Think you’ve got cloud backup? No, you’ve got cloud storage... Here are the critical differences

15 Jul 2020

So, you’re rocking your business in the cloud, with Microsoft 365, or Google’s G Suite, or Dropbox – and it feels good!

Access any file from any device. Share files easily, and work on them with your colleagues and partners collaboratively. And because these services are all in the cloud, you feel confident that if anything happened to your data, you’d be able to get it back.

But this is where it all falls apart – because these services provide storage, not backup.

Here are the critical differences – and the risks you are exposing your business to if you don’t understand them.

Storage vs. backup: cupboard versus bunker

Think of data storage (sometimes called cloud-syncing) as an easily accessible cupboard. All your provisions are there, and all the cupboard’s users can add to them and take from them at will.

But if a tin you later need gets chucked out (i.e. you or somebody else deletes a file from your trash, or the storage service does it automatically after a certain number of days), or some wag sneaks in and snaffles the lot (e.g. data compromise or theft owing to malware, ransomware etc.) it’s gone forever. You cannot magic it back. The cupboard is bare.

And the service providers admit as much. Just take a look, in our previous posts, at the terms and conditions of Microsoft 365 and G Suite – they absolve the services of any responsibility for your data, and in fact, quite clearly direct you to make separate and additional backup arrangements.

In fact, depending on what it is and how you’ve trashed it, your data is gone from these systems permanently and unrecoverably, in some cases after a mere 20 days, and in any event after 60!

On the other hand, you can think of data backup as a bunker, rather than a cupboard. Not only is it secure, hugely durable, and built to last, it has a completely different function from storage – namely, to reinstate data when things go wrong, rather than simply store data when things are going swimmingly.

What it boils down to is this: if you can’t afford to lose deleted items and accounts that are older then anything between 20 and 60 days – whether you, your colleagues, your cloud storage service or a hacker did the deleting - you can’t afford not to deploy backup.

So, what is backup, anyway?

Backing up data is not just about copying the files in your sync folder to a secure alternative location, so you can easily access them.

It’s also about all the data on your device that isn’t in the sync folder - things like programs, drivers, settings and permissions, third-party applications such as email and calendaring servers, databases, and a great deal more besides. Without backup, none of this stuff is copied anywhere.

Of course, there’s backup and there’s backup! At one end of the scale, it’s about copying your data onto media like disks, tapes and USB drives, but businesses (and particularly small and medium businesses) move to the cloud in the first place precisely because they don’t want to have to invest in physical kit and processes - so it makes far more sense to use the cloud for backup too.

Cloud backup offers ease of use, quality of data security (encryption at rest, for example), and data centres that are both UK-based and ‘mirrored’ – that is, another data centre immediately kicks in to protect access to your data even if the main data centre suffers an outage.

There’s a useful comparison of cloud data backup providers and their features and benefits here.

The risks of confusing storage with backup

It’s difficult to overstate the degree of risk you’re putting your business through by confusing storage and sync with backup, but just a few specific examples - that can all be solved by effective backup – include:

  1. Accidental or deliberate deletion – Some 90% of data incidents in the UK are attributable to user error, according to recent media comment, adding to the already significant danger of deliberate deletion by malicious apps or disgruntled employees!
  2. Malware / ransomware – The sync feature that is so handy on your desktop can transport malware and ransomware straight to your files in the cloud, potentially stealing or locking your data, or both.
  3. Non-compliance – If data necessary for legal or regulatory compliance (e.g. GDPR) is held in cloud storage services, it’s vulnerable to permanent deletion, putting the business at constant risk of prosecution.
  4. Cloud service outage – Cloud services are powerful, but they’re not infallible. G Suite suffered a global outage that left users without access to their data, and Dropbox’s notorious sync glitch had a similar effect.

Want to see what happens to an organisation when its data goes AWOL? Check out the pain, cost and disruption suffered by these Councils, schools, universities, and UK businesses.

And then think on this: whatever sync and storage deliver, it’s there to help you access data, not stop you from losing it.

Only backup can deliver that.