Cloud backup is a key service for businesses of all sizes. Organisations can use cloud backup to send copies of their data and applications to remote, off-site servers, allowing them to maintain easy access to their information and resources even in the event of system failures, power outages, natural disasters or targeted cyberattacks.

If you want to keep your company’s data and your customers’ data safe, it’s imperative that you invest in a service like cloud backup. But what exactly is cloud backup, and how does it work? In this helpful guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about cloud backup, including the different types, how it differs from cloud server storage, and its pros and cons.

What is the cloud?

First, let’s clear up some basics before we dive into the details of cloud backup.

To understand more about cloud backup, you need to know what ‘the cloud’ really means. Simply put, the cloud is a metaphor for a global network of remote servers that host software and infrastructure. These servers are owned by cloud providers, who then deliver on-demand computing resources, such as storage and applications, over the internet. This is called cloud computing.

Cloud computing services are entirely scalable, which means customers can use as much or as little of the resources as they want. Plus, when you store data and applications on the cloud, you’re storing them on the cloud provider’s servers rather than your own. This means you can avoid buying and maintaining your own IT hardware.

The cloud is commonly used for cloud storage, which is a cloud computing model that enables you to store data on the internet through a cloud computing provider. There are multiple types of cloud storage, including:

Public cloud

This is the most commonly used and accessible type of cloud storage. With public cloud, cloud service providers make computing services on-demand over the public internet, which means anyone can access them. Public cloud storage providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.

Private cloud

If you need to store your data in a more secure environment, private cloud storage is a great solution. With private cloud, only authorised users can access your data as it's stored on your organisation’s intranet and protected by your firewall. Private cloud gives you much greater control and security, but one key downside is the increased cost.

Hybrid cloud

If you want the best of both worlds, you can opt for hybrid cloud storage. Hybrid cloud gives you access to public and private clouds, so you can store sensitive data privately and keep less sensitive data in the more accessible public cloud.

What is cloud backup?

As briefly mentioned in the introduction, cloud backup (also known as online backup or remote backup) is a service whereby people can back up copies of their data to one or more remote cloud-based servers. The backup servers and data storage systems are hosted by a cloud provider who charges a fee based on a variety of factors. These factors can include the amount of storage space used, the data transmission bandwidth, the number of users, the number of servers required, and the number of times data is retrieved.

So, why is cloud backup important? By storing copies of your data in a remote location, often across multiple servers, your organisation is less vulnerable to data loss through incidents such as power outages, natural disasters and cyberattacks. If your data is compromised, you can easily restore your company’s data from the cloud servers. Plus, since cloud providers will often store multiple copies of your data across different servers, you’ll still be able to recover your data even if one of the servers is faulty or compromised.

Although not all businesses will be as concerned about the effects of natural disasters on IT hardware and data, all organisations can benefit from robust cybersecurity measures, including cloud backup. If malware infects your IT equipment and corrupts your data, you can quickly restore data backups from your cloud service provider to keep your business running. Similarly, if you’re targeted by ransomware, which is where cybercriminals hold your data hostage until you pay a ransom, you can avoid paying anything by simply restoring your data from the cloud.

There are two main methods of cloud backup to be aware of. These are:

Backup-as-a-service (BaaS)

If you’re looking for a more hands-off approach, backup-as-a-service (BaaS) is for you. With BaaS, the cloud provider manages your backups for you, so all you need to do is connect to their servers to start the process.

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS)

If you want more control over your backups, you should go for platform-as-a-service (PaaS). With this option, the cloud provider will give you a platform where you can store and manage your backups yourself.

Cloud backup vs cloud storage

Although cloud backup and cloud storage are very similar, they don’t mean the same thing. Cloud storage is all about storing your company’s data in the cloud for a variety of reasons, including to free up server space, improve accessibility and archive old files.

On the other hand, cloud backup involves storing copies of your data to an off-site cloud-based storage system, allowing you to recover data copies in the event of data loss or corruption. Therefore, cloud backup can archive your data and offer disaster recovery solutions, but cloud storage cannot offer proper disaster recovery.

