Disaster Preparedness: What You Need to Know About Cloud Storage and Backups
One of the reasons why so many people fail to keep their data protected with a backup is that it involves effort, and the human nature is to put it off. IT experts used to spend a lot of time badgering staff to back up their PC hard drives, but now they spend an increasing amount of time telling them to back up their online information. The resistance in the process only means that those of us who are too busy, too disorganized or just plain too lazy to create a backup strategy may one day pay the price. Of course, those who are lucky enough to enjoy life under a corporate umbrella, complete with firewalls, multiple layers of security and secure, automatic offsite data backups know that someone else is taking care of all that precious data. However, not every business has that security benefit and for that, you need a ‘Plan B’.
Cloud storage is here to stay, yet even the cloud and its storage companies are vulnerable to outages or worse, a cloud storage vendor going out of business. Moreover, the ever-present threat of data-corrupting malware and ransomware means that synchronizing to the cloud no longer offers adequate protection against data loss. So what can we do to survive disasters and protect your files?
Focus Your Cloud Storage Options
Despite the myriad of cloud services out there that offer free storage space, it makes sense to narrow down your primary cloud provider to just one service before trying to create a backup strategy. This reduces effort and ensures your files are accounted for and backed up properly. The cost and capabilities offered by the various services are rapidly combining, but some important differences remain. One of the most important is platforms that are supported by a particular cloud storage service, including the capabilities of the apps created for each platform — but not all are created equal.
Some cloud platforms have persuaded external developers to integrate with their storage platforms: All BlackBerry 10 smartphones comes with the ability to access Dropbox, Box and OneDrive from the built-in File Manager app; separately, support for Dropbox was also recently added to Office Mobile. Finally, some cloud platforms offer business versions of their more consumer-centric offerings. These typically work the same way, but add the ability to better manage user accounts and quotas, and in some cases offer additional capabilities that are useful in a business environment. As an alternative to public storage cloud services, private cloud storage services offer similar capabilities when it comes to desktops and laptops, though access options on mobile devices are usually much more limited.
One little known feature, not widely found in cloud services when it comes to protecting work documents, is file versioning. If available, tracking changes made to a file can be used to recover from malicious edits or mistakes. Having more than one version of a file around can allow recovery from mistakes that were not immediately discovered or retrieve a clip that was earlier deleted. However, most cloud services offer relatively limited support on this front.
Below is a summary of some of the top cloud services that offer file versioning.
- Dropbox: The paid-for Dropbox Pro service offers version history, though older versions are kept for only 30 days. You can bump it up to a year by paying for Extended Version History, or unlimited revisions by signing up with Dropbox for Business
- Google Drive: Will save changes made to a file for up to 30 days or 100 revisions. Note that older versions of a file will count toward the storage space used.
- SugarSync: The last five versions of a file are saved
- Box: Depending on the plan subscribed to, the last 25, 50 or 100 versions of a file will be tracked
- OneDrive: Only works for Office documents; all saved versions count toward utilized storage space
Let’s back up a bit…
Regardless of your choice of public or private cloud options, the fact remains that proper data backups offer protection against multiple threats, sabotage, or even malware that is designed to deliberately encrypt or overwrite work documents. Below, we look at ways designed to protect your data in the aftermath of disasters.
Disaster-Proof Your Data Backups
Any business can fall victim to the forces of nature. Whether it’s a tornado, earthquake, typhoon, fire, or a flash flood that sends water rushing through your server room, disasters can hit at any time, making your data the likely casualty. According to a U.S. Small Business Administration report, 25 percent of businesses never reopen after being hit by a disaster. However, by designing a backup plan that protects against worst-case scenarios you can beat those odds. Relying on a single backup? When your business hangs in the balance after becoming a victim of a disaster, then have at least two backups, (one is hopefully a remote offsite or cloud base storage) is going to be critical to your business’ survival. Below are some of the suggestions for disaster preparedness.
Storing your data backups at an off-site location is the best way to ensure a copy of your most critical data will remain sheltered from any catastrophic event that may strike your business. Choose an experienced cloud storage provider with a good track record for reliability will help ensure that your data is available when you need it. Additionally, you should always encrypt your data prior to entrusting it to an external organization for safekeeping. Using a cloud storage provider is the easiest way to disaster-proof your backups. In some situations, cloud storage may be impractical. If you handle large files, then you need to confirm with your cloud service that you have sufficient Internet bandwidth to back up your data online. If not, then your provider needs to ensure they can ship your data backups via physical media, if a complete download is impractical.
Considering many of today’s headlines, users or smaller businesses who may justifiable have problems trusting the cloud should consider using storage tape or external hard disk drives (HDDs). Their portability means that they are easy to move to an off-site location where you don’t need to be concerned about prying eyes and serves as a remote location for anything that may occur to data at the primary location. A sneakernet system can be ad hoc (such as bringing a multimedia backup home every evening) or more formal (such as arranging to have the backup media couriered to a safe-deposit box every few days). If your needs are more modest, then DVDs are an affordable storage option for businesses that have simple backup needs. They’re significantly less expensive than tape drives, especially when purchased in quantity. To hedge against “bit rot”—loss of data archived on optical media—store the backup discs in a cool, dark place, and use them only for short-term backups.
Synchronizing your Networked Attached Storage
Bringing data backups home with you every day may work well in the short term if you’re a sole proprietor or a very small business, but at some point that becomes impossible to support as an organization grows or the demands of running the business increase.
If your business has multiple locations, you can deploy two compatible network-attached storage (NAS) devices at each location, and set them to synchronize or back up to each other over the network. In the past, only expensive SAN (Storage Area Networks) offered this capability, but today practically every NAS model can support block-level sync, which conserves bandwidth by transmitting only the changed portions of a file. Regardless of your choice, never transmit unencrypted data and ensure the brand/model can support encryption.
Disaster-Hardened Storage Devices
This approach used to entail storing tape cartridges into a fireproof safe, but now at least one company offers disaster-hardened data storage devices with the ioSafe 214 NAS which is both fireproof and waterproof.
The ioSafe 214 is a disaster-resistant NAS appliance that relies on data mirroring (RAID-1) with two hard drives of up to 4TB capacity. It’s both fireproof at external temperatures of up to 1550°F for 30 minutes and waterproof even when fully submerged at a depth of 10 feet for 72 hours. The ioSafe 214 runs Synology’s well-regarded DiskStation Manager (DSM) operating system, which supports syncing with a second Synology NAS or with the cloud.
A little disaster preparedness for your business can demand time and costs, but it’s not nearly as expensive as rebuilding from scratch. Take the steps now to survive Mother Nature’s wrath because as Schofield’s Second Law of Computing asserts, data doesn’t really exist unless you have two copies of it. This might sound alarmist, but if you’ve ever gone through the pain of losing your entire phone contact list or if your hard drive ever became corrupted then you know the importance of data backups. Let the experts over at NST help you get prepared today!