FAQ

How to choose the best remote online backup service provider

Online data backups and backing up data to a remote online backup service provider can be a good way to back up your data. If you choose a reliable and trustworthy service, you can send your data

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to their primary data center and not worry about backing up your data. But how do you go about choosing the correct remote online backup service provider? What common pitfalls do you need to look out for? And what are the differences in the services these online backup providers offer?

W. Curtis Preston, executive editor at TechTarget and independent backup expert, discusses what you should consider before choosing a remote online backup service provider in this Q&A. His answers are also available as an MP3 below.

Listen to the remote online backup service provider FAQ

 

Table of contents:

>> When is it a good idea for a company to back up their data online?
>> What steps does a company need to take when choosing a remote backup provider?
>> What are some common pitfalls to look out for when choosing a remote backup provider?
>> How do these services differ from one another?
>> Do remote online backup providers offer service-level agreements? Are they negotiable?

When is it a good idea for a company to back up their data online?

In terms of backing up data online vs. local backup -- I'd say the obvious question is: Is the company an appropriate size for online data backups? Unless the company has a seating option, it needs have data in the double digits of gigabytes, or maybe triple digits of gigabytes. But just realize that the first backup you do is going to take a long time. If you're anything bigger than a few hundred gigabytes, then there are some companies that offer a seating option where they ship you a drive. Once you receive the drive, you need to back up your data to that drive, and then you ship them the drive and that gets that first backup done. I know when I first experimented with doing online backup at home, it took me a few months to get my first backup done and I had a few hundred gigabytes of data.

Your daily change rate should be something that's appropriate for online data backups. If you're creating tens of gigabytes of data per day, and you need to back up that data every day, you're not going to have the bandwidth to do that because you're using the internet to get to these systems. So first, make sure you have the right size company for online backup services. If your company is too big, then don't even think about it. Second, ask yourself if you're a company that can benefit from online backup service providers. In this case, a company that would benefit from online data backups is one that doesn't have a dedicated backup staff, which, when we talk about hundreds of gigabytes of data, that's probably going to be everyone. If you fit these two requirements, then this is a great way to pay a monthly bill and have data backups just magically happen. And if it doesn't happen for whatever reason, someone will contact you. And then you can have whoever it is that addresses IT issues take care of that problem.

What key steps does a company need to take when choosing a remote online backup service provider?

The first thing to do when choosing a remote online backup service provider is to make sure they support the platform that you are backing up. You also need to establish your requirements, which include: how fast you want to back up your data; how fast you want to restore your data; how frequently you want to restore your data; and how much data you're willing to lose. Once you set out a list of requirements, this will create service-level agreements (SLAs) for you. Keep in mind that some companies will agree to your SLAs and some will not agree to those that you lay out. Also, make sure that you're using the business side of their service, because otherwise you're not going to get the same service.

After that, just do your homework and make sure you're checking out the financial viability of the firm; do your best to verify that they are indeed doing their job and look for customer references -- all the same stuff that you do with anything else in IT.

What are some common pitfalls to look out for when choosing a remote backup provider?

We used to say that on the internet nobody knows if you're a dog. Well, nobody knows if you're one guy in a computer in a Linux box doing online data backup for people. Make sure that you are doing business with a trustworthy company that's going to be around when you need it. It doesn't do any good to pay an insurance company that won't be there when you wreck your car. And it doesn't do any good to have data backups that aren't going to work in times of disasters.

Another pitfall is that people don't test restores. Whatever it is that you're expecting from restores, make sure you test them on a regular basis because that's the only way you're going to know whether or not the company you choose is doing their job.

Can you explain the differences between the services that these vendors offer? For example, what's the difference between how they get data to you when you need to do a restore?

All online backup service providers have a basic service where you put a piece of software on the computers that you're backing up and they back up to their servers on the other side of the internet. Some of them also offer a local server that you can back up, which is a good option to have. Remote backups are great for backup, but they're not necessarily great for restore. For example, if you have a couple hundred gigabytes of data on the internet -- getting that data back onsite could take quite a while. So make sure you've looked into vendors that have a local server that you can back up to, and then replicate that server back to their central site.

Online backup service providers also have other options that are just used in times of restores. These options are more appropriate for somebody who's looking at a 48- to 72-hour recovery time objective (RTO), because basically what they amount to is cutting in tape, cutting CDs or DVDs, and depending on the amount of data, restoring to a disk or disk array. Then they ship that to you. Keep in mind that because you have to ship it, and because shipping has cutoff times depending on when you have the problem, you could have well over a 24-hour turnover time, and then you have to start your restore. Look into those options, but keep in mind that they typically have extra costs associated with them.

Other areas where online backup service providers differentiate themselves is the kind of backup reporting that they offer. For example, do they let you know when backups stop working? I know that most, if not all of them, have some kind of notification, but just realize that the whole point here is that you're paying a monthly bill so that you don't have to worry about it. And if there is a problem -- make sure they let you know if it's been a couple of days since your backups ran.

Also, I'm not sure if any of them actually offer this, but it would be nice if they had an escalation so that if it's been one day or two days, the email notifications about your backup status go to your backup administrator, but if it's been a week, the emails go to the backup administrator's boss. That would be nice, but I'm not sure if anybody's offering that yet though.

What about service-level agreements? Do remote online backup providers offer these? Are they negotiable?

Some of them do and absolutely everything is negotiable. Just realize that nothing is for free. So the more requirements and agreements that you request from the vendor, the more that's going to cost them to provide that service to you, and then the more it's going to cost you in the long run. So, yes, some of them do that, but realize that nothing is for free.


This was first published in April 2010

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