Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

Online backup services

7th Apr 2006
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

The problem
Last month Alastair Wood posed a topical question on IT Zone's Any Answers: "We are looking at setting up an offsite backup and have over 70GB of data on our server (pre paperless project going live). Does anyone have a cost effective solution/supplier as we have found these excessive for the suppliers we have tried so far? These solutions are being punted in the trade as being cheap, but this appears only to be so for very small volumes of data, with exponential increases for larger amounts."

Online backup provider DataLifeline's website quotes some sobering statistics:

  • a survey by Yankee group and Sunbelt software April 2004 showed that 42% of respondents had experienced a failed tape restore in the previous 12 months
  • There is only a 30% survival rate for UK businesses that suffer significant data loss.

In other words, data backup is essential, but traditional methods are unreliable.

Readers' advice
Readers were divided in their advice. James Pearce recommended sticking to tapes, particularly in the light of likely data transfer speeds - to transfer 70GB over a 2Mb line would take about 80 hours! Daniel Clark, a current online backup user, pointed out that online backups are normally incremental after the initial backup, in other words you only back up changed files. The software supplied by online backup specialists such as DepositIt uses 'Delta Blocking Technology' which takes the incremental backup one stage further in that only the relevant part of any changed file needs to be transferred to their servers. In this way if only minor changes to a document were made, only this small amount of changed information will need to be uploaded as opposed to the entire file, significantly reducing the time taken to back up, especially when working with large files such as databases that are routinely updated during the working day.

James pointed out that while this certainly helps, a complete system restore could still take days.

Trevor Scott suggested backing up onto a set of hard drives which can be rotated. This seems to be the most popular method used by small firms, and in fact this is what Alastair's firm does, using two USB portable hard disks which hold five backups each and are taken offsite every day, giving them 10 working days of backup data. Three additional hard disks are used to take monthly backups so that each of the last three month ends' data is also stored off-site.

Tape vs online
Online backup does have advantages over local tape and disk backups:

  • Tapes wear out ' we use DAT and DLT tapes, not cheap at around £20 each, but we have been advised that they are only reliable for about six months use. That means replacing ten tapes twice a year. And even within that timescale tapes have failed
  • .

  • Tape backup is slow as data has to be separately verified; restoring a file from a serial medium such as tape can be painfully slow. Random access disks are much quicker
  • Hard disk backup is quicker, but the disks are more expensive, relatively fragile and are not so easy to take off-site
  • If your data grows ' for example if you introduce document management or a large database application ' you could outgrow your current backup media. That might mean a new set of hard disks or a whole new tape system
  • For tape and disk backups, someone has to remember to take the backup offsite each day
  • Onsite backup usually has to be done 'out of hours', so your last backup is always at least 24 hours old
  • Tape is less suitable for full disaster recovery system backup and restore protection ' you may have the tapes offsite, but do you have offsite access to a tape drive and software?

Online backup:

  • Doesn't wear out, and will be backed up by sophisticated backup systems of its own
  • Is much faster than tape backup. The process can be accelerated by using a second backup server onsite, so data is backed up at LAN speed, then copied online to the remote backup site, thus avoiding slowing down the main server. Incremental backups, unsuitable with tape, speed up online backup.
  • enables you to have multiple backup copies of individual files, spread over a pre-determined period
  • is scaleable ' you only pay for what you use, and as you grow you just pay for more capacity as you need it. As Alastair found, though, you need to choose a suitable online provider who can offer a cost-effective service at the level you need
  • is usually automated to run at predetermined times, or can run continuously if you have smaller volumes of data or a fast internet connection (or dedicated data link to the backup service)
  • Is ideal for full system backup and restore

Entry level solutions
Alastair Wood is right in thinking that the most widely publicised online backup services are suitable only for low volumes of data. A lot of offers advertise around 5GB of online storage, designed primarily for single user data file backup or online storage for laptop users, not as enterprise solutions. If that's all you need, Streamload offers 25GB of free online storage as an extension to your local hard drive.

For smaller volumes of data, online backup can be very cheap. Dennis Howlett recommends, a US company which provides a general purpose, sharable online storage for any file type which could easily be used for backups and uses an extremely attractive pricing model. Up to 1GB is free but 15GB will only set you back $99.99 (£58) a year. As Dennis says, that compares very favourably with removeable backup media and portable hard drives. However, this is just an online store, there's no backup software provided.

DIY solutions
Since online/offsite backup is only really using someone else's disk space you could simply use a web hosting company to host your own server, running your own software, and simply access it over either broadband or a dedicated data line. Hosting companies can provide backup for your backup, extremely secure facilities and access controls, and mirroring of data across several servers, often across two geographically separate locations. You are committed to a fixed cost initially as you will have to buy the disk capacity outright up front, but thereafter there is no additional cost as the volume of data grows.

