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Compare file sync vs. backup for data protection

The use of both file syncs and backups could be beneficial for enterprises, as each has its advantages. Pay particular attention to security and point-in-time recovery.

File accuracy and security are critical -- especially, in remote work environments. File sync and backup are two related, yet unique, approaches that support these tasks.

To grasp the key differences between file sync vs. backup, consider their respective uses, benefits and drawbacks.

When productivity tops protection

File syncing can just barely be called data protection -- it's more about productivity enhancement, said John Annand, infrastructure and operations research director at Info-Tech Research Group, an IT research and advisory firm.

Sync enables a local file to remain fully consistent with a master copy of the same file, stored remotely, in as close to real time as possible.

"When the two [files] drift, sync uses time stamps and permissions to reconcile and reestablish a single consistent file," Annand said.

File sync typically requires the use of a syncing and sharing service. Files update on the fly, usually continuously. A true backup, however, ensures files and folders regularly and permanently copy from one location to another, such as to a hard drive, tape drive or the cloud, which creates a permanent record -- a snapshot of a file or folder at a specific moment in time.

While a file sync offers only minimal backup protection, it does benefit multiple parties, regardless of their location.

"It can be very useful for the sales executive who wants to work on her quarterly fiscal projections while on an airplane, and equally useful for all of her field reps, who can get the latest copy of the sales pitch notes as soon as her laptop gets out of airplane mode," Annand said.

Despite its backup limitations, syncing does provide bare-bones data protection when organizations use it alongside trusted devices.

"[File sync] offers itself as a protection tool for data when you have strong passwords for data access and sharing," said Eric McGee, senior network engineer at colocation service provider TRG Datacenters. "Also, file syncing is safe when you don't blindly sync each and every file on a device and make sure there is an organized way of data management."

Users are no longer limited to the simple idea that the latest version is the truest.
John AnnandInfrastructure and operations research director, Info-Tech Research Group

Leading real-time file syncing services include Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

You can't beat backups

In comparisons of a file sync vs. backup, one stands alone as the fundamental data protection technology -- both in the workplace and at home. Complete, scheduled backups to local media or the cloud enable an organization to rescue data at a future date from a host of anticipated and unforeseen conditions, including hardware failure, software crashes, internal and external attacks, and data rot.

"Backup is the last line of defense for all of them," Annand said.

Popular cloud-based backup services, easily accessible to home workers, include Carbonite, IDrive, SOS Online Backup and Acronis True Image. Employees may also have remote access to their enterprise's cloud backup service. Mac users, meanwhile, can take advantage of their systems' Time Machine application, which automatically creates regularly scheduled backups to a hard drive or solid-state storage device.

If organizations store multiple backups across several independent platforms, the chances of all those systems failing simultaneously and losing every file copy is mathematically remote. Products -- such as the tools mentioned above -- simplify the management of multiple file copies across systems and various points in time.

"Users are no longer limited to the simple idea that the latest version is the truest," Annand said. "Users can select [to] restore from as many points in time as they've cared to previously define."

To further protect files, remote users should purchase an external hard drive or solid-state storage device to back up their files at home, said Michael Puldy, founder and CEO of business and IT resilience advisory firm Puldy Resiliency Partners.

Chart of typical data backup process

Syncing security?

High vulnerability to ransomware attacks is a significant disadvantage to syncing technology and a key piece of file sync vs. backup analysis. Although ransomware can easily corrupt both synced and backup files, regularly scheduled backups can save the day.

"It's highly possible an older backup, such as a backup made seven days ago, is fully accessible," Puldy said.

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