The Problem With Online Backup

Online Backup is a fantastic way to get your most important data backed-up and moved offsite. Anyone who is serious about data backup and recovery knows how important it is to maintain a backup copy of your data in a secure offsite location. In recent years online backup services have become a popular solution for offsite backups. This popularity is driven by the relative low cost of moving backup data offsite as compared to traditional backups with media physically transported to an offsite facility. While online backup services are the ideal solution for many data backup and recovery needs, there some notable situations where online backup services should not be used.

If your business requires you to be capable of recovering from a disaster within a very short period of time, then online backup services can only serve as a solution to a small part of your overall disaster recovery plan. You will need computers, telephones, and places for people to work. Many large corporations have disaster recovery plans that include standby operations centers that are equipped to take over the essential processing required to keep the business up and running. It is often required that data is replicated in real-time to an alternate site so that it will be available in the event of disaster.

Many small businesses and home users don't have the bandwidth to upload very large amounts of data in a reasonable time. Backing up large video files and databases to an offsite facility over a slow ADSL connection may not be feasible. While backing up several gigabytes a day over an ADSL up-link at 256Mb/s may not be practical, this is not a typical situation. Most small and medium businesses and home users don't have that much data to transfer offsite. And, a good online backup service provider will use technology that will only transfer the changed files and the parts of files that have changed. In almost all cases online backup services are a great way to secure the most important files for any size operation. It may not be practical for a small business or home computer owner to maintain their entire hard-drives offsite. Regular backups to a portable disk drive may be appropriate for larger files that don't change often, and online backup for the data that changes daily may be the most cost effective solution.

In most cases, maintaining disk images on an online backup service would not be practical. The cost would be prohibitive and the transfer times would be impossible. I personally backup my documents to an online backup service, while I maintain copies of all of my software in a different location. When my hard drive fails, which happens every few years, I buy a new, bigger and faster, HD, and then install all of my software from scratch, and then restore my data from my online backup service provider. Even though it takes me several hours to completely recover; I have a clean new installation and all of my data intact when completed. In my case, the loss of several hours of time is not worth spending hundreds of dollars a month to reduce to a couple of hours.

I have consulted many businesses on techniques and procedures for backing up data, managing and monitoring backup media, and use of online backup systems. Rhinoback is an online backup services provider that uses a secondary site to protect against a disaster at the main datacenter. An entire set of servers and storage arrays are up and running 24x7 at the disaster recovery center, which is located in separate geographic location. All data that is maintained by Rhinoback is replicated in real-time to the secondary site. In addition, all server software is setup and running at the secondary site. In the event of disaster at the main data center, the secondary site is already up and running with current data and the same capabilities as the main site. This level of disaster readiness is not required by all businesses, but when it is, careful planning beyond online backup services is required.

Everyone should evaluate their own situation, determine how much downtime you can afford, and how much disaster recovery is justified. Online backup services can usually play an important role in your backup and recovery plans, however, they are usually on part of the solution. Remember that if your data is worth backing up, then it is worth storing offsite.


Mikel said...

Have you ever considered what will happen when a regional disaster forces many hundreds of businesses to need to restore data in the same time span? Think New Orleans and the region of the Gulf Coast. I am starting to develop my own data backup and storage service. I have a remote site about 1600 miles from my location. I am working on the logistics to recover from such events right now. Your comments will be appreciated. I have been reading your Blog for a little while. You seem to be pretty well informed on the subject. I will check back on your Web log later.

jazar said...

You have a good point. Your data backup services need to be hosted in a facility with very high bandwidth capacity. Most of the big colocation data centers have burstable bandwidth, which allows you to pay for the bandwidth that you actually use, but you have very high capacity when needed. Good raid storage arrays on the backend should be able to easily handle the demands because the real bottleneck is in the bandwidth at the locations where the data is being restored.
I will write a post within the next week with the math involved in determing simultaneous restore capacity considering bandwidth and backend storage hardware.