Data backup is a hot topic in IT these days – especially as more and more companies use cloud-based SaaS applications like Office 365, Salesforce and Dropbox, to name just a few. Before cloud computing emerged, backup was something we did for clients by making a copy of their data (on tape back in the 1990s, and then later on hard drives) and storing it off-site. More recently, we’ve been backing up clients’ local data to the cloud. It’s a different way of doing it, but the same principle – i.e., having data in more than one location so that you can recover it in the event that it’s lost or destroyed.
But what about data that’s in the cloud in the first place, in SaaS applications like the ones I mentioned above? How do you back up that data? We recommend backing up cloud data locally, which is simply the reverse of what we do when we back up local data to the cloud. Again, the idea is to have your data in more than one place in case something happens to it in its original location. So if it’s local data, we back it up to the cloud; if it’s cloud data, we back it up to local storage. That way, you’re covered no matter where your data lives or what might happen to it.
Some people don’t back up the data that they have in cloud-based SaaS applications. Perhaps they think that since the data is already somewhere other than their physical site, there’s no need for backup. But that’s a big mistake! What if the cloud provider goes out of business or something else happens to make the data unavailable? Just because data is in the cloud doesn’t negate the need to think through security and backup and other essential IT planning. Here are some things it’s critical to consider if you’re finding that you’re keeping more and more data in cloud-based SaaS apps these days.
The Data’s In The Cloud. What Could Happen To It?
We recently had a client who was using the cloud-based Box application to keep and share documents for a project – and ending up losing a good deal of it permanently because of a lack of proper IT planning (including backup planning). What happened was the company gave everyone on the project team admin privileges for the project folder and then synched the folder to a local workstation. At some point, one of their users started deleting files from the local copy on the workstation, which – because those files were synched with Box – caused them to be deleted permanently from Box, too. There was a 30-day window during which Box kept copies of the files, but the company didn’t discover the problem until after the 30 days.
Several things went wrong in this scenario. Giving everyone admin privileges created the risk that at some point someone might make a mistake in making admin-level changes – which is exactly what happened when the employee deleted the local files, not realizing the changes would synch back to Box. Now, if this had not been in the cloud – if it had been a project with files on local servers – the odds are that the company’s security policies would have been set up for a limited number of people with admin-level privileges. That would have severely curtailed the risk that someone would make a mistake with disastrous results.
The other thing that went wrong is that they didn’t maintain a local copy purely for backup purposes. If they had, the whole thing might have been no more than a minor glitch, with the data easily recovered from the backup copy. Instead, they lost a lot of irreplaceable data.
The silver lining in this story is that the company made some major changes in its approach to cloud data, one of which was to have us set up a backup computer in their local environment to which all their cloud data is synched. We back up that computer to a hard drive and keep the contents permanently. So if anyone accidentally deletes something, they can always go to that local archive and retrieve it.
Other Pitfalls of Improper Planning
The example above makes the important point that backup and permissions planning are two aspects of IT planning that are essential in working with cloud data. To these I would add two more: 1) the need to set up logically organized file structures that make it easy to put everything back just like it was in the event of a loss and 2) the need to choose a backup solution that enables you not only to back up data but also to easily restore it if you ever need to.
Many companies that move their data to the cloud fail to set up formal file structures as part of the move. They just start saving things in the cloud – whether that’s in Google Drive, Box or some other cloud repository for their data – and then just sort of hope they’ll remember what goes where and how to find it. At MyITpros, we recommend imposing an organizational structure from the start, and we help a lot of clients with that particular task.
On the second point, an important consideration when choosing a backup solution for your cloud data – or for any data, for that matter – is how quickly and easily you’ll be able to get your data back if you lose it. At MyITpros, we strongly encourage using an image-based backup, which is basically a snapshot of everything – all the data and the settings associated with it. Then when we do a restore, we can get everything back for the client exactly the way it was (and usually in less than an hour, since we don’t need to update all those settings as part of the process).
There are some lower-cost backup options out there that back up only your data, without the associated permissions, settings, etc. If you’ve ever heard the expression “you get what you pay for,” it really applies here. We had one client that was using this type of solution when their server crashed, and it took one or two entire days to get all their files from the backup website and restore the settings.
If you haven’t given much thought to backup services for your data in the cloud, I hope the anecdotes and information I’ve shared here will persuade you of the importance of backup and other types of IT planning. It’s just as important for your data in the cloud as it is for your local data. We help clients set up backup and other aspects of IT planning in the cloud as part of our Managed Services offering, and we would be happy to be of service if you need us. And, as always, if you have any questions, please contact us.
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Bill McCharen, COO
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