Online Data Backup Services – 15 Factors to Consider When Choosing

by Mike McEvoy on October 2, 2009


There has been an explosion in the number of online data backup services in the last few years and they have drawn the interest of both home and business users. With so many companies seemingly offering the same type of backup service it can be a bit confusing when choosing an online backup provider. Most people are familiar with backing up their data to external hard disk drives, CDs and DVDs, however the process of picking the right online service requires a bit more thought. This post focuses on 15 factors to consider when choosing an online data backup service.

A key difference between online data backup and more common local data backup is that with the online process you are sending your data off across the Internet to a remote location. Having your data at another location is great protection against data loss due to fire, theft and natural disaster. All online data backup solutions include client software that is installed on your system and runs unattended to determine which data to back up and when to send it to the remote location.

What are My Online Data Backup Needs?

There are a number of useful services out there that seem similar but when you look closely the prices and features can vary widely. The one that is the best fit will depend on your specific needs. A service designed for home users is different than one for small businesses or the enterprise environments. A good starting point is to assess your most important data backup needs including:

      1. The type and amount of data you want to back up.
      2. How critical your data is, how frequently it changes and how frequently you want it backed up.
      3. Your budget for data backup services.
      4. The speed of your Internet connection both sending data (upstream) and receiving data (downstream).
      5. The number of computers you will want to back up.

Factors To Consider When Selecting An Online Data Backup Service

In evaluating online data backup service providers you will find that some providers do a much better job of describing what they do and what they don’t do than others.  Some providers just state the basics leaving customers to try to gather more info and fill in the blanks. Here are 15 factors to consider when choosing an online data backup service.

      1. Ease of Use and Installation of the Client Software – you will need to run a software client module in the background on your computer. How well this software is designed and how easy it is to use is important. Software usability will also be important if you are going to have multiple computers using the service and want to manage all of them from a central console.
      2. Upload & Download Data Speed – some services will cap the speed at which you can upload data during backup or download data during a restore process. You should know if the service you selection does this and what the data transfer rates are. Compare these rates to the speed of Internet connection.
      3. Security – the importance of data security and encryption will vary depending on the type of data you are backing up. For personal photos or music files this may not be very important. If you are backing up accounting files, tax returns, email and other sensitive documents then security becomes a much bigger factor. If you are looking at using online data backup for a business data security will be even more important.
      4. Stability of the Backup Service Provider – This is not always an obvious consideration, but if you are entrusting your data to a far off storage facility you want to make sure that the company and your data will be available when you need it. This doesn’t mean that you should completely dismiss a newer company, but the size and financial condition of the service provider should be considered.  The more critical your data is the more important this factor becomes.
      5. Is the Company the Original Provider or a Service Reseller – Some online data backup service providers allow dealers to repackage their services and sell them under their own brand. This can add a level of management between you and your data. It may not be a big deal, but it’s worth knowing this up front.
      6. Quality and Accessibility of Support – Before you settle on a specific backup service you may want to give their tech support people a call and see how they respond. Did they answer your question effectively? How long did you wait on hold? Do they even have a support number where you can talk to a live person? What are their service hours for your time zone? Don’t wait until an emergency occurs to find that your only support option is to access an online knowledgebase or get out a credit card.
      7. Service Level Agreement – Somewhere the backup service provider should state some basics about the level of service they will provide. Items such as upload speed, download speed, hours of support operation, time to resolve a problem, and other items necessary to make the service useable for you or your business should be spelled out.
      8. Cost of the Data Backup Service – Some backup services are billed on an annual basis, some on a monthly basis. Some backup service providers allow an unlimited amount of storage, some will charge based on blocks of a certain number of gigabytes, some will charge by the total number of gigabytes used and some will also have a per computer license fee. Don’t assume that the lowest cost is necessarily the best deal. Be sure to get all cost parameters spelled out clearly.
      9. Where Will Your Backed Up Data be Stored – Not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind but you may have second thoughts about having your data stored at a facility in Key West, New Orleans, or Houston, or in a facility on top of an earthquake fault line.
      10. Does the Data Backup Service Provider Have Multiple Locations – Many online backup service providers mirror their data between two or more physical locations in case there is a disruption at one of the locations.
      11. Data Volume That is Transferred – Does the backup service provider use technology to shrink the actual size of the data being transferred? Some services will use technology to compress the data before it is transferred to their servers. Some services use what is known as block level backup where only the pieces of files that have been changed are transferred instead of entire files. The greater the amount of data you are backing up the more important these type of technologies become.
      12. Backup Service Provider Flexibility – If your data backup needs grow can the backup service grow with you? For instance Mozy has both a Mozy Home service for home users and a Mozy Pro service for businesses. If you start as just a single computer but later want to add more computers under the same account or perhaps share your allocated data backup space over multiple computers, can the service provider handle those needs?
      13. Data Backup Verification — how easily can you verify that all of your important data has been backed up? Many people forget about checking to make sure that all the data they wanted to have backed up has made it to the offsite location.
      14. Will Multiple Versions of Backed Up Data Be Kept – Does the backup service allow you to restore a previous version of a file that has changed? In the event that the current version of a document or data files gets damaged or corrupted and then backed up, will an earlier, undamaged version be available? Could be quite important for a business.
      15. Backing Up Open or Locked Files – Some data backup software can back up files even if they are currently open or in use. Such files could include Microsoft Outlook, other database files and document files. If you frequently leave files open for extended periods of time or even all night the files may not get backed up unless your backup service has this capability.