Cloud backup vs cloud disaster recovery

For a more comprehensive disaster recovery solution, there are cloud disaster recovery services. Although cloud backup can help you recover data and keep things running after a disruptive event, it doesn’t offer all the advanced disaster recovery features you can find with disaster-recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS).

If you were to experience full data loss in a catastrophic event for your business, you would need more than just your data files to get up and running again. In this case, you would need your application software, drivers and utilities, and this is where DRaaS comes in. With DRaaS, your entire server is mirrored to the cloud backup service. If you need a top-notch disaster recovery solution for your business due to vulnerability to cyberattacks or natural disasters, you may need to opt for DRaaS instead of just a regular cloud backup service.

How does cloud backup work?

Now you know more about what cloud backup is, let’s look at how this service works. If you’re interested in cloud backup services, there are many different cloud backup approaches to choose from depending on your needs. Here are the main options:

Backing up directly to the public cloud

If you’re interested in handling a lot of the data backup process yourself, you may decide to duplicate your data in the public cloud using services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). These cloud providers will provide safekeeping for your data, but you’ll be in charge of using backup software to create duplicates of your data to send to the cloud storage service. Since you’ll be storing data backups on the public cloud, you may want to think about adding extra data protection features, such as data encryption and two-factor authentication.

Backing up to a cloud service provider

Managing data backups yourself can be quite time-consuming, so if you want to speed things up a bit, you should consider backing up your data to a cloud backup services provider (BaaS). The provider will use their own backup software to create secure copies of your data and then house your backups on its cloud servers.

Cloud-to-cloud (C2C) backup

As the name suggests, cloud-to-cloud (C2C) backup services enable you to backup data from one cloud to another cloud. So, if you’ve already got data in the cloud due to cloud backup services or data created from SaaS applications, you can increase the security of this data by duplicating it in another cloud service.

Online cloud backup appliances

If you want to keep things old school and retain physical data copies as well as cloud backups, some providers offer backup appliances. These machines typically include backup software and disk capacity, along with a link to one or more cloud backup services. Therefore, you’ll save copies of your data in the cloud and on the local appliance. Being able to recover data from the appliance rather than the cloud can save you a bit of cash due to transmission costs.

Backup methods

In addition to these varying approaches to cloud backup services, you can also choose from several backup methods. This gives you the flexibility to choose a backup type and frequency to best suit your needs.

Here are the most common cloud backup types:

Full backups

For the greatest level of data security, you can opt for a full backup. All of your data is copied during a full backup, which is very comprehensive but also very time-consuming. Because of this and the amount of storage space required, most businesses choose not to do full backups too frequently, unless there are pressing data security concerns.

Incremental backups

Incremental backups are a much less time-consuming and resource-intensive alternative to full backups. With incremental cloud backups, only data that has been changed since the last backup increment is copied. However, one downside is that incremental backups can make it more difficult for you to restore all of your data if one of the increments is lost.

Differential backups

Similar to incremental backups, differential backups only back up data that has been recently changed. However, unlike incremental backups, differential backups copy and save all data that’s changed since the last full backup rather than the last incremental one. This can make it easier to perform a complete data recovery.

Continuous replication

In addition to how much data is backed up, you can also choose when it’s backed up. Most companies choose continuous replication, which means that your data is copied to cloud servers as it changes. Continuous replication allows you to always keep up-to-date copies of your data in case a complete recovery is needed.

Scheduled replication

If you don’t always need an up-to-date copy of all your data, scheduled replication may be more convenient. Instead of continuously backing up your data, the cloud provider will create data copies on a set schedule.

What are the advantages of cloud backup?

So, why should you invest in cloud backup? Here are the main benefits:

1. Reduced costs

By investing in a cloud backup solution for your business, you’ll actually be saving money overall. This is because you won’t have to maintain your own hardware infrastructure for data backups, as you’ll be using the cloud provider’s equipment. You’ll need to pay a monthly or annual fee for a cloud backup service, but it’s still much cheaper than having your own servers or data centre.

