Lower Risk and Cost by Backing Up Data With a Remote Service
By Chris Bernard
For small nonprofits that dont have the time or expertise for complicated schemes, remote back-up services lower the risk, cost, and complexity of data storage, especially when paired with regular local back-ups.
Remote back-up tools transfer data from your computers to shared storage centers via an Internet connection. These services may also automate an organizations back-ups, which eliminates the significant risk of human error.
Remote back-up services use a simple, straightforward process. Choose a vendor, download the software, tell it which data to back up, and set a schedule. When its up and running, regularly monitor back-ups to make sure theyre error-free. Most vendors provide a daily email report to facilitate this.
Remote back-up services remove some of the risk associated with local back-ups, such as external hard drives, network drives or removable media, that guard against physical failure of a hard drive or server but not against more severe events, such as a fire, flood, theft, or even a virus.
While cost varies slightly among the various remote services, there isnt usually a big upfront investment. Anticipate just a monthly storage charge and a fee for each computer or server on which your organization installs the services software.
Some services charge a flat fee for unlimited storage. Others charge per-gigabyte (GB), so your organization pays only for the data it stores. However, dont try to save money by being picky about what you back up. In the face of loss, storage is cheap.
Services Suitable for Nonprofits
The small-business version of the popular Mozy Online Back-up service, MozyPro offers a powerful, easy-to-use software interface and solid reporting features. The service automatically detects and backs up new and changed files; it supports bandwidth throttling, file versioning, and multiple restore options (including online, or by a mailed DVD, which is ordered through the vendor).
Mozy supports Windows 2000 (and newer operating systems) and Macs running 10.4 and 10.5. The monthly cost is $3.95 per license and $.50 per GB for individual computers, or $6.95 per license and $.50 per GB for servers.
Carbonite is more affordable on a per-computer basis and might be a better option if youve only got a few computers in your office and theyre not networked. The software is less-configurable than MozyPros, but it supports Windows XP and newer operating systems, as well as Intel-based Macs running OS 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6.
Carbonite charges a flat per-computer rate of $54.95 per year for unlimited storage. Restores are available online only and can take a long time for more than a couple GBs of data. Similarly, the initial back-up can take days, or weeks, to run.
At just $5 per month per server, Jungle Disk is the most affordable of these three options. It is a back-up-management software application that partners with two third-party storage vendors: Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service (S3) and Rackspace Cloud Files. The customer chooses one of the two vendors. Both charge a small per-GB fee, with the first 10 GB of storage for free.
Jungle Disk supports Windows operating systems 2000 and newer servers running 2003 and 2008, and Macs (both PowerPC and Intel-based) running OSX 10.5 or newer. The vendor also provides open-source code and offers reporting via email, web, or RSS feed.
Because remote back-up vendors invest a lot into protecting data, one need not be concerned about sending data over the Internet. Their encryption protocols are rigorous, and the shared data storage facilities are purpose-built, with redundancy and emergency generators to keep them running during power outages. They also boast sophisticated safeguards against network intrusions, viruses, and other security threats.
Make sure to take responsibility for security at your end. Access your data with strong passwords. Follow good password-creation protocol, change passwords periodically, and limit the number of people with access to them.
These services excel in file- or folder-retrieval. If someone at your office accidentally deleted something and wanted it back, or needed to see an earlier version of a document, such a data restore is done quickly and easily over the services web interface.
In the case of a data-loss catastrophewhen an entire file, server, or drives needs to be restoredexpect restoration to take anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the amount of data, the available bandwidth, and the vendors speed at retrieving the data from its servers.
Because data restoration from a local back-up is significantly faster, consider the ideal pairing of a local back-up with a supplemental remote back-up for contingencies. In addition, remote back-up solutions dont offer a bare metal recovery, or the ability to restore a systemincluding the operating system and software applicationsfrom a bare computer. Keep a local system in place to address this situation.
Back-up Best Practices
What should be backed up? The simple answer is, everything everything thats critical, valuable, irreplaceable, or important to the organization. But theres a complicated answer, too: think of your organizations processes. Financial data, constituent data, the materials generated as part of day-to-day operations (documents, spreadsheets, diagrams, PowerPoints), communications (like email), personnel information, web content, and other valuable files all require a process.
Consider each process separately. Do you have a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system? Financial tools like QuickBooks? Determine whether the information these applications use and generate is stored in a central location thats easily found, or whether its spread out in multiple folders. Ask software vendors for help. Follow up by asking if they have a system for restoring or reinstalling the actual applications in the event of a loss.
For the most part, the different back-up tools will back up all your data regardless of the file type (as long as they are told to do so). The default program settings often overlook specific file types that may be important to you.
Once youve chosen a vendor, install the remote back-up software on all file servers that contain information of value from any of these processes. Make sure that staff members are storing valuable data on file servers and not on local hard drives. All networked computers should have access to file storage and all staff members should be using it to protect against disastrous loss.
Chris Bernard is senior editor at Idealware, a nonprofit that provides reviews and information to help nonprofits make software decisions.