I’m seeing a lot of posts these days about which is the best offsite backup system to use, and a lot of people are going for the obvious choices of Backblaze, Carbonite and Crashplan. But there are definitely some things you need to seriously consider when looking at your backup options. Here’s my own thoughts on cloud backups.

1. It should never be your only backup

This, in my opinion, is the most important thing to bear in mind. Cloud services can, in theory and practice, come and go. If your ONLY backup is with a cloud service, you don’t really have a backup.

2. How large is your backup, and how long will it take to copy to the cloud?

Cloud backup services typically take a copy of all your data at day one, and then they’ll copy any changed files thereafter. If you have a large amount of data to copy, that first backup is going to take a looooong time. And if you’re creating new, and potentially large, files all the time (photographers, videographers, designers, I’m thinking of you here, but not exclusively those people!) will your backup be able to keep up with the ever changing data?
“Oh, I’ll be OK, I have fast broadband”…..if I had a pound for every time I’d heard that! If you’re in the UK, there’s a good chance that your broadband speed is reasonably good. But what most people are looking at with broadband speeds is the download speed, which is (almost) totally irrelevant when it comes to cloud backups. What you need to look at is your upload or upstream speed. I normally describe this in terms of pipes. Coming into your house (the downstream speed) is a really big, wide diameter pipe, serving you with all the data you need (web pages, games, streamed media etc.), but going out your house the pipe is usually a much smaller diameter (for both technical reasons and demand – the average house doesn’t transmit much data outwards) which is fine for general use, but the minute you try and upload a lot of data, it seems real slow (and can also severely impact your download speeds).

With the advent of real high speed Internet (e.g. BT Infinity & Virgin Media’s network), upload speeds are on the increase. But even with the fastest networks, it’s going to take several days (up to several months for those, like me, with a slow upload speed) to complete that first backup. That’s a long time to be at risk, especially if it’s your only backup.

3. Who’s in control of your data?

Without wishing to sound all ‘conspiracy theorist’, I just don’t trust 3rd parties with my data. I like to be in control, so I KNOW that I have a solid backup that I can get data from quickly should I ever need it (don’t forget, a full system rebuild from the cloud is also going to take a comsiderable period of time). Worst case scenario, if the cloud backup service you chose was closed down overnight or had their security breached, would you be comfortable with that?

So what’s the alternative?

Well it’s going to sound old-fashioned, but in my eyes nothing beats good old fashioned offsite media. No matter how you achieve it (and there are lots of ways), the fact that you have a replica of your data stored safely somewhere, readily accessible, away from your computers is a great comfort to me as an IT advisor. As they say, stuff *ahem* happens, and it’s best to be prepared.

My personal setup is dual time machine backups (one to an external drive permanently connected to an Airport base station, and a second external drive which I attach to my Mac on a periodic basis), and I also use a ToughTech Duo mirrored RAID to store all my important data on (I can then swap out one of the drives for an offsite copy see here). That gives me the most security with the least hassle.