Cloud Backup: Pros, Cons, and Considerations
by Linda Carlson
Prompted by the tornados, hurricanes, and floods that struck too many parts of the United States earlier this year, as well as by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan, many publishers are looking for more computer backup options. On-site or local backup can prevent business disasters when the nightmare is limited to your office—a fire, a broken water pipe, theft, vandalism, a nasty computer virus, or a hard drive failure. But the natural disasters this year that leveled or soaked entire neighborhoods, even cities, have encouraged us to research backing up to “the cloud.”
With cloud backup, as with cloud applications for software, files and apps are stored remotely and accessed via the Internet from a provider’s server. Besides almost guaranteeing that your material is saved, this also ensures that you can get it anywhere from any device that has an Internet connection. So you and your staff can log in when you are on the road, are making a presentation to booksellers, or have evacuated to higher ground. By contrast, those of us who still back up material on a desktop, laptop, or handheld to an external hard drive or to a network and tape drive find it difficult and often impossible to access files when we’re off-site.
The importance of cloud backup is emphasized by such industry observers as Forrester Research, which referred to the natural disasters, extreme weather events, and devastating accidents caused by human error when it issued this recommendation: “As these and previous events bring attention to the potential consequences of catastrophes on businesses, industry standards for recognizing and preparing for such low-likelihood, high-impact events continue to emerge. . . . For business continuity management and risk management professionals responding to these growing concerns and expectations, manual processes and desktop tools have never been and never will be good enough.”
“Five years from now, people will think of online services . . . as the primary place for safe keeping of critical information, as opposed to a backup, which is how they think about it today,” Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester, told the Wall Street Journal.
From Converts to the Cloud
Some IBPA members have already made the switch to the cloud. One of them is Wigton Publishing of Vista, CA. Fran Romero refers to her company as “extremely small,” but says it moved to cloud backup two years ago. “The price of upgrading the tapes and drive, along with the software licensing pricing, got to be pretty high. Our online provider offers the same amount of storage with easily expandable capacity,” she explains. “Now all of our PCs are being backed up. I no longer have to worry about whether someone is in the field for weeks at a time. Their data is still being backed up over the Internet, and is easily recoverable if that’s necessary because of deletion, file corruption, or disaster. It’s also available to anyone in the field who forgot to bring along a draft copy.”
Productivity and protection are the reasons that Corey Michael Blake uses more than one cloud-based system for his Round Table Companies and the affiliated Writers of the Round Table Press in Mundelein, IL. “We use Carbonite as an automated backup system for anyone in our company dealing with numerous and important files that require regular backing up,” he says. “It works in the background of your computer and also makes your files available via a mobile application, which I use on my iPhone. It gives me access to my desktop anywhere I am and gives me the ability to email files when I need to.”
For double—and triple—safety, some IBPA members are using Carbonite plus other on- and off-site options. “Carbonite has everything I want, except it’s a bit difficult to switch from one computer to another if, like me, you’re not technologically advanced,” reports Jim Misko at Northwest Ventures Press. He splits his time between Anchorage and California and must move his Carbonite backup from one office’s computer to another twice annually.
Misko also backs up to an external hard drive, and George Connolly at Crosswinds Press in Mystic CT, favors a similar belt-and-suspenders approach, having used Carbonite and backup by the freelance book designer in her office and via FTP to a remote storage site for several years. Plus, Connolly reports, the company puts original art and CDs with completed files in 12″× 24″ bank safe deposit boxes.
Claude Kerno, the Colorado Springs, CO, “personal computer tutor” who handles IT for Pat McNees, a Bethesda, MD, freelance writer and editor, endorses similar protection. For McNees, Kerno installed Acronis for backup to an external hard drive each week and Mozy for online backup of important documents. He also recommends Carbonite, which, like Mozy, can be used on both Windows and Mac platforms.
Another option is suggested by Lee Klancher at the Austin, TX, Octane Press, which uses Amazon S3 storage via Jungle Disk for cloud storage. “It’s cheap and efficient—we love it,” says Klancher. “It also allows the creation of multiple users, which is great because my contracted help is mostly in the Midwest. With Jungle Disk, the entire company’s files are in the cloud and shared.”
Octane Press previously used BackBlaze, which Klancher says is adequate if you’re backing up only text and layout files. “We create illustrated books and calendars, and BackBlaze was too slow to handle our large image and graphic files,” he explains.
Despite the possibility that disasters may damage hard drives and/or backups stored on a Web site, some members are hesitant to try cloud-based backup.
Jason Benlevi, who runs Contrarian Books in San Francisco, points out that remote backups are nothing new, although the “cloud” nomenclature is giving the vendors more publicity. “The cloud is just the market-friendly name for these remote backup services,” he says, characterizing them as “essentially of small value . . . and subject to enormous problems of security and reliability. Although these are top-of