Remote backup service

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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 such as EMC and 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.


[edit] History

Most online/remote backup services came into existence during the heyday of the dotcom boom in the late 1990s with the exception of a few early pioneers like industry originator Rob Cosgrove, CEO of Remote Backup Systems. 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 become 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.

[edit] Typical features

Opened File Backup
The ability to back up files that are frequently left open, such as Outlook files (*.pst) or SQL database files. This feature allows IT administrators to run back-up jobs at any time of the day, not requiring server down-time. Most enterprise online backup products support an add-on for this. Higher-end products may support this natively.
A multi-platform back-up service can back up multiple platforms such as the various flavors of Windows, Macintosh, and Linux/UNIX.
Some services offer the capability to back up both data at the primary site and data located at remote offices and branch offices, in a relatively seamless manner.
Continuous backup - Continuous Data Protection CDP
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
Data will typically 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.
Transfer Encryption
Encryption to prevent interception of data. This does not mean that the data will necessarily be encrypted during storage.
End to End Encryption
Encryption of data at the client. The encrypted data is then transmitted and stored on the server. This requires a client generated key, and precludes data recovery should the key be lost. It also precludes certain optimization techniques (such as recognition of common operating system files which don't need to be stored multiple times, and removal of duplicate user files - 'de-duplication').
Bandwidth Usage
User-selectable option to use more or less bandwidth; this may be able to be be set to change at various times of day

[edit] Cost factors

Online backup services are usually priced as a function of the following things:

  1. The total amount of data being backed up.
  2. The number of machines covered by the backup service.
  3. The maximum number of versions of each file that are kept.
  4. Data retention and archiving period options

Some vendors 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.

Most remote backup services reduce the amount of data to be sent over the wire by only backing up changed files. This approach to backing up means that the customers total stored data is reduced. Reducing the amount of data sent and also stored can be further drastically reduced by only transmitting the changed data bits by binary or block level incremental backups. Solutions that transmit only these changed binary data bits do not clog bandwidth by transmitting the same file data over and over again if only small amounts (ie a date change or different address in a word document)

[edit] 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.
  • Unlimited data retentions
  • 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 to send data over unsecured links (ie internet)
  • A few remote backup services can reduce backup by only transmitting changed binary data bits

[edit] 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.
  • Some 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 or automating this process.
  • 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. However with managed services this should not be a problem.
  • Bandwidth issues - backing up a whole hard drive can take a lot of bandwidth, and many broadband customers are limited to 5GB-50GB a month. This would make backing up large amount of data (e.g. 200GB) every day impossible.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

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