Posted on December 22, 2010
Filed Under (Data Storage, General Business) by jennifer

When contemplating which data backup and storage method to use, small business owners are faced with an overwhelming number of choices. Should you back up locally or use an online or cloud-based backup service -– or both? And if you decide to back up your data to a cloud provider (which more and more small and larger businesses are doing), how do you determine which one is right for your business? To make the decision a bit easier, I spoke with backup and storage experts and came up with the “Seven Questions to Ask When Choosing an Online Backup and Storage Service” (some of which was adapted, with permission, from Storage Strategies NOW’s “Data Protection and Recovery in the Small and Mid-sized Business” report).

Seven Questions to Ask When Choosing an Online Backup and Storage Service

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, from 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) to over $100 per month (for a service 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.

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No matter what the size of your business, if you store your business and/or customer data on a computer (and who doesn’t these days?) you need a safe, secure way to back up and store that data. But with so many data backup solutions to choose from, how does a small (or mid-sized) business owner choose the data backup and recovery option that’s right for them? Should you back up your customer and business data locally or use a cloud- or Internet-based backup service — or both?

If you are leaning toward backing up locally, do you back up to tape or disk — or to a virtual tape library (VTL) or removable disks — or some combination of the two (e.g., disk-to-disk-to-tape, or D2D2T)? And if you decide to back up your data to a cloud provider, how do you determine which one is right for your business?

To help answer these questions, and more (such as what to back up, when to back it up, and how to pick a backup solution), I spoke with two data backup and recovery experts, Patrick Corrigan, a senior analyst with Storage Strategies NOW, and Jennifer Walzer, the founder and CEO of Backup My Info. You can read what they had to say about How to Choose the Right Data Backup System, What to Back Up, and How Often You Should Back Up Data in my article for titled “A Guide to Data Backup and Recovery for SMBs.”

The bottom line:  “The chance that your computers [or servers] are going to fail is 100 percent guaranteed,” said Walzer. “It’s just a matter of when. And when that happens, the question is, are you going to be prepared?” And although it may seem expensive, backing up your business critical data to a secure device and/or service, and making sure that information is properly backed up and stored and recoverable on a regular basis, is much cheaper than having to start your business from scratch.

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Virtual servers can help you save money, space and make it much easier to recover applications and files when a crisis hits. Plus, they’re less expensive and safer than you think.

Until recently, server virtualization was thought of as something that only larger companies — with dozens or hundreds of physical servers — needed and could afford. But times, technology and the cost of virtual servers have changed, and today mid-sized and even small businesses with just a few servers stand to benefit from going virtual.

How to Decide if Server Virtualization Is Right for Your Business

If you are a very small business, with just one server, you probably don’t need to go virtual. However, anybody with more than one server should consider server virtualization, said Mike Egmont, a partner at Flagship Networks, a company that helps small and mid-sized businesses go virtual. And anybody with more than three servers really should.” He also includes anyone replacing or upgrading their existing servers in the should-consider-virtualization category.

A good candidate for server virtualization would be a company that is going through [or planning] a hardware refresh, an application upgrade or is looking to improve their disaster recovery strategy, added Mark Bowker, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. Server virtualization can also help smaller businesses better control IT costs and free up IT staff for other tasks. Similarly, it can also free up valuable real estate as a single virtual server can replace several (or more) physical servers.

To learn more about virtual servers, read my latest article, “Why SMBs Should Consider Server Virtualization.” It explains what server virtualization is in terms ANYONE can understand, and provides tips on how to choose the right virtual server and systems integrator for your small (or mid-sized) business.

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