2. Scalable solution

Cloud backup is an entirely scalable backup solution. The cloud is fully scalable as you can add and remove resources as needed, which means your cloud backup service can grow with your business. This makes cloud backup ideal for businesses anticipating rapid growth or sudden spikes in demand, but bear in mind that increasing data volume will lead to greater costs.

3. Increased data availability

With cloud backup, copies of your data are always available in case you need to recover them (e.g. following a catastrophic data loss event such as a cyber attack or system failure). Plus, since the data is stored on the cloud, it’s accessible from anywhere. This makes data recovery much more convenient.

4. Improved security

Even though cloud data is accessible from anywhere, this doesn’t mean it lacks adequate protection. Data is commonly encrypted before transmission and during storage on cloud backup servers, and since data is stored outside of your network, it’s less vulnerable to cyber attacks. The best cloud providers will offer multiple layers of protection for your data, including two-factor authentication, encryption and firewalls.

5. Improved resilience

Cloud backup services are typically far more resilient than any data backup efforts in-house, reducing the risk of data loss due to improper storage, damage to hardware or accidental overwrites. Your cloud provider’s data centre will have fully redundant systems including power cooling systems, and internet connectivity, keeping your data safe no matter what.

6. Easier management

By backing up your data with a cloud provider, you can reduce a lot of your workload in terms of data consolidation and management. Your cloud provider will handle backups, data transmission and data recovery, allowing you to focus on other areas of your business.

7. Disaster recovery

Although cloud backup isn’t a full DRaaS solution, it’s great to have as a protection against data loss. If you’re faced with a disastrous event such as malware infecting your system, cloud backup services can help you recover copies of your data quickly and easily, allowing you to keep things running smoothly no matter what.

What are the disadvantages of cloud backup?

Of course, there are also a few drawbacks to be aware of when choosing whether to use a cloud backup service. Here are the main ones to consider:

1. Latency

Although cloud backup services are often quick and easy to access, latency can sometimes be an issue in certain parts of the world. This could cause problems if you’re attempting an urgent data recovery.

2. High bandwidth requirements

Another potential downside is that cloud services rely on the internet. If many users are trying to transmit or save their data at the same time, this could make your data backups much slower. For optimal performance, you’ll need high-speed internet to connect to the cloud.

3. Escalating costs

Over time, your cloud backup service could become increasingly expensive if you take up a lot of storage due to larger volumes of backed up data. You need to factor in future costs as your business grows, or you can archive dormant data to reduce the amount of storage needed for core backups.

4. Loss of control

By sending your data backups to a third-party cloud provider, you’ll lose full control over this data. You need to be able to trust your cloud provider fully, so it’s important to research the provider in-depth before purchasing their backup services. This will involve investigating their security measures, equipment, recovery process, and data storage procedures.

Cloud backup best practices and considerations

Before getting started with cloud backup, you need to make sure you’re following best practices when it comes to storing your data backups safely and securely. There are many considerations to keep in mind when choosing a cloud backup solution, including:

  • The 3-2-1 rule: According to this data security rule, you should have at least three copies of your data, including two copies on different media and one copy off-site. Cloud backup will give you a secure, off-site location for your data, but make sure you also back up your data in other ways on-site for the greatest amount of protection.
  • Cost: Cloud backup fees can increase substantially if you end up with very large volumes of copied data. To keep costs down, make sure you assess your data regularly so you can identify obsolete data and either delete or archive it.
  • Security: When choosing a cloud backup provider, you need to carefully consider the available security measures. What security measures will be included in the subscription, and what’s their policy on access control?
  • Backup schedules: How often do you need to back up your data? Choose a cloud backup provider that offers the right schedule for you, whether that’s weekly or continuous backups for the highest level of data protection.
  • Compliance: If you must comply with data protection laws like GDPR, you need to ensure that your chosen backup provider will protect customer data to these standards. This will help you avoid potential fines and legal issues.

Here at Fasthosts, we offer a full cyber protection package powered by Acronis. With Acronis Cyber Protect, you can back up your data quickly and securely, encrypt your data, protect your business against ransomware and take advantage of enhanced disaster recovery. Get in touch today to learn more about our data security packages.