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:
- The type and amount of data you want to back up.
- How critical your data is, how frequently it changes and how frequently you want it backed up.
- Your budget for data backup services.
- The speed of your Internet connection both sending data (upstream) and receiving data (downstream).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 BackupReview.info 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.