Online backup services install a small program on a computer that makes backup copies of data on the service providers storage system in a secure data center. Most online backup service providers charge a monthly fee for a predetermined amount of storage. There are many different providers with many different capabilities and subscription plans. Generally speaking, online backup services offer some distinct and significant advantages over traditional media and backup methods.
- No need to purchase backup hardware and media. Backup hardware and media are generally replaced and upgraded every couple of years or so. Online backup service providers do not require you to buy or upgrade any hardware.
- No need to purchase backup software. Online backup service providers usually provide you with the software to install on your computer at no additional cost.
- Security. Believe it or not, online backup is generally more secure than backing up to any media that is stored in your house or business. Online backup services providers are usually housed in secure facilities and data is encrypted during transmission and storage. Your data as usually less secure in your home or business than it is at most online backup service facilities.
- Reliability. There are a multitude of problems that affect the reliability of backup data. Tapes wear out, media is over written, historical backups are on media that is incompatible with newer hardware... Online backup services typically do not exhibit these problems, data that is backed up can be restored with confidence. Good online backup service providers maintain backup data on fault tolerant arrays, and the best providers also replicate the data to an entirely separate data center.
- Offsite Storage. Most home and small business users have little or no reliable offsite storage. Moving data offsite is essential to recovering from a disaster, although relatively expensive and difficult to maintain properly. Your data is always stored offsite with online backup systems and there is no increased cost, effort, or maintenance.
- Backup Records. Do you have records of what files are on which media? Do you have records of when each file was backed up and which media contains each version? I didn't think so (not if you are a typical small business or home user). Online backup services usually provide you with a quick and easy catalog of all of your backup files and allow you to select one or more files to restore and also allow you to select which version of each file you want to restore.
- Easy Restore. You don't have to physically locate and mount media to perform a restore. Online backup providers allow you to browse your backup files and select the ones you want to restore with no concern for where the media is located. In many cases the restore is much faster because there is no waiting for the tape drive to wind out to the point where your desired file was copied.
- Automated. Online backups are usually 100% automated, meaning you don't have to do anything to keep your files backed up properly. Any other type of backup that requires on-site media will require you to manually change and manage the media, even if the backup jobs themselves can be scheduled.
- Retention. Online backup services allow you to set retention policies for your backup files and they automatically retain your files as required, and remove older versions that are no longer required. Any system that requires tapes or disk, also requires that you store and protect older versions of the media manually. When media is handled manually, mistakes will happen and data will be overwritten.
- Cost Effective. It is generally less expensive to maintain an online backup subscription than it is to purchase drives and media, and bear the cost of the manual effort and procedures required to ensure an effective backup system that involves media.
The above mentioned advantages may not be available in all online backup systems. However, the better providers will offer all of the benefits listed above. Cost is not an indicator of the quality of the online backup system, but the dirt cheap or free providers do not generally meet the same standards as the professional providers.