Other online data backup factors may need to be considered depending on your specific needs, but this list should provide a solid starting point. If you only have very basic data backup needs then a number of the items above may not be necessary to consider. For additional information on both local and online data backup be sure to see my previous posts: Data Backup Part I — Is Your Data Safe? and also 6 Common Computer Data Backup Mistakes.

As mentioned earlier there are a growing number of online data backup services. Some are focused on basic home users, some on small business and others on large businesses and enterprise clients. Below is a list of different online data backup services that cover a range of needs and price structures.

Mozy Home Mozy Pro online data backup service

iBackup online data backup service

Carbonite online data backup service

IDrive online data backup service

Spideroak online data backup service

Norton Online data backup service

I365 – Seagate online data backup service

DataDepositBox online data backup service

DropBox  online data backup service

The list is by no means complete. If you would like to dig a bit further into this area you can also check out the web site for which has a substantial amount of online data backup information along with a number of online data backup service reviews. They also have a Top 25 list of online backup services for home, small business and enterprise customers. Enjoy.



John December 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm

I like and use DriveHQ Online Backup Service.
Integrated with Windows file manager.
Reliable and stable software.(Windows only)
Realtime or scheduled backup.
Backup of files in use.
Backup Folders or individual files.
Retension of file versions as changes are made.
Reasonably priced.
1 Gig free.
The Company is focussed on quality.
I believe their product is underrated. Probably one of the very best services available.

Mike McEvoy December 30, 2009 at 10:08 pm

@John — Thanks for the insights on DriveHQ. I’m not real familiar with them but will definitely check them out. Ability for DriveHQ to back up open files is a real plus.

The world of online backup continues to evolve quickly both with new players as well as with new features and benefits. Plus as upstream speeds continue to increase it becomes possible to transfer more in a shorter time frame.

Thanks for stopping by and providing some good info.

John Walker March 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Hi Mike!
I hope you’re still getting responses from this site. I am trying to preach backup to folks because its important to have the security of knowing that it is possible to access data in the event of some sort of problem that made accessing data immediately impossible.
Youre article has some good points and I would like to share them. Would it be possible for me to copy some points you have raised and pass them on? I just want to pass this by you first.

Thank you!

John Walker

John December 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Just by the way, Dropbox is not strictly speaking a backup system.

cams August 5, 2010 at 8:07 pm

I just have to commend you for a very informative and in-depth post on online backups. I recently started a fascination on this topic and been trying to blog about it. Your post just gives me more than the info that I needed. Keep it up.

Business Backup August 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

I can’t afford to lose my critical business data. That’s why I use Remote Data Backups, with over a decade of service protecting critical business data at two underground data centers, with fast and reliable transfers and restores, and free 24/7 phone support.

Mike McEvoy August 17, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Hi Business Backup, thanks for stopping by. Yes, having a solid back up strategy becomes more important every day. I prefer to have two different backups – one onsite and one offsite. Given the improvements in data transfer speeds across the Internet, online backup to a remote repository is a very good piece of a total backup solution.

Roger Brown August 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Mike…excellent site and blog!

I have found that differences in the customer service experience varies greatly even with the big players.

Carbonite seems to be overwhelmed at the moment.


Mike McEvoy August 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Hi Roger, thanks for stopping by. Glad you like the blog. I agree with you on customer service. The quality of customer service can vary significantly from vendor to vendor, and even from year to year. Making a call to a vendor’s customer service number or support line prior signing up is always a good idea. If you sit on hold for 20 minutes then they might not be the right vendor.

Interesting to hear about Carbonite. Perhaps all their significant marketing efforts paid off too well and they have more then they can handle. Not an uncommon situation in the technology world. Do you have any favorites backup services at the moment?

Roger Brown August 29, 2010 at 4:32 am

Hi again Mike…sorry for the delay!

I think because Mozy has got the customer service angle down pat and I can live with their limitations regarding real time visibility to data – I think most of the sophisticated features offered by many of the others appeal to a very small % of potential users who just want to feel backed up and be done with it.

Also, I am hesitant to recommend any newcomers because the one thing these guys and girls are offering is trust and it is hard to sell that effectively without a multi-year track record.

What do you think?


Keith November 22, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Great write up Mike and very valid points. I hope many people find this blog post! Actually I’ve used several of the services you listed and I am absolutely done with the bargain/consumer services. The time and energy spent just on troubleshooting, sending support your logs, on the phone, and still not feeling 100% sure that I can restore when the time comes drives me nuts! It just isn’t worth it – especially for a business.

My favorite service so far has been Tomahawk Backup, but I’m sure there are other good one’s out there. www dot

Oh I also use SugarSync for personal folder syncing between computers. This is technically not a backup service though, and should not be used on servers. www dot

michael August 31, 2011 at 11:02 am

hi, wondering whether you have an update on the services out there.
Also, Dropbox is not a backup service, more like SugerSync for file sharing and a virtual server (works great, I could not live without it!)

I use – who have a highly competitive family/multiple computer plan – check it out.

I recently bought a Drobo FS for local backup – but now it does not play well with Lion on Mac…

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