5 Questions to Ask Your Online Backup Provider

There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to protecting your data. Many people and businesses are moving toward online backup services. These allow automated, easy backup of your information at very affordable prices.

Like any major decision, though, you owe it to yourself (and your business) to ask a few questions so you know what you’re getting into:

1. Where is my information stored?

Good answers: A service provider’s server in a SAS70-certified data center; the Amazon S3 cloud; the Rackspace cloud; an encrypted server in a locked cage in my office.

NOT so good answers: the desktop PC I’m using right now; a hard drive in my parents’ basement; with all my other client files; I don’t know; a computer under my desk.

It’s important for you to know this so you can identify the risk of your data being stolen or compromised. I know of service providers that are storing client backup data on their own unencrypted, unlocked systems! “I always lock the door when I’m not here” is NOT sufficient to protect your business.

2. How will my bill be figured?

Some providers charge a flat fee per month; others charge based on your “stored data.” The latter can be less expensive but as storage use grows you can expect the bill to always go up. Make sure you understand what you’re getting into before you commit to any agreement.

Also make sure you understand the length of the agreement and whether your provider is making any guarantees about recoverability. Many backup agreements specifically disclaim any responsibility:

“Sorry, your data is gone and we can’t get it back.”

3. How long will it take to “seed?” How long to restore?

“Seeding” is the process of taking the initial huge backup of all your files. This can take weeks or months depending on the system and speed of your connection. Many providers will allow you to use a “seed drive,” a hard disk that plugs into your computer and allows you to copy this information much more quickly. The disk is then sent back to the provider who uploads directly to the backup system.

Large-file restores are another common problem with online backup services. To restore a 1GB file can take hours even over a DSL or cable connection. Again, some providers can send you a physical storage device with your data. This can often be done (and delivered via courier) within 12-24 hours of your request…this will be a costly option, though.

4. Who has access to my data?

Best answer: Each client and our staff as-needed. We set up each backup account to use a random 20+ character “Encryption Key.” This key is absolutely required in order to restore data, and is known only to us. We will give you a copy to keep in your safe. This “key” is not known by the backup host. If we lose our copy and you lose your copy there is no way to recover.

Additionally, our policies specify that any access to these keys is only allowed with a documented work ticket. Violation of these policies by our employees or contractors is subject to action including temination.

Some backup resellers allow their service providers to maintain encryption keys. We don’t feel this is sufficient to protect your business. You should insist on a random, secret key.

5. What happens if I can’t reach you?

This is especially important in the case of a “tech guy” or part-time IT help. There are several ways in which a person can become the single point of failure:

  • take a full-time job with another company
  • realize how much they suck at IT and give up
  • illness or accident
  • major lottery or casino winnings
  • long-term island vacation

What then?

Up-front, your backup provider should at least provide you with instructions, passwords, and encryption keys so that you can follow steps to begin recovery. Ideally they will have staff or agreements with other local technical service companies to provide coverage and assistance.

How does your online backup provider stack up? Contact Charland Tech for details on our automated backup services (that are not stored in our parents’ basement!)

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  • backup kid  On October 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Good thinking IMO, we’re esentially trusting these companies with our livlihood by storing our data on their computers. You wouldn’t just hand over the keys to your car or house to just anybody and your valuable data is no different.


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