Intro to Online Backup Services

Due to the growth of fast internet speeds, it’s now possible to transmit large amounts of data through the web, and because of that storing backup data online is even more attractive than ever. In this article I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of storing backups online. In this knowledge-base article, we discuss:


How do online backup services work?

Online backup services use small applications which manage your data library and automatically upload and retrieve selected files and folders between your computer and online storage server. There are various different providers offering data capacities from just a few Gigabytes to unlimited data allowances. Online backup services typically charge a fixed monthly fee, although opting to pay annually or biannually is often incentivised with small discounts.

An average price for online backup as of Jan 2011 is $5 per month for 30GB of online backup space for home users, for business/elite users the prices are charged per GB of data stored, and is often more expensive than home users gigabyte for gigabyte. Numerous backup providers offer free backup space ranging from a 30 day trial of a full account to 2GB taster accounts which are free for life.

Online backup services would typically supply you with backup management utilities, which are small files that when installed create your backups, either when prompted or automatically after each time you create or modify a file. Before being transmitted the backups are encrypted, and then sent through a secure SSL connection to prevent prying eyes from eavesdropping into the connection and acquiring your data.

The initial backup can take a long time, perhaps days or weeks for the initial backup, however, after the initial backup is made, the subsequent backups are a lot faster because only files that are modified are uploaded to the backup centre. The reason for the delay is that upload speeds can be 8-20X slower than download speeds therefore it takes a while, downloading backups are a lot faster.

It should be noted that the main purpose for backups is to have a full restorable archive of your data, whilst the creation of a backup is generated easily, there’s no knowing if a backup will actually restore fully and correctly, so it’s worth testing your backups periodically.


Are online backups safe?

Whilst online backups providers have adequate levels of encryption and secure connectivity to prevent data being handed to malicious parties. It’s important to do further background checks to be as secure as possible.

  • Do a google search on prospective companies looking for reviews and user opinions to find out what others have to say about the company
  • Make sure you have firewalls and antivirus in place beforehand, and ask the backup provider about what firewalls they have in place on their data servers.
  • Find out what backup power measures they have in place in case there is a power outage
  • Enquire into what type of physical security they have on site. Are servers inside a vault or in standard office environment?


Why backup anyway?

Backup is essential if you have sensitive data on your computer that you would not be able to replace like work documents, accounts, irreplaceable photos and other less important things like your music collection, emails, programs and settings which can be replaced but will take a long time. With good backups at hand it’s possible to reload your data onto your computer in less than an hour.

Traditionally users kept backups on CDs, DVDs and USB drives. Which can be cumbersome and users often forgot to make frequent backups which made a lot of backups useless. They also required you to purchase and install additional hardware, or at least media. Although high capacity USB drives like the Western Digital passport alleviate a lot of these issues.


Why Online Backup is a good solution

Online backup takes away a lot of the maintenance issues required by manual backups, additionally they provide a means for businesses and professionals to store their data on a highly secure offsite server, protecting their data from potential data loss caused by theft, floods or fires. Which USB, CD, DVD drives aren’t the best solution for since they are liable to damage as well.

Although there are many inexpensive online backup solutions for home users, business users will need an additional level of support, in order to backup multiple computers. For corporate use online backup really stands apart, it enables employees who work off laptops and have little knowledge of computers to automatically create backups in the background. Too keep valuable business data safe.


Advantages and disadvantages of online backup services

While online backup is great, sensible computer users know that with data loss anything can happen, and it’s still worth performing occasional full system backups, and using a combination of different backup methods is ideal.


  • Backup and recovery is a lot simpler and requires very little technical knowhow compared to traditional CD/DVD based backups.
  • Many providers keep old versions of files either on a 30 day basis or 5 version limits for instance, which can be handy if you omit information on a recent file and need to look into an older version.
  • Can work out cheaper than traditional backup methods, as you bypass the hardware cost, and specialised backup software cost.
  • Installation and set up is designed for entry level computer users and is easy to perform
  • Backups are automatic and require no maintenance
  • Data is kept secure on an offsite server


  • Requires an internet connection
  • Ongoing monthly cost can appear to be prohibitively expensive.
  • Backup speeds are restricted to your internet speeds, dial up users probably wouldn’t want to consider online backup. Secondly most broadband/adsl users tend to have upload speeds up to 8-20X slower than download speeds. So backup uploads will take a lot longer than the speed which users are used to download at.
  • You put the trust of your backups on a third party to create and manage your backups as opposed to yourself.


A few more tips to help you work out the ideal backup provider for you.

There are a few factors to consider when choosing an online backups provider.

  • Does it support the computer systems you use?
  • How many computers do you intend on backing up? And how many mobile devices?
  • Do you plan to use your backup service as a synchronization facility to sync your files between multiple computers
  • How many users do you want to include in your backup plan?
  • Availability or range or support services available
  • Does the server allow automatic backups to be made?
  • Do you need systems files and settings to be backup up online such as your browsers bookers, auto fill passwords, windows settings etc.
  • Are the costs suitable to you?
  • What are your legal requirements and restrictions for backup? E.g. EU users cannot store business related backups on non-EU computers.

There are many online backup reviews available for you to browse through to help you pinpoint the exact backup services that fit your criteria.