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Up In The Cloud: Backup Services
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Up In The Cloud: Backup Services - Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: Backup Services

Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: Backup Services

It’s a sad but inescapable fact of life that hard drives fail. If you have never suffered a catastrophic loss of data, video, photos, documents, or software, you aren’t only lucky: you’re pretty much marked by fate for some major disaster, because it eventually happens to us all. In response to this inevitability, backup products have existed for almost as long as home computers, evolving from agonizingly lengthy exchanges of multiple floppy disks taking a full evening, to today’s cloud services, which can manage entire system backups behind the scenes, without our being aware of it, storing our precious data not only in case of failure, but in case we need to access something from some other computer. Today’s backup services are many and varied, but increased bandwidth and a competitive field are keeping pricing affordable for almost everyone, with enough diversity to match your specific needs.

For the purposes of this overview, we’ll focus on personal, consumer-level home backups. Corporate systems have different needs and a few complications, so we’ll look at them separately in a future article.

Backup services work very much like the cloud storage services you already use, such as Google Drive and Dropbox. In fact, if all you care about backing up are specific types of files, you can probably manage with only these services. The primary difference between these storage services and full-fledged backup services is scale: the backup plans are typically designed to make copies of your entire system—not only your documents and photos, but your system preferences, installed software, music, video, users, partitions, permissions, drivers, and settings. The idea is to have an exact copy of what’s on your computer so that if something terrible happens, you can restore the entire system or only those parts of it that have been lost.

Pricing systems vary. With some services, you pay incrementally for the amount of storage you need. With others, your storage is unlimited, but you pay additional fees for additional machines in your household. Still others, those with the higher price tags, cover everything and everyone in your home with unlimited storage for one set price. Most services have monthly and yearly payment options, some with discounts for purchasing the year up front. Typically, you can expect to spend $5 to $10 monthly for a single-user, unlimited storage service, with adjustments upward for additional users and services.

Chances are, a cloud backup service is all you need for covering your bases, but an old adage says that you should have one copy offsite and one copy onsite. If you’re looking for this kind of redundancy, you’ll need a service that will do backups to an external drive as well as to the cloud, something not offered by them all. Many consider this a must-have feature, but aside from that, some things to look for:

  • ncremental backups vs. differential backups. On a practical level, these aren’t very different, but it’s important to know how your system is backing up. Assume you do a full system backup on the first of the month. The backup in the cloud now matches everything on your computer, exactly. With an incremental backup, your backup on the 2nd only adds changes since the 1st; your backup on the 3rd adds changes since the 2nd; your backup on the 4th adds changes since the 3rd, and so on until your next full backup, perhaps a week later on the 8th. Differential backups are similar, but your backup on the 3rd backs up all your changes since the 1st; your backup on the 4th backs up all your changes since the 1st, and your backup on the 5th backs up all your changes since the 1st, and so on until your next full backup, perhaps a week later on the 8th. Depending on how much data you save on a daily basis, the difference in bandwidth and storage can be significant, but the ability to step your system back to a specific day is slightly different.
  • Storage per dollar. You can never have too much storage capability, so unless you’re on a tight budget, or if you simply don’t hang onto very many large files, go with an option that provides unlimited storage at a reasonable price.
  • Multiple platform compatibility. You simply never know when your life might change in some way and you or someone you live with is going to bring a PC into a Mac home or a Mac into a PC home. You don’t want to shop around for new services, so find a service that works with both platforms.
  • Version saving. All the major services offer version saving, which means last Monday’s backup of your system is not replaced by this Monday’s backup, but saved alongside it, so that if you have to step your system back, you can decide how far back you want to go. Services offer as few as five versions saved and as many as an unlimited number, so decide how volatile (or precious) your system is and decide how much weight you need to put on the availability of saved versions.

Additionally, a few extra bells and whistles can be nice. Some services offer file sharing, overnight courier delivery of your system backup on an external drive (which can be faster than backing up from the cloud), free trial periods lasting from 30 to 90 days, seamless integration with Windows Explorer, continuous backups (in addition to full-system, scheduled backups), web interfaces for access from any computer, malware protection, shared accounts from multiple locations, and double encryption so that even the service provider doesn’t know what you’re storing in their cloud.

With so many options, how do you decide on one? It seems like a serious commitment, and it mostly is because of what’s at stake. For starters, a web search of “backup services” will show you a long list of esteemed, credible publications who have done side-by-side comparisons or reader-survey results, with accessible summaries of what makes the top services stand apart from the others. Don’t feel you have to memorize any of this, but read a few articles in their entirety so you’re fluent in what’s out there. Then, ask your techie friends what they use. Many of your brainiest tech-heads probably have some kind of frankensteined system joining multiple services with multiple redundancy, possibly not spending any money. Nod your head politely and forget this: what these friends are doing requires more maintenance and set-up than you want to spend time on. You’re looking for convenience and reliability. Find those friends who are using single services, and ask them how they feel about what they’re getting. If you consider external backups important but one of your friends doesn’t, ask why, and ask also why your friend thinks unlimited version saving is a must-have if you don’t.

Then take the plunge. The nice thing about the top services is that you’re unlikely to make a bad choice. At this stage, you’re choosing between good and better, and you probably won’t know what you really, really need until you’ve given the services a try. With free trial periods or one-month-at-a-time commitments, you’re free to move on if you find something lacking, and your only extra expense will be time, which you will instead call “experience.” Whatever you decide, decide soon, because if you don’t already have something in place, you’re rolling the dice on something that’s inevitable.


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Up In The Cloud: Backup Services - Executive Leadership Articles

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