BY CLAIRE GALBOIS-ALCAIX
Ten years ago, if you’d asked a small businesses owner what they did to back up their data, the majority would have pulled a tape from their bag and told you how they swapped out a cassette each night and took them home for safe keeping.
But times have changed and, today, everyone is talking about ‘the Cloud’. So what does that mean? Are all Cloud services the same? And is all Cloud data protected?
All Clouds are equal but some Cloud services are more equal than others
When we talk about “the Cloud” we’re all talking about the same thing: the internet.
However, that can mean all manner of aspects of the internet; from storage to transport solutions. So, whilst all Cloud providers use the internet, which technologies they deploy and how much of their service is internet-based varies a lot.
Comparing one Cloud product with another might, on the face of it, look as simple as weighing up how many gigabytes of data you can store for a pound. It’s not that simple. Companies that want to ensure their Cloud service is really protecting their data should ask three critical questions:
Where is the primary copy of my data?
Some Cloud companies host your applications and the data that exists within them. Salesforce.com or Google Docs are good examples of this model. Here, the primary copy of your data exists in the Cloud (ie, on the service provider’s servers) and you pull it down over the internet to access it. Whilst your data is ‘in the Cloud’ it’s not necessarily backed up – you need to check with your provider how they keep copies of that data and how easy they are for you to get at should their service fail.
Who owns the server that my data is copied to?
Some people talk about their ‘private Cloud’ which means they use the public internet to transport their data but they actually own (or rent) the server on which it’s stored. The costs attached to these solutions make them best suited to larger organisations.
Others talk about the ‘public Cloud’ – where you share server capacity. In reality, this can mean anything from backing up to spare capacity on someone else’s computer to having your data maintained in a state-of-the-art data centre.
Handing off your data to someone else’s computer is much cheaper than storing it in a business-grade data centre, but who’s responsible for its security and integrity? When push comes to shove, do you trust them with your data? Data centres have costs attached to them but what you’re buying is peace of mind.
What is the service designed to do?
Cloud service providers have their own language that can sound confusing to the uninitiated. ‘Sync’ and ‘share’ functions sound like they might do the same thing, as do ‘online storage’ and ‘online backup’. They don’t. And if you get them confused when making your selection, it’s easy to wind up committed to a service that’s not right for you.
‘Sync’ solutions enable users to keep all their computers up-to-date with the latest versions of your files. Sync services are great if you work from a number of different devices, for example, a laptop, a tablet and a smart phone; but the process of choosing what to sync is manual so it’s easy to leave out important documents and not great as a backup solution. Sync solutions are designed to help businesses access data, not protect it, if they’re looking for protection, companies should seek out an automated online backup service. Additionally, since the purpose of Sync is to have a single up-to-date copy of a file, it’s hard to roll back to older versions in the event that documents are corrupted – a key application for online backup.
‘Share’ solutions enable users to work collaboratively with colleagues, using the Cloud to host files that you can all edit and access. Some can also be used to post information to social networking sites. Sharing services are by nature suited to files that you want others to interact with, which means they are not meant to mirror the versions that might be missing from the PCs that a company wants to restore data to.
Online storage solutions give companies space in the Cloud where they can keep files. But this is the online equivalent of being given an empty box. It’s a blank space to do with as you want, but you have to do something to make it useful. If you want to use it for back up, either you need to buy and integrate a backup client to manage that or you need to manually upload each document that you want to protect, every time you make any changes to them. Moreover, when you want to get that data back and restore it to your computer, you need to manage that process yourself.
Online backup systems are complete solutions created specifically to protect a company’s data. A specialised online backup solution will automate the process of selecting which files are new or changed and need to be backed up, before systematically managing their transport to the Cloud. The service will ensure the integrity of the data by encrypting it, and will transfer it over a secure connection – similar to those used for online banking. Finally, it will support the organisation through the process of managing and restoring its data. When things go wrong with your IT and you need to get your data back, having someone on hand who knows exactly what they are doing is invaluable.
Get what you need from the Cloud
Getting what you need from the Cloud is all about asking the right questions during the vendor-selection process. Businesses whose primary goal is to protect their data should make sure that that’s the primary goal of their Cloud provider too. Many backup providers are offering services like sync, share and storage in addition to their core offerings; which is a great way for companies to make the most out of their investments. However, organisations that want the peace of mind that comes with knowing their data is protected, need to ensure their provider has the backup side of things covered before weighing up any additional benefits.
Claire Galbois-Alcaix is senior marketing manager for Mozy – www.mozy.co.uk