Online Backup: The Truth

Online Backup: The Truth

The online backup industry has recently seen a massive influx of cheap low-end providers into the marketplace. The relatively low start-up and operational costs of a low-end online backup provider mean that there is now a wide choice of online backup companies available. Many of these firms are based in the US and some offer unlimited storage space for only $10.00 a year. At those prices, given the tightening belt, it is tempting.

With less money to go round, companies need to consider carefully all outgoings. It is no wonder then that many are looking for ways to save cash by making significant tradeoffs in operational expenditure. Inside organisations at the moment there is strong focus on minimising ‘non-essential’ costs and that means a search for cheaper alternatives.

However, there are key aspects that a company needs to consider when choosing a third-party to manage their data protection.

Many low-end online backup providers are based in the US

Online backup technology has been around in the States for a lot longer than the UK, and thus the price of online storage has come down considerably. More data centres have been built, increasing the supply and driving the price down. In a fiercely competitive market place and a thirst for more revenue, many of these providers have started to market themselves in the UK.

The standards for data protection are lower in the US

The level of security in US data centres has always been, and still is, considerably lower than in the EU. There just isn’t the same level of standards to meet. While US online backup providers recently won the legal right to store data from organisations located in the EU, they have to prove that their data centres meet Safe Harboring certification.

If an online backup provider does indeed meet that standard, details are hazy over whether or not the US federal government is allowed to implement the 2001 USA Patriot Act on data originating from the EU. This policy allows the Feds to legally search through any files or folders that they deem necessary to in a matter of national security. If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear, but it is uncomfortable to think that somebody can legally look through a company’s and their customers’ data without asking for permission first.

It could takes weeks to get data back

If the nightmare happens and a server corrupts, gets stolen or blows up, a company will need to invoke the recovery process. They’ll be glad that they backed up online but streaming 100GB of data back onto server could take a while, likely a week. That’s a long time to be out of functional operation. An online backup provider in the UK (if they offer the service) can quickly seed backed up data onto a portable media device and deliver it to a customer within 24 hours. The same can rarely be said for a US provider.

First of all, many do not offer a media restore service (for only $10.00 a year, what can you expect?!), but if they did it could take longer than a week to ship it back from America. Also, if ever a company decides to discontinue their service with a US provider they’ll have to pay great expense to get their data sent back (assuming it makes it through customs). They will also have to be sure that any duplicates contained on the backup servers are destroyed.

Some online backup providers skimp on support

If you are having issues whilst trying to solve a problem with your backup account, the last thing you want is an empty service support office. Many low end online backup providers maintain their prices firstly by using cheaper technology (creating more support issues in the first place) and then secondly by cutting costs on the service side. A fully qualified and certified IT technician can cost beyond £30K a year. The quickest way to negate that expense is either by employing less qualified personnel or cutting back on labour altogether.

Some online backup providers only offer email as a form of support. That can be annoying. Some only have office hours between 9am and 5pm. What's the point in that if an issue occurs at 5.05pm? There is no substitute for having a real, human being on the end of a phone to empathise and get a problem solved there and then. In disaster scenarios response is key and quality service is what you pay for.

The support issue is also relevant when dealing with US providers. A long-distance phone call to California can start costing big, more often than not multiple times that of what the service costs in the first place. Then of course there is the time zone difference. A company will have to hope that a problem doesn’t occur at 9am in the morning because, depending on what part of America the provider is based, they may have to wait until 3pm to get someone on the phone.

Real value comes from support. Nobody truly appreciates this until they experience disaster but the gratitude received on that day is immeasurable. That’s how to wow the customer and that’s how you get referrals.

Cheap online backup means cheap technology

Many low end online backup providers achieve their low price offering by using lower quality technology or by not deploying the necessary resilience in their infrastructure. That could mean a lack of failover capacity. The cost of running a high security, fully disaster-proof data centre is the main expense taken on by reputable online backup providers. To ensure complete reliability many decent providers will also use a secondary mirrored data centre for failover capacity.

To avoid these hefty costs, low-end providers typically use only one data centre. This means that there will be no contingency in place should that data centre go down. Cheaper technology also means that the software is likely to be more buggy as well as offering more limited functionality. Even those companies that appear to be more reputable on the lower end of the scale have made massive mistakes.

One notable player, Carbonite, recently admitted to losing 7500 customers’ data. A situation they blamed on faulty equipment. But why does Carbonite not replicate customers’ data to a secondary site? This is an example of how it is easy to cut cost – but at the cost of lost data and damage to business.


Online backup is like insurance. Although the economy is tough, backup cannot be treated like all other expenditure. Backup is a vital part of a company’s operational strategy and too important to cut corners with. While low-end online backup providers might be suitable for consumer-data where response is not key, they do not offer the infrastructure or support levels required to get businesses back up and running efficiently after data loss.

Backup Direct use the same technology and infrastructure trusted by billion pound companies to keep their organisations operating efficiently after instance of disaster. With dual-data centres located in the UK and the EU we meet the standards and contingency set out by the governing bodies. Support comes from qualified IT engineers operating from 8am to 6pm (GMT time), with a priority support line running 24 hours a day 7 days a week, for all urgent restore or backup issues. Backup Direct has invested the time and money needed provide a quality backup service.

Of course, many of the arguments here are a little technical and do not resonate easily with everyday business people, whose data and business we are here to protect.. To really help businesses understand the differences between the good, the bad and the ugly, often what is needed is an intelligent or witty comparison or analogy to emphasis the important of good backup sense.

  • Cheap online backup is like...a cheap bin liner (that bursts open just as you are trying to take it out of the kitchen, spilling its smelly contents all over the floor!).
  • Cheap online backup is like...a half locked door (hmmm, what’s the point of that?).
  • Cheap online backup is like...a plane tickets half-way to New York (it just does not quite get you there!).
  • Cheap online backup is like...locking the door, but leaving the windows open (nice try, but it won’t wash with your insurance company).
  • Cheap online backup is like...letting an amateur pack your parachute for you (and just hoping it’s going to be alright.).
  • Tape backup is like...using a cassette player instead of an iPod (it used to make sense – but today?!).
  • Tape backup is like...using VHS tapes instead of Sky+ (try it and see the difference).

If you have any more like this, post them below – we’d love to hear them.


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