TECH GUIDE - Offsite Data Storage

TECH GUIDE - Offsite Data Storage

This document provides an overview of the concepts behind and benefits of Offsite Data Storage, as it applies to a typical business environment. It should be used as the basis of further research or investigations by anyone considering deploying an Offsite Data Storage solution.

Offsite Data Storage defined

Offsite Data Storage is the process of keeping data in a location separate to the one in which the data is created and / or used. In practical terms, Offsite Data Storage is only of material benefit to a business where the loss of critical data could result in financial or reputational loss.

Types of offsite data storage – benefits and limitations

Tape backup with offsite storage is the traditional method
The traditional way to store data offsite is to make copies of the data onto tape and then physically move the tapes offsite. Specialist businesses have grown providing such tape collection, storage and recovery service – the most widely known and largest of these is Iron Mountain (, which saw its most rapid growth through a series of acquisitions towards the end of the 20th Century, as the market consolidated.

Most businesses that perform regular backups do so using a tape system. Only a small proportion of these, however, use a systematic method of storing data offsite. Most either keep the tapes onsite (often in the same physical room as the source of the data) or in a separate part of the same building. Many would have a system in place for taking the tapes ‘home’, relying on a member of staff to do so. Most typically, this would be the IT administrator, the office admin or one of the company Directors.

Tapes are mechanical in nature and require human intervention to make them work. These two elements mark the most significant limitations of tapes. Magnetic materials degrade over time – just like a VHS tape would in a home video recorder. The moving parts can become jammed and the tape itself can snap. To be effective, the right tape needs to be loaded at the right time, then stored and retrieved effectively. The routine nature of this set of processes often results in it falling victim to human error. It is far too easy to over-write the data on a tape with the wrong information.

The biggest limitation of tapes as a method of offsite data storage is that process is manual. It is too difficult to ensure that data is automatically offsite. And even if the data is held offsite, it is difficult, or at least inefficient, to get the data back when needed.

Hard disk storage
A variation of the tape backup method is to use modern hard disks to store the backup data. This requires effectively the same processes as using tape – with the same benefits and limitations. Hard disks can be heavier and larger than tapes, making them more awkward to transport manually.

Hard disks do have an advantage of being ‘random-access’. Unlike tapes, where the data is held ‘serially’ - hard disks allow individual files to be accessed directly and quickly. This is similar to the differences between accessing video recordings on a VHS tape compared to accessing video recordings on a hard disk recorder such as Sky+.

Site-to-site mirroring or replication
Mirroring or replication is often confused with backup. Whereas backup takes copies of data offsite and retains historical archives for compliance or disaster recovery purposes – replication simply mirrors the current live information to an alternate system.

Mirroring therefore improves the ‘availability’ of a system i.e. if one fails, the other can take over. This alone cannot be used as a substitute for backup because a mirroring system will typically continually over-write the offsite copy. Thus any corruptions or deletions in the live data will be replicated offsite too. In other words, there is no backup!

Replication typically is bandwidth intensive – making its use over standard internet connections impractical and expensive.

Automated offsite data storage using online backup
Online backup is an effective solution as offsite data storage. Solutions allow for historical archives to be stored in multiple secure data centres. Data is encrypted and sent in ‘block level’ increments, meaning that even large volumes of changing data can be transmitted effectively over relatively narrow internet connections.

Because the system is automated, data is guaranteed to be offsite and secured. The system is not limited by the physical or logical size of individual tapes or external hard drives, the solution can scale according the source data requirements.

Online backup is a very practical method of offsite data storage.

Business Benefits of Automated Offsite Data Storage

Implementing an offsite data storage solution is important because businesses depend on data; data sits in an office – offices are vulnerable.

  • Critical data such as accounts, contracts, email, proposals, databases, projects are typically the most valuable asset many businesses own.
  • Today, 70% of business data lives on computers stored onsite: servers, PCs, laptops, HQ, branch offices.
  • Hi-impact events such as fire, flood, and theft can be devastating; low-impact events such as power-cuts,, etc. are disruptive and inefficient.
  • Two out of five businesses that are shut down for three days aren’t around three years later.
  • Professional reputations & brands are at risk if their customers’ data is lost or exposed.
  • Laws and regulations demand businesses make best efforts to protect their own and their customers’ data. These regulations can include those imposed by the Data Protection Act, The Financial Services Authority, commercial insurance policies, etc.

Business owner managers should ask themselves how much their business and their reputation is worth; and what level of ‘insurance cover’ is appropriate to guarantee its continuity? Is what they are doing today really ‘good enough’? What would be the impact on the business or their career be?

Typical costs for automated offsite data storage through online backup

Offsite data storage costs vary according the type and volume of data being protected, the retention history required and the ‘quality’ of the storage vaults:

  • Simple ‘file data’ is cheaper to protect than complex databases such as Microsoft Exchange or Oracle.
  • Daily backups are cheaper than real-time backups (also referred to as Continual Data Protection or CDP).
  • As the volume of data increases, the price increases – but the rate per unit reduces. The unit of measure is usual Gigabyte (GB). Thus increasing the volume of GB, reduces the price per GB.
  • Sending data to a single backup server in a single location is much cheaper that using dual ‘tier-4’ (or highly resilient) data centres. The latter ensures that data stored offsite is virtually guaranteed to be recoverable.

Taking into account all the above factors, the price per GB for a business grade offsite data storage solution can range from £0.50 per GB through to £10.00 per GB.

Pricing us usually quoted based on the size of the data on the client’s computers, not the size on the storage vaults. This is so that the business user does not have to guess the rate of compression or other optimisations that may be achieved by the technology employed, nor do they have to extrapolate the amount of storage required by the multiple versions stored as part of the historical archiving.

Pricing based on the ‘raw’ client data takes these factors into account and removes the risk or variability associated with ‘compressed vault storage’ pricing.

Offsite Data Storage summary

Offsite data storage is vital to most businesses and a solution should be deployed to provide a level of protection appropriate to the value of the data. The solutions should be robust and online backup is typically the best solution for most businesses.

However, before choosing an online backup service provider for your offsite data storage, take time to research the market and identify those who best understand your needs. The cheapest provider might not be your best option just as the most expensive provider might not be either. Your data is important, so make sure you choose the solution that is the best fit. 

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