What is Cloud Backup?
In the present digital arena, where knowledge is considered power, data loss might be the worst possible nightmare. Just consider, one day you wake up and find all your mails, holiday pictures, transaction records, bank records...gone!! Surely data backup is an essential task, be it an ordinary Joe on the street or a big corporate.
But the problem is, our daily operations generate so much of data that keeping a track of all and archiving it might be much more difficult than what it seems. And just in case if you think that one day you will sit and organise all your data and back it up all, then sure you are being too optimistic. Such desperate calls create the needs of professional backup. This is where cloud backup comes to your rescue. In simple terms, cloud backup enables users (individuals or companies) to take backup of their data on external vendor's servers and retrieve it whenever required.
Why to go for Cloud Backup?
First of all, let’s see why we actually need a professional help, or why can’t we do backing up individually? Traditionally, personal backing up of data means burning all your stuffs into a CD, DVD, or on an external hard disk and storing them in a vault. But is that actually going to help? What will happen if your house caught fire, or there is an earthquake or flood? All backed up data on the external storage devices shall go down with the original data. In fact, secondary storage devices only offer a backup against system failures, which speaking is of a very limited help.
This was for a personal user, what about a company? If the companies start storing data on physical storage devices, imagine how many of them have to be brought by McDonalds just to keep a record of their daily burger sales!! In such cases, a company will be supposed to buy external storage spaces almost everyday which will be way beyond expensive, also its maintenance (air conditioning, service engineers etc) might just add to the growing budget.
The other problem associated with physical storage is lack of mobility. If you want to carry your archived data, you just might need extra baggage, and then what about big corporate, they might just need an entire truck to get their data on the move!!
Also, once stored, the data becomes isolated in the sense that, if any changes are to be made, you need to get back to the dungeon, manually search for the hard drive, bring it back to the system and update.
And the last of the major problems with physical storage of back up data is scalability. Physical storage devices mean that you have to keep on buying new spaces every now and then. Now in case if the space requirement reduces, a large number of surplus physical hard drives become a waste.
The emergence of cloud backup technology tends to make the process of data backup a whole lot simple and efficient.
Cloud Backup Advantages
Cloud backup means storing your digital data on an offshore server (read multiple servers spread around the globe) by routing them via internet. In such cases the need for buying storage devices ceases, and so there is no load of daily maintenance. The user is simply required to buy up as much space as he wants, and start storing data.
Cloud storage gives its users accessibility on the go. A user can save data from his office desktop and it will be available the next time on his smart phone when on a holiday trip in Goa.
The biggest economical benefit that comes with cloud backup technology is its scalability. Since actual hard disks are never bought, in case if the need of storage space reduces, the current subscription can be cut down thus making substantial savings.
Cloud backing up of data also increases the scope of sharing the data with a wide group of audience worldwide, which is not possible in case of physical backup.
How to GO Cloud?
Backing up data on the cloud is a simple process. The first step is to choose the service provider.
Following points should be kept in mind while choosing a cloud backup provider –
- Do not just hop into any service provider, even if it’s for free. Do a background search, see if the company offering is a reputed. Check for any complaints against their services. Your data is precious to you, and might be to others too, there may be false sites which might offer lucrative deals and strip you off your data.
- Be aware of your needs. Different consumers and even different types of data require different plans of backup. For example, images of your old holiday trip might just need single time storage and no regular modification. On the other hand, a list of your shop’s inventory shall require regular retrievals. Different plans exist for these different kinds of data. Make sure that you choose the most appropriate one as this will help you to cut costs significantly.
- Check the kinds of systems on which the application can work. For example, icloud by apple runs only on apple products, there are certain applications that run only on selected devices. Try to find a cloud with an application that runs over a wide spectrum of devices. A good example of it is dropbox which runs on windows, mac and linux seamlessly.
