How to create a robust backup strategy with cloud services
From platform support to file versioning to private options, it’s important to consider all the factors when evaluating a cloud-based backup strategy.
By Paul Mah
Love it or hate it, cloud storage is here to stay. Yet the fact is that cloud storage providers, like all IT companies, can experience outages or even go out of business. Moreover, the ever-present threat of data-corrupting malware and ransomware means that synchronizing to the cloud no longer offers adequate protection against data loss.
With this in mind, let’s look at how you can work with more than one cloud storage service to put together a cloud-based disaster recovery strategy to protect your files.
Despite there being many cloud services out there that offer free storage space, it makes sense to narrow down your primary cloud provider to just one service before trying to create a backup strategy. This serves to reduce complexity, and also makes it easier to ensure that your files are accounted for and backed up correctly.
On this front, it’s worth noting that while the cost and capabilities offered by the various services are rapidly converging, some important differences remain. One of the most important would probably be the platforms that are supported by a particular cloud storage service, including the capabilities of the apps created for each platform — which may not necessarily be equal.
Some cloud platforms have been more successful than others in terms of persuading external developers to integrate with their storage platforms: All BlackBerry 10 smartphones comes with the ability to access Dropbox, Box and OneDrive from the built-in File Manager app; separately, support for Dropbox was also recently added to Office Mobile.
Finally, some cloud platforms offer business versions of their more consumer-centric offerings. These typically work the same way, but add the ability to better manage user accounts and quotas, and in some cases offer additional capabilities that are useful in a business environment, such as the presence of audit logs.
Private cloud options
As an alternative to storage cloud services that are based on the public cloud, private cloud offerings allow data to be synchronized across devices that are owned by the company. Private cloud storage services offer similar capabilities when it comes to desktops and laptops, though access options on mobile devices are usually much more limited.
Below are a couple of private cloud options that are worth mentioning.
BitTorrent Sync. As its name suggests, BitTorrent Sync makes use of the time-honed BitTorrent protocol to keep files in sync across multiple devices without relying on a centralized storage hub. Individuals or teams can work on shared files that replicate up to 16 times faster than cloud-based services, according to a company representative.
Transporter. Created to make it easy for small businesses and individuals to create their own private cloud storage, additional appliances can be added to an existing deployment from anywhere for additional redundancy. More recently, the company also launched higher-end storage devices geared toward the enterprise.
One feature not often discussed, but highly pertinent when it comes to protecting work documents, is file versioning. Used to track the various changes made to a file, it could potentially be used to recover from malicious edits or mistakes.
In addition, having more than one version of a file around can allow recovery from mistakes that were not immediately discovered, or to retrieve an early snippet that has been deleted. The downside, though, is that most cloud services offer relatively limited support on this front.
Below is a summary of some of the top cloud services.
Dropbox: The paid-for Dropbox Pro service offers version history, though older versions are kept for only 30 days. You can bump it up to a year by paying for Extended Version History, or unlimited revisions by signing up with Dropbox for Business.
Google Drive: Will save changes made to a file for up to 30 days or 100 revisions. Note that older versions of a file will count toward the storage space used.
SugarSync: The last five versions of a file are saved.
Box: Depending on the plan subscribed to, the last 25, 50 or 100 versions of a file will be tracked.
OneDrive: Only works for Office documents; all saved versions count toward utilized storage space.
Of course, file versioning is no guarantee that an earlier iteration of a file can be recovered in time. Ultimately, separate backups are still very much necessary.
Let’s back up a bit…
Regardless of the eventual choice of a public cloud or a private cloud option, there is no running away from the fact that proper data backups offer protection against multiple threats, including mistakes, sabotage or even malware that is designed to deliberately encrypt or overwrite work documents.
On this front, we outline three primary ways in which you can create a backup from your primary cloud service below.
The easiest way to create a cloud-to-cloud backup would probably be to sign up for cloudHQ, a cloud service that synchronizes data between multiple cloud services in real time. CloudHQ supports almost all of the cloud storage services in use today, as well as Evernote, Basecamp, Salesforce and SharePoint.
To get cloudHQ to back up your cloud files, simply set up a one-way sync instead of the usual two-way sync. Select the “Archive files” option for files that are changed or deleted, and cloudHQ will now create the appropriate backups of file in the cloudHQ archive folder of the destination cloud service.
The service is not free, though — it will set you back $9.90 per month to synchronize an unlimited number of files. In limited tests, a new folder containing almost 6,000 Word documents and assorted images totaling 5GB took almost two days to complete its first sync from SugarSync to Dropbox. Of course, the fault could well lie with one of the cloud storage services, and is unlikely to be noticed even under normal usage scenarios.
Backing up from a desktop
For those who are unwilling to fork out cash for a subscription, an alternative would be to set up a desktop PC (or Mac) to make a copy of your cloud-synchronized files to a separate location periodically. There are a number of software apps that you can use here; noteworthy are GoodSync and Duplicati, both of which can create a copy on destinations such as FTP locations and networked drives, or cloud locations such as Amazon S3, OneDrive and Google Drive.
Some care is required to correctly configure GoodSync so that malicious edits or deletions are not also propagated to the backup location, while Duplicati is worthy of special mention due to its ability to perform incremental updates to reduce the storage space used. The latter also supports strong AES-256 encryption, which means that backups are protected against inspection.
Using a storage appliance
A somewhat less orthodox way to protect your cloud storage service would be to rely on a network-attached storage (NAS) appliance to do the backup. The latest DSM operating platform that runs on all NAS appliances from Synology, for example, can hook up with a variety of cloud storage services, including Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive and Box.
In this case, the NAS can be set up to keep in sync with the cloud, while local versioning control on the storage appliance can be relied on to ensure that older versions of files can be restored at any time. Alternatively, a backup schedule can be set up to create regular point-in-time data backups.
For the sake of simplicity, the above suggestions only examined the broad options available to users looking to back up a primary cloud service. Alternative ways of setting things up are readily available, just as additional options are likely to emerge as cloud storage services — and the utilities and services that work with them — continue to mature.