7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Online Data Backup Service

By Jennifer Schiff | Posted December 14, 2010

In the article, A Guide to Data Backup and Recovery for SMBs, we discussed what you need to know about data backup, including cloud-based data backup services. Also known as online data backup, these services provide an affordable way for small businesses to secure their critical business data.

If you're thinking about moving your business data to the cloud, we've got seven questions you need to ask any online backup service provider. These tips are adapted from Storage Strategies NOW’s “Data Protection and Recovery in the Small and Mid-sized Business” report.

Choosing an Online Data Backup Service: 7 Questions You Need to Ask

1. What is the data transfer rate? If you anticipate needing to back up large amounts of data, make sure you and the provider are up to the task, that is have high-speed Internet connections.

2. Does the service provide 256-bit SSL connections and data encryption? Most online or cloud backup services provide 256-bit SSL connections, but in some cases secure connections are optional – and may require paying an additional fee. So before you sign up, find out what level of security you are entitled to for the advertised price or if you need to pay an additional amount for a 256-bit SSL connection. Similarly, make sure the backup service will encrypt your data.

3. How safe is my data in the case of disaster? Many cloud backup services have redundant data sites, in case a data center experiences problems, but not all do. (That is, some only store data at a single site/data center.) If you want to make sure your data has the highest level of protection, choose a backup service with a redundant data site.

4. What are the backup service’s data retention policies? Before choosing a backup provider, it is essential you find out what its retention policies are – and if they are flexible. For example, if you have a billing issue or dispute, and have not paid within 30 or 60 days, will the provider automatically delete all your data?

5. How quickly can I recover my data, especially in the case of emergency? Will it take a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks? This question is critical as the whole reason you are backing up your data is in order to be able to retrieve it.

6. Does the service also offer or help with local backup? Some online backup providers offer local backup services (or help), either as part of their service or for an additional fee. If this is something you are interested in, ask upfront if it is an option – or how the service works with your existing onsite backup system(s).

7. Does using this backup provider make sense from a cost vs. benefits perspective? Price per gigabyte of data stored or transferred is not the only measurement of online service costs and benefits. You need to weigh the total cost of using a particular cloud backup provider, including the service and support it provides, the level of security and data protection and peace of mind.

Note: Most cloud data backup and recovery services charge a fixed monthly or yearly cost for storing data. You can spend as little as $4 or $5 per month (for, example, a service like Jungle Disk Workgroup or Server editions, which leverage the Rackspace and Amazon S3 infrastructures).

Higher-end services can cost more than $100 per month (like Backup My Info, which charges by the gigabyte but includes free consulting, 24/7 monitoring and support by senior level engineers and free overnight shipment of drives for emergency restores), depending on the amount of data being stored and what services and/or support are included.

Many cloud providers, however, charge additional fees for data transfer (from as low as $0.15 per GB to $3.00 or even more per GB), tech support and backing up your data to a redundant site.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff writes about IT and small business issues and runs a blog for and about small businesses.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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