A remote, online, or managed backup service
is a service that provides users with an online system for backing up
and storing computer files
. Managed backup providers
are companies that provide this type of service.
Online backup systems are typically built around a client software program that runs on a schedule, typically once a day. This program collects, compresses, encrypts, and transfers the data to the remote backup service provider's servers. Other types of product are also available in the market, such as remote continuous data protection (CDP).
Providers of this type of service frequently target specific market segments. High-end LAN-based backup systems may offer services such as near-realtime transaction-level replication or open file backups. Consumer online backup companies frequently have beta software offerings and/or free-trial backup services.
Most online/remote backup services came into existence during the heydays of the dotcom boom in the late 1990's. While the initial years of these service providers were about capturing market share distributed among the top few providers, the large industry players took cognizance of the importance and the role that these online backup providers were playing in the web services arena and M&A activity has became quite predominant in the last few years. Today, most service providers of online backup services position their services using the SaaS (software as a service) strategy and its relevance is predicted to increase exponentially in the years to come as personal and enterprise data storage needs rise. The last few years have also witnessed a healthy rise in the number of online backup providers with them existing independently as also as part of a business unit of a larger industry behemoth.
Opened File Backup: The ability to back up files that are extensively opened, such as Outlook files (*.pst) or SQL database files can be useful. Such ability allows IT administrators to run back up jobs any time of the day, not requiring setting aside server maintenance time. Most online backup products need an add-on for this. Higher-end products support this natively. Multi-platform: A Multi-platform backup service can back up multiple platforms such as the various flavors of Windows, Macintosh, and Linux/UNIX. Many newer entrants only back up Windows XP, for example. Multi-site: A feature of some services is the capability to back up the primary site data plus remote offices and branch offices in a relatively seamless manner. Continuous backup: allows the tool to back up continuously or on a predefined schedule. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Most backup tools are schedule-based and perform backups at a predetermined time. Some services provide continuous data backups which are used by large financial institutions and large online retailers. However, there is typically a tradeoff with performance and system resources. Online Access to files: Some services allow you to access your backed up files via a normal web browser. Many tools do not provide this type of functionality. Data Compression: typically data will be compressed with a lossless compression
algorithm to minimize the amount of bandwidth used. Differential Data Compression: A way to further minimize network traffic is to transfer only the binary data that has changed from one day to the next, similar to the open source file transfer tool Rsync
. More advanced network backup tools use this method rather than transfer entire files. Data Encryption: Encryption of data during transmission to vendor and encryption when stored at vendor Bandwidth Usage: User selectable to use more or less bandwidth at various times
Online backup services are usually priced as a function of the following things:
- The total amount of data being backed up.
- The number of machines covered by the backup service.
- The maximum number of versions of each file that are kept.
Vendors typically limit the number of versions of a file that can be kept in the system. Some services omit this restriction and provide an unlimited number of versions. Add-on features (plug-ins), like the ability to back up currently open or locked files, are usually charged as an extra, but some services provide this built in.
Advantages of remote backup
Remote backup has advantages over traditional backup methods:
- Remote backup does not require user intervention. The user does not have to change tapes, label CDs or perform other manual steps.
- Remote backup maintains data offsite. Perhaps the most important aspect of backing up is that backups are stored in a different location from the original data. Traditional backup requires manually taking the backup media offsite.
- Data storage abroad could be an advantage too.
- Some remote backup services will work continuously, backing up files as they are changed.
- Most remote backup services will maintain a list of versions of your files.
- Most remote backup services will use a 128 - 448 bit encryption and sent shrinked data packages via a https connection.
Disadvantages of remote backup
Remote backup has some disadvantages:
- Depending on the available network bandwidth, the restoration of data can be slow. Because data is stored offsite, the data must be recovered either via the Internet or via tape or disk shipped from the online backup service provider.
- Backup service providers have no guarantee that stored data will be kept private - for example, from employees. As such, most recommend that files be encrypted before storing.
- It is possible that a remote backup service provider could go out of business or be purchased, which may affect the accessibility of one's data or the cost to continue using the service.
- If encryption password is lost, no more data recovery will be possible.