Drives. Portable hard drives are ideal for adding extra storage space when your laptop runs out of internal storage space. Laptops are difficult to take apart to replace the internal drive; it makes sense for people to have external hard drives. This allows people to save more data than the internal one would. Internal hard drives are excellent for data transfers from another USB drive, phone, or camera to the drive itself.
- Dedicated Storage. This backup solution is used for larger backups, ranging from a single computer to an entire network. Common types used in the past include tape backups and RAID servers.
- Cloud Storage. Cloud storage and its offerings deserve an entire white paper. For data backup, cloud solutions offer the highest versatility and safest methods, but cost the most. Cloud storage is scalable, meaning you can use it for a single file or an entire network. It is off-site, which means even if your computer is damaged, your data remains safe. You don’t own the storage outright; it is kept in datacenters who have their own methods to keeping your data safe. Off-site storage data is a huge benefit; if you damage your laptop or lose your flash drive, your data isn’t lost.
Small files, like a college paper or a few photos you took last night with friends are best when backed up from a USB drive to your computer. Other, obsolete methods still in use today include CD and DVD backups. These can be costly because once you use a CD or DVD to write data, it can’t be used again in most cases. I have discovered that Windows 7® allows you to write to a DVD multiple times and use it like a flash drive, but with a downside ~ only other machines running Windows 7® can read them.
Phones & Cameras
Every smart phone and digital camera includes a method to back up your data to a computer via USB. When you open the package, it comes with a cord that connects the device to your computer to charge the battery and back up your data. The internal hard drive of the computer acts as the backup medium for the device.
Computers & Networks
Computers and networks are backed up with other computers and networks dedicated to the task. Just to make sure I cover all my bases, tape backup methods were once used before everyone made the switch to digital. Ideal for large amounts of data, these methods are slowly phasing out in favor of the cloud.
People are still learning about the cloud. Cloud computing is when you rent someone else’s computing power—or in this case, storage space. The Cloud might be cheaper for business startups due to no up-front cost of computers. You don’t need an IT guy to keep your data safe and network running. All you need is an internet connection, and you can access your cloud data safely and securely.
Practices: When and How to Back Up Your Data
There are two methods to backing up your data; automatic and manually. After all, what good is all this storage space if we don’t put it to good use? Each method has its merits and people have their preferences about which one to use. Small files are backed up manually as you need them. As the data amount gets larger, the tendency to back up data automatically is preferred. Large data backups can be a chore, and you’ve got better things to do with your time rather than sit there and wait for the backup to do its thing.
The data you backup must be considered when you decide how often you backup. Dynamic data that is constantly changing or being added to needs to be backed up several times per day while data that doesn’t change—like a customer database for a magazine—might not.
Data that isn’t being changed might not call for a full daily backup. You might have a database wherein new data is added to old data on a daily basis. In this scenario it might be better for you to back up the new data instead backing up the entire database daily.
Backups Are About Being Safe
Whatever backup method you use, the point is to keep your data safe. There are several factors to consider when a backup method is being debated. Cost, reliability, efficiency, and convenience are a few of the bigger ones. Cloud computing complicates the issue with everything offered by the big vendors. Choose the method best for you ~ just don’t choose not to back up your data. Backups offer data insurance. It’s not so much a matter of if your data goes down; it’s when. Will you be safe?
Most people who use a computer, and indeed many who don’t, have heard of cloud storage. Most have a vague idea of what it is but many are not really sure. In very simple terms it is backing up your data to a remote location.
Why Use Cloud Backup?
We are all constantly reminded to back up our data. Although computers and hard disc are reliable they do still occasionally break down. Many of us have a separate hard drive or DVD where we, when we remember, back up our data. Problem with this is that should we have a catastrophic accident like a fire or flood, the backup copies are usually damaged as well. Additionally as most of us have more than one device it is useful to be able to access our data with each device from wherever we happen to be at the time.
Background to Cloud Backup
Many people believe that backing up to the cloud is relatively new. Cloud storage was actually begun in the mid-1980s by a company called Remote Back-up Systems. Backing up large amounts of data was a time consuming job then as it took about an hour to backup 1mb of data. Although it should be remembered that at the time Windows came on a couple of 1.44mb floppy discs and 20mb was a reasonable sized home PC hard disc. However, as we all know, our need for storage is ever growing. Not only is the need for capacity growing but, because many of us have a number of computers and other devices, the need to be able to access our data on a variety of computers, tablets, phones etc. from many different locations has become increasingly necessary. Having a central location that we can access that data from anywhere in the world is highly useful. So when our need for storage, combined with the advent of much higher internet speeds remote storage really took off.
Free Cloud Backup
Even though we may not be aware of it, many of us have cloud backup services already. Many ISPs provide some limited amount free storage with our internet packages, some email providers do the same. The amount of storage varies widely from provider to provider. We can upload what we want to the cloud and access or restore it whenever we want to whatever device we want from wherever we happen to be at the time. Many people, and most businesses, though are opting for paid cloud storage services.
Types of Cloud Backup
In simplistic terms there are two types of cloud backup, a backup and restore service and a sync service.
Backup and Restore Service
As the name implies with this service you backup your data and only when you have a problem with your computer would you need to access the data to restore it
The sync service is a live service that is remotely connected to your computer, when you update a file or document and place it in a designated folder it automatically updates the version that is kept on the service provider’s servers. Dropbox is a simple example of a sync service.
What Should a Cloud Backup Service Provide?
As with everything there are different levels and categories of cloud backup. What you get depends on what you are willing to pay. Although much of what we store as individuals has no value to anyone apart from us and then only a sentimental value. When you consider some of the material that you store on your computer is personal and private and you would want it to be kept that way. For businesses they often have files that have information that is private and personal to their customers or users that they are obligated to keep private. So data security is a very important factor to consider.
Ideally you want the cloud backup provider to store multiple copies of your data on different servers in case one server has a problem you can still access your data.
This is more applicable to business users rather than the individual. Many cloud backup providers will offer different degrees of service such as, immediate assistance response, monitoring of your backups, technical assistance.
All medical data security is governed by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations. Although there is currently no officially recognized HIPAA certification to confirm that a particular cloud backup provider conforms to the requirements, there are several that do conform. Even though they say that they conform it is still the person or body that is storing the data on the cloud that has to carry out due diligence to ensure that this is the case. If the cloud service provider has a security lapse the responsibility still lies with the person who has the ultimate care of the records originally.
How Much Does Cloud Backup Cost?
As always, the cost depends on several factors, the service that is provided and the amount of data that is being stored. Elements that can affect the cost include;
- The amount of data that is being backed up – costs are usually based on a cost per Gb and the amount of data that is sent and received each month
- The number of versions of each file that is stored – if you need historic versions of files keeping that will obviously increase the amount of storage required and the way that the storage is managed. If you specify a maximum number of versions then the cloud service provider will need to provide a managed service.
- Data retention periods – if you specify that data is only kept for a specified period than, again, the cloud service provider will manage this for you
- The number of devices that can access the data – this will add a level of additional security to the backup service
The market for cloud backup is highly competitive and as the price for storage continues to drop prices are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.