- The level of encryption. This is the most important aspect when it comes to data security. Encryption means coding of data so that no one else can see your data if in case it is stolen. Most companies offer 128 bit of encryption, some also offers 256 bits and some even higher. If you are dealing with a very secure information, paying for higher level of encryption is not a bad investment. However, when the data is more generic, you can try cutting cost on the level of security.
Once you have chosen your preferred service provider and have paid the necessary bills (some provide free limited services and trial services too), the next step is to download the software which is provided by the backup service provider. This piece of program acts as the interface between the client and his stored data. Using this software the client indicates the files to be backed up. The software then encrypts the data on the client’s machine itself and sends it to the remote servers provided by the backup provider. The software also keeps a track of the data for any changes. If in case any changes are made onto these data on the client’s computer the software makes sure that the corresponding changes are amended in the archived data also, automatically.
Rifts in the Cloud - Limitations and Issues with Cloud Backup
Despite the number of advantages it promises, the technology, just like any other technology suffers from certain inherent limitations too, the biggest of them being risk of data thefts. Backup software tries its best to safeguard your data. It does so by encrypting it, that is scrambling it in such a way that only authorised person can see it. Now no matter, how much encrypted the data is, there is always a risk of someone, maybe a hacker being able to decode and steal your data. However, so far such possibilities have been possible only in sci-fi movies and novels (remember Digital Fortress by Dan Brown). Many of the service providers offers 128bit of encryption and some even higher. Most of the companies offer encryption much higher than the government set norms assuring you of proper security of your prized data.
The second problem is more of an administrative nature. For instance what if the company responsible for your data backup goes bankrupt overnight or what if the company is taken over by some other company whose reliability might not be assured. Such problems are mostly rare and very hypothetical.
But the major problem with cloud backup comes not from the technology itself, but from the internet connection. On the normal broadband connections we enjoy in our homes, backing up even 200GB of data means continuous uploading for over a week and if you are to backup your entire computer’s hard disk, the time taken to upload it on to the service provider’s servers might be even close to a month. Then there are the costs involved. Uploading hundreds of gigabytes of data is surely not going to come for free from the internet service providers. So that becomes a major back draw for an average user.
The speed issue also arises while downloading the stored data back. Say suppose you uploaded a hefty set of an ad film presentation and documents in your office in New York and want to present it to your clients in New Delhi, the limited download speed might come as a big problem. There is another aspect of speed and security issue too. This is the common storage. On the offshore device, the data is being stored along with data from several other clients. Now in case of all the users trying to download/upload data to or from the server all at once, a problem of network congestion might occur.
Major Cloud Backup Players
The major players of backup solutions are dropbox, mozy, keepit, jungle disk, asigra etc. Several other major players are entering this segment of industry. With the latest offering coming from Apple in its product called the icloud. Icloud provides all apple customers with a 5GB of free storage space which can be extended on monthly subscription basis. The icloud allows it customers to share their data on any apple product, be it the macbook, iphone or the ipad, on the go.
Recent Development - Private Clouds
A better version of cloud computing is also rising, termed as ‘private clouds’. This concept is actually valid for large companies. It is similar to having your own personal hard disk, except for the fact that the company is not required to buy and maintain the hardware aspect. Under this model, the company hires backup service provider only for its storage space. The company itself takes care of all the data encryption and modification, meaning that there is no software from the service provider. All the work on the part of software is performed by the IT professionals of the client company. This system offers the company an enhanced way to safeguard their data. The IT professionals of the client company themselves generate the encryption codes so as to make sure that even the service provider, if it wants cannot decode the data stored on its servers. Such systems provides large companies with the benefits of both online and offline backups. However, such systems as already mentioned require trained professional which makes it impossible for individual users and SMBs.
In the end..
Despite of the problems, cloud backup seems the best possible option for the time being. Very large companies might be able to create their own system of data backups by buying bulk physical hard drives and recruiting qualified professionals for their safe keeping and maintenance, it might not be the luxury for small and medium business. This class of companies heavily depend on these service providers for their data backup which owing to their benefits actually might not be such a bad thing.