Is it Safe For Me to Back Up to the Cloud?

backup-CloudShould you back up to the cloud?

It is probably safer than whatever else you are doing now.

Backups are the most neglected thing in IT. More people fail to back up their computers than the number who do. Backups are ignored more than any other single thing. It is hard to understand why someone would consciously choose not to back up, unless the task seems so difficult or complicated that it is just overwhelming.

Since the beginning of my career in technology, and in fact going farther back to the college days, stories of bad backups have been everywhere. I will share a few for your amusement, or possibly to just horrify you.

Broken Tapes

I didn’t see this one personally, but I can relay the story. In the 1980s and 1990s the most popular backup method was magnetic tape. Like a cassette tape, but wider with greater capacity. These took hours to run and so generally the backups started after 5:00. Every day it was someone’s job in the office to change the backup tape before going home so that the backup would run onto another tape. Seven tapes meant you could have seven backups – one for each day of the week. Then add another tape for weekly, and another for monthly, and you could go back farther if needed.

The typical story is that the backups are done faithfully, and then when someone goes to restore after a disaster occurs, the backup failure is discovered. In one case, it was discovered that the magnetic tape was physically broken. In fact, most of the tapes were broken, after having been in use for several years. If you were to look at the tape, you would see that it was all wound inside with no tape passing over the read/write heads in the tape drive. But they kept changing the tape every day.

It Crashed, so I Backed it Up

One day I got a call saying “The database crashed.” After some investigation, I decided that restoring yesterday’s backup would be the best course of action. A small amount of data might have to be re-entered and then all would be well.

I asked the operator, “Do you have yesterday’s backup disk?” At the time we were backing up this system on 3.5″ floppy disks.

She gave me a sheepish look and said “Well, I haven’t been backing up lately.” This was a task that took a few minutes at the end of each day. Time is precious, and going-home-time is most precious. “But when I realized what happened I did another backup right away!”

The extra backup was not good news. She used the disk that had the most recent good backup from a couple of weeks earlier, and overwrote it with a backup of the corrupted data. Data was lost this day.

The Floor Polisher

This story goes back to the early 1980s again. Every day they would run a tape reel (these reels could be 10″ or 12″ in size) and store it in the tape room. From time to time, they would pull a tape out and it would be unreadable. It seemed like they tapes on the bottom shelf always had this problem. They investigated an analyzed. Eventually they staked out the tape room one night. Every night the custodian came in with an electric floor polisher and waxed the floor. The floor polisher had a strong enough motor in it to create a magnetic field that damaged the tapes on the bottom shelf.

Magnetic Storage

A friend of mine told me this one. He was working with an accounting client doing an audit and he asked bout the backups. “Oh we do them every day. We store them in the back room.” The employee happily showed him where they stored them, in an easy to find place hung on a metal door. In fact the backup tape was held to the metal door by pinning it in place with a very large magnet. The magnet would have instantly destroyed the data on the tape as soon as they “stored it” in the back room.

But What About Your Backup?

Your first priority is to do one. Your second priority is to automate it in such a way that the backup will happen in spite of you, not because of you. You can back up onto an external drive via USB, or over your local network to another computer, or into the cloud to a trusted location.

Consider the following:

  • the time it will take to restore your data after a complete failure
  • the time it will take to run the daily backup (cloud can be slow)
  • how many versions of the files will be stored (just today’s version, or the last 30 versions)
  • where the data is stored – is it in the same building, subject to the same risks? What country(ies) is your cloud storage in?
  • is your backup secure, or could it be stolen or damaged?

Backups are one of our three top priority items with all of our clients. Talk to us about managed services.