The DIY option enables you to use the backup software of your choice and configure it how you wish, which puts this option in the domain of firms with a high level of in-house IT expertise. Standard local backup software such as Veritas is unsuitable for complicated remote backups. The specialist online backup providers provide their own software, and this alone can make this a more attractive option.

Some larger accounting firms use a combination of local backups for some data while backing up mission-critical data, such as the firm's Microsoft Exchange database, continuously online.

Multi-office firms which don't share a central server can rely on other offices to support an office with data problems. Tapes from office A can be taken to office B to be restored. Slotting an additional SCSI hard drive into an existing server is a much quicker option than configuring a bare server from scratch. Having multiple domain servers also makes restoring an entire server much easier. Inter-office support like this does however they need to be regularly tested as it is rare that every office in a group can maintain an identical hardware and software environment over time. Your backup tapes are not much use if all the other offices use a different format!

Larger online backup solutions
Providers capable of serving larger firms offer a greater range of services. Some offer a full range of disaster recovery services, of which online backup is just one part. Some of these would certainly meet Alastair Wood's requirements.

DataLifeline provides an offsite business backup system with prices starting from £99.95 to rent 3Gb of storage for a year. A free trial is available to test the service and its backup and restore systems. Its fully scaleable, with capacity from 200MB to 90TB. Again, there's strong security with 448-bit military grade encryption used to encrypt data and data transfer speed is enhanced by their unique patching technology which allows large files of e.g. 8GB to be backed up over broadband.

Securidata claims to be the UK's premier online data backup service for servers and network computers, and has customers in the financial and banking sectors. It offers solutions from single PC and laptop backup up to multi-site, multi-server backups. They offer additional facilities, such as backup of live Microsoft Exchange Server and other databases (ie while the databases are running), something which is difficult to achieve effectively even using local tape backup. InTechnology VBAK offsite data backup is another high-end service used by very large organisations.

To meet Alastair Wood's requirements we looked for a professional, scaleable solution that was tried and tested by firms of a similar size. The best fit was DepositIt, used by several of the correspondents to Any Answers. They use their own software which makes secure, encrypted and incremental backups after the initial full backup, and data is compressed to around half its normal size. That initial backup could take some time ' they reckon that using a standard broadband connection you should be able to upload around 1GB of compressed information (upto 2GB of files on your computer) during an 8-10 hours period (ie overnight) so you would need to maintain tape/disk backups until this is complete.

(Backup Direct's website has a handy table of data transmission times at different connection speeds to enable you to see how viable online backup would be for your volume of data. For example 100MB takes eight hours to back up over a 28.8K dial up connection, or just under an hour over a 256K DSL connection.)

DepositIt's service is completely scaleable though ' effectively unlimited capacity, which will be important as Alastair's document management database grows. A Standard User account with 2GB (i.e storage of 4GB of uncompressed data) costs £120 per year. An additional 20GB £600 pa and above that you add £30pa for each additional 1.25GB, so 70 GB will cost just under £2,000 per year.

It is worth noting that other providers make alternative arrangements for the initial full system backup to avoid this slow start. If this is a priority for Alastair he would be better off looking at a company such as 3D Recovery, an independent reseller of a range of online backup solutions from leading vendors. It offers a range of business continuity solutions, including SecurStore online backup. They get over the hurdle of trying to do the initial full system backup online for large data volumes, as the initial backup may be done on-site to a portable disk, backing up at LAN speed. When the full backup of your data is complete, the disk is transported back to SecurStore off site Data Centre. Future backups, which are purely incremental, are carried out online.

But while backing up can be done incrementally, you can't do a full system restore that way. 3D Recovery agree a threshold point with customers for large full system restores, at which the time taken for a specified amount of data to be restored online will take longer than it would for SecurStore to remove it from the Data Centre and transport the disk manually to your site. If this threshold is reached, SecurStore will ship the data direct to your site and there it can be restored at LAN speeds. This threshold depends on the amount of data to transmit and the bandwidth of line installed.

Nigel Harris


Replies (14)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By dclark
10th Apr 2006 13:24

Part of a total package
I'm a Depositit fan, but it should only be part of an overall solution. It should never be a chice of only one backup method. Online backups allow you to reduce HDD\Tape backups, but i'd still encourage users to do them, just not so often

The following only really works for samll companies. If you have 2000 desktops then other solutions are required, but as the Phillips curve shows us, most are SME's...any client of ours that uses Depositit or a simialr offline service we also ensure has sufficient removable hard drives (USB are good enough) that cover:

1 - critical applications : copies of the CD's of all the applications required (ie accounting, payroll) to start from scratch. If we ever needed to start again data is worthless if we had no application

2 - server software - a copy of your 2K CD or your 2003 server CD as well as a copy of active directory

3 - critical data. As mentioned here already, you may 'store' 80GB of data, but only wish to 'backup' 15GB, because much of it can be recovered from pc's, suppliers, etc, etc. We make sure the email data, the accounts data, the payroll data, etc is on this USB drive

The net effect is that the client has a set of removable drives that they could take away and re-start the business from another location. Of course we can recover data from Depositit once it is up and running, but you need to be up and running first

Kind Regards

Daniel Clark
Ryba Macaulay Ltd
[email protected]

Thanks (0)
By User deleted
12th Apr 2006 08:24

What about a RESTORE
OK so we have a flavour for the backup scenarios available and your data is safely backed up - or SO YOU THINK

When was the last time anyone RESTORED the backup data?

If you cannot achieve a succesful restore then what is the point of backing in the first place?

Thanks (0)
Stephen Quay
By squay
13th Apr 2006 14:29

Drive Image Reply to Charles East
Charles, to schedule Drive Image to run automatically. This applies to version 7 for windows 2000 & XP. Select advanced view / select "backup job" tab / create back up job. Follow the prompts selecting what to back up and to where and you will arrive at the scheduling screen. Don't select a one off job as this will erase after running. Select daily, weekly or monthly and check the days and time to run. Once the job has been saved the frequency, days and times can be edited but not what you back up. To change this you need to create a new job. Once jobs are scheduled these will run automatically without Drive Image being open. It's pretty self explanatory so have a go. Then do as I do and go home at night leaving the machine on. In the morning check the backups have been saved, swap over your external HDDs ready for the next evening. Hope this helps.

Thanks (0)
By MarkRyan
07th Apr 2006 17:39

Here's my tuppence-worth
Hello all

Simple solutions for smaller organisations...

Consider how long you're willing to be without your systems in the case of a disaster.

Make sure your recovery system is able to get you working again within this time limit.

Do the whole exercise again, now you've calculated the real cost of your first idea!

Dennis, I feel your comment that only the data needs to be backed up may be misinterpreted. You need working copies of all the software you're currently running as well. You only need to back these up as they are changed, but it's critically important to remember to do this. If there's going to be any doubt, back up the lot!

Yes, you can quickly get a copy of your accounts-production software from your supplier, but do they have all your custom formats stored for you as well?

Yes, you can get the latest cut of your practice-management software, but what if yours is a couple of versions old? What about all your reports?

Yes, you can re-load your email server from scratch, but do you remember how long it took to get it right the first time?

So, why not keep a beefy machine (in a Partner's house, perhaps)
Load it up with all your sofware tools
Copy the data onto it as the backups are done

(If you're using tapes, don't forget you'll need an identical tape streamer on the backup machine for restores - some models can't simply be picked up at the local IT superstore in an emergency)

Mark Ryan
[email protected]

Thanks (0)
By pmdwise
07th Apr 2006 18:39

DVD backup
Am I the only person using RW-DVD's for backup?
4.7 GB per DVD at a cost of less than £1 per dvd (less than .25p per gig) Cheap, fast reusable, portable. What more do you want? or am I missing something?

Anyone have any comments on tape vs online vs DVD?

Thanks (0)
By AnonymousUser
07th Apr 2006 21:40

A couple of points....
1) Remember that your upstream speeds are much lower than your downstream speeds on an ADSL line. You typically get 256Kb upstream and 2Mb+ downstream. Be prepared for sending emails to take much longer while the backup is running... Your restore will therefore be 8x faster than the backup was, and that is good news because while the backup was storing your data a bit a time, the whole lot has to come back after a disaster.

2) Think about what you need to backup. Keep all your data files in as few top level directories as possible. Don't waste time or backup storage allocation backing up your applications. You can always reinstall Office and the operating system if something goes wrong. Remember to take a copy of the install media and activation code numbers so you can do this.

3) Very few (if any) of these products can backup your Outlook mail database while you are using it (for most of us, that is all of the time.) If you do not take special steps to ensure that the software gets a backup of your Outlook database, then you might have to do without all those emails.

4) If you use MS Access or keep lots of Email in Outlook, you really want a program that can do sub-file backup. Without this, add a 1KB email to a 100MB database and you will spend 50 minutes backing it up!

5) For those products that encrypt files prior to sending, don't forget the pass phrase you used as a key! Many of the products store the key on your PC, so you never need to enter the phrase in normal use. Then after a few yeaes, when you need to restore data to a fresh PC after the worst has happened you get a "Enter the pass phrase prompt....."

6) Getting a backup/DR strategy right for your business is tough. If you are backing up data to DVD-R, then ensure that your media is kept well away from your machine. We had a customer once who came into his office to find all his computers stolen, along with all the backup tapes... Never, ever have ALL your data in one place or connected at the same time. Remember that files can be corrupted a long time before you realise they are corrupted, so a backup strategy that keeps many, many versions of each file is always better than one where you only keep a weeks worth...

Thanks (0)
Dennis Howlett
By dahowlett
08th Apr 2006 06:28

Something I forgot
Mark: Programs can be replaced, data cannot. But that actually misses a fundamental point I didn't address - more through carelessness than anything else.

Why bother spending the time, effort and money doing all this when you could run most of your business online? That's what I do and it is what an increasing nmber of people I come across do as well.

Anything local that's critical - ummm - unedited podcast files - can be backed up. That might take all of 5 minutes per day.

The real difference comes in the case of a disaster. Using online apps, I just get onto the Internet and it's as though nothing happened. No re-implementation, no restore of anything.

That's a big saving, especially when you see that in addition, you could avoid the hassle associated with current recommendations to reformat your Windows PC hard drive at least once a year. Think of all those savings on things like RAID, failover, redundancy and so on that are critical to intranet server based systems.

And with all that money saved, folk could have really sexy cool looking MacPro's (the ones that run Windows as well as Mac OSX) - so now we've improved marketing as well. What client could fail to be impressed by the titanium shell, lid light etc. But I digress.

Thanks (0)
By David Carter
08th Apr 2006 12:15

get the backups off-site
Very useful article. Just to emphasise a key point: whatever backup method you use, DON'T keep backups on-site (in case of fire at your premises, etc). Take them home with you each night.

Corruption on backups is not so much of a worry. You can take the backup to your package supplier and they will usually be able to recover the data for you. [A good reason for being on a maintenance contract!].

Thanks (0)
By User deleted
07th Apr 2006 14:52

Online Storage included as standard.
Our products WinWeb AccountsOffice and WinWeb OnlineOffice offer a File Store function as standard, OnlineOffice has 1GB included. For extra file starage per GB we charge £ 25 per year.

There is no upper limit and we will backup all customer data as per our back-up policy to two diffrent secure locations, using RAID-5 technology and encrypt the data as well.

Have a look at and talk to our 24x7 live support or see our Knowledge Base under Support.

Thanks (0)
Stephen Quay
By squay
07th Apr 2006 15:04

External Hard Drive Backups
I agree with Trevor Scott. I am a sole practitioner with just one computer at present. I have just bought a second USB2 external hard drive (LaCie Big Disk 500Gb for under £200). It comes with its own back up software but I am sticking with Powerquest's Drive Image which I have used for years and this clones the hard drive partitions. These are scheduled to run overnight. The next day I swap external HDDs and in the evening I take home the one last used.

Cloning is better than file backups because it will restore the exact drive data image. Great if you install software that screws your system or if you are unlucky enough to receive a virus that slips through the net. In the event of a restore Drive Image will boot from CD and create a shell environment in which USB2 HDDs and networks are accessible.

A few years ago it took me a week to reformat my hard drive and reload all my programs and data after a virus had slipped through and stopped my internet access. At the time Drive Image was around £50 and I have never looked back.

Thanks (0)
Dennis Howlett
By dahowlett
07th Apr 2006 15:13

There's one point I'd like to pick up. Where are the lines between backup and storage? What needs backing up (stored)? the only thing that matters here is the data.

A good topic for discussion that has deep implications for all sorts of software issues.

Thanks (0)
By AnonymousUser
08th Jun 2007 17:37

Diamond Data Back-up, Robertson technologies
Having tried various DIY solutions, but kept forgetting, I now use Diamond Data Back-up from Robertson Technologies. They charge a small monthly sum and my data is automatically backed up every night and stored in heavily encrypted form at two mirror sites. As it includes quite a lot of photos, the first download ran overnight. They supply restore instructions and have a good response record on their support line. I don't have to do anything and the guys are a pleasure to deal with.

Thanks (0)
By JustinRunyon
15th Oct 2018 14:05

What Online backup services choose in 2018?

Thanks (0)
Roberts Dale
By RobertsDale
02nd Nov 2018 16:21

What are the most simple in use? For total newbie?

Thanks (0)