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Remote Backup for Your Organization

Keep your backups safe whether on-site or off with these helpful questions

By: Andrew Conry-Murray and Elliot Harmon

February 17, 2010

Editor's note:

This article was excerpted from TechSoup's The Resilient Organization: A Guide for Disaster Planning and Recovery where you can find more resources on developing backup systems, strategies, and tools for your organization. This is the third in a three-part series. View the first article on backup strategies and the second on local backup.

Automated online backup programs require only an Internet connection, a small software program, and a few minutes of your time. To perform a backup, you simply install the software on every computer containing data you want to back up; set up a backup schedule; and identify the files and folders to be copied. The software then sends copies of the files to a remote repository via the Internet.

Note that online backup is not equivalent to online file storage, a service that lets you upload individual files and folders for future retrieval.

Automated online backup is ideal for small nonprofits (say, two to ten people) that need to store critical information such as donor lists, fundraising campaign documents, and financial data, but lack the equipment, expertise, or inclination to set up dedicated on-site storage.

With local storage, all the data is within your reach - and therein lies both its value and its risk. You can always access your information when necessary, but that information is vulnerable to loss, whether through theft (someone breaking in and stealing computer equipment) or damage (such as a leaky water pipe or a natural disaster). Online remote backup moves the data out of your office and to a third-party facility, usually a large, shared datacenter. This means you don't incur the capital expense of purchasing backup equipment, and in the event of a disaster you can still recover critical data (assuming you choose a remote facility outside the radius of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or other potential disasters).

Automation is another key benefit to remote backup. A software program won't forget to make an extra copy of a critical folder; a harried employee at the end of a busy week might. By taking the backup task out of your users' hands you avoid the problem of, "I forgot."

Choosing a Remote Online Backup Provider

A downside to online remote backup is that you have to entrust critical data to a third party. Thus, due diligence is required on your part to ensure that the provider you choose is reliable and financially secure. Otherwise, you might end up with a company that has sloppy data-protection habits or goes out of business.

When shopping for a provider, ask to speak with one or two customers who have used that provider. You should also ask for specifics about each provider's storage facilities. The following are some other important questions to ask:

  • Has the provider built its own data center, or do they co-locate with a third-party provider?
  • What redundancy have they built into their system to ensure that your data will always be available? For instance, do they make backups of your backup?
  • Will your information be kept on hard disk or moved to tape? How do they secure physical access to the equipment where data is stored?
  • Will your data be stored in a secure facility?
  • Who has network access to the machines that store your data?
  • Does the backup provider automatically encrypt your data? (Some services recommend that you encrypt your own data before backup.)
  • Does the provider offer a guarantee or insurance of a successful recovery?

You should also discuss pricing. Are there additional charges to the base price? Will the company notify you if you are nearing your allotted storage capacity, and how much do they charge if you exceed that capacity?

If you hold sensitive data about your users, clients, patrons, or community members, you may want to consider whether you need to comply with privacy regulations for data. Learn more about which privacy laws apply to you in our blog post on Canada’s Federal and Provincial Privacy Laws for Nonprofits & Charities.

These questions will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure that copies of your critical information are secure and available.