When we talk about backups, people will immediately see having DVDs, tapes, or external hard drives with copies of our important data on them. Many will also think about offsite remote backups such as backing up to a cloud storage provider.
For both personal and and business uses, a good backup strategy always involves having redundancy in case of the failure of one backup copy. Unfortunately, many don’t practice it. The common misconception is that if you have one external backup locally, it’s good enough. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Disasters can end your business
In 2010, Nashville, TN got hit by a violent storm. At first it was just a thunderstorm but then it turned into a fully-fledged disaster with floods and lightning. Many houses and business were flooded. Fresh water was a luxury at that time. With the flood, all local backups were damaged and gone. What happened next? Business disasters ensued.
Very recently, a friend of mine in Vietnam had a fire in his office building. Thank god it didn’t burn everything down to ashes but several offices were burned, along with his data backups. He is running a professional HR consultancy and headhunting business. So you can guess what kind of consequences he had to go through after that. Loss of information contributed to his eventual loss of business. Scary, isn’t it?
What about personal users?
A legit question. If any disaster strikes, personal users won’t lose their businesses. But our lives are becoming more and more dependent on computers. Huge chunks of memories are stored on your computers and mobiles. Those hundreds of photos from last trip to Europe? They are on your computer. What about your 3 hour long wedding video? It’s also on your computer and maybe on a Bluray disc. If you are a student, then pretty sure you will have your assignments and coursework on your computer too. So imagine losing all of that data. Yeah, sure your revenue stream may not be gone. But it’s still pretty darn painful.
But all is not lost. With proper backup strategy, we can safely make digital copies of your life and your business data. Multiple copies, at multiple locations. When it comes to data safety, never assume the lowest risk. That’s the rule of thumb.
Options at your fingertip
There are two main options for backup. Onsite, offline backup, and remote, online backup. People are already familiar with both, but remain bewildered with the question of why the heck they have to use both. The answers are already clear and given above. So I will skip that part. Let’s move on to available options.
Basically, offline backup refers to using any local and offline data storage such as DVDs, CDs (who uses CDs nowadays anyway?), Bluray discs, external hard drives, tape drives, memory cards, USB thumb drives and whatnot. So what are the main advantages and disadvantages?
Fast backup and restore. If you have tons of data, you will know exactly what this means. Even with a really fast Internet connection, backing up and restoring 200GB of data isn’t always that fast. Even at small data storage amount such as 3GB, having a local backup at hand is always much faster for both purposes.
Easily accessible. Another advantage of local offline backups is that they are readily available at your office or home. You just need to plug them in and start backing up, or do the restoring if necessary.
Better safety. This one is in fact quite ambiguous. If you let everybody in your office or household have access to your offline backup media, then it won’t be safe. Not at all. However, offline backup media do enjoy protection from cyber security breaches (provided that they are not networked drives with an internet connection, of course).
Mobility. All of these offline backup media also let you carry them around. This is not really a good idea if we are talking about external hard drives, but still, you can easily move them around and store them at other locations, or just carry them with you for safety purposes.
Natural disasters can kill them. It’s true. Even if you buy the world’s best and most protected external hard drive or Bluray discs, they are still prone to disasters like fire, tornadoes, thunderstorms (seriously, a power surge due to thunderstorms can fry all of your hard drives), floods and whatnot. Those vulnerabilities just make offline data backup less desirable to use exclusively.
Prone to theft. There are always going to be cases of theft, and the thieves won’t think about you losing thousands of irreplaceable photos, they’re just interested in how much they can sell the drive for on the black market. What if you are away from home or the office one day and get all of your valuable items including offline backup media stolen? Or worse, what if the thief opens your backup and finds valuable pieces of information which they can use to blackmail you, steal your identity, steal your bank account information and such? Then you are practically doomed.
Hard drive failures. Seeing that external hard drives are the most common media used for local offline backups, this is one legit worry. Hard drives fail. All the time. Even the best drives do fail. Reasons? They vary, and if I have to list them down here, the list will be endless so I will skip the boring part for you. So if your setup is only using hard drives, then it can bite you back one day. I have had 5 hard drives failure in the past 3 years. It is not a pleasant experience, I tell you.
Tape backup failures. Even tapes, one of the most durable offline backup media, can fail. Most common reason is magnetic. Any kind of magnetic field can destroy tape backups. Someone once recounted on Reddit about a backup disaster. He had tape backups at his office and home for redundancy, but the ones at office failed due to humidity. Then the ones at home also failed since his wife placed magnetic stickers on the box where he stored the tapes. Heartbreaking!
Online backups are the most convenient form of offsite remote backups nowadays. It used to be a thing only viable for major corporations with deep pockets, but now many providers in this space have changed the game and opened the luxury of having remote offsite backups to small businesses and personal users alike.
Encryption. If you go with a good online backup provider, then your data will be encrypted using high-level encryption algorithms such as 256-bit AES or 448-bit Blowfish encryption. The data transmission and storage will be encrypted.
Access everywhere. This is very handy. All you need is Internet access, and you have access to your backed up files using web-based interfaces, client software and mobile apps. So restoring your data or downloading a particularly important file won’t require you to carry your external hard drives everywhere.
Protection against acts of god and theft. Natural disasters? Pffft… Theft? What’s there to steal when all your data is on the cloud?! Okay, about natural disasters though, you will have to find a company with data centers that have protections against natural disasters, as well as their own data redundancy by mirroring data in multiple locations.
Advanced setup. Unless you hire an advanced IT team and spend tons of money on setting up infrastructures, you won’t have the same security and data replication infrastructures of most online backup providers. The cost of setting up such infrastructures yourself is massive, so why not just enjoy what is already on the market?
No direct control. Once the data is backed up onto servers, then you lose direct control over your data. Sure, you can still access it via Web and client software, but the control you have is not as much as with external hard drives or other offline backup media.
Takes time. If you have tons of data, then you are at the mercy of your Internet connection. It can take a lot of time to upload and backup your initial data, and also a long time to download it for restoration. This is a real problem for the majority of users.
100% reliance on an Internet connection. Yup, this is a major bummer. If your Internet connection goes down, so does your ability to backup and restore your data. If your Internet connection is slow, then your backup or restore process will be slow as hell too.
So what are the main differences? Online backups give you access anywhere with better data safety, while offline backups will give you easier access with faster backup/restores. The differences are already pretty clear, but what’s better?
The answer is neither. Yes, neither is better than the other. For the best backup strategy which will ensure your data safety and ease of access, you must use both. I will be posting a good backup strategy, structure and workflow for multiple use case scenarios soon. So stay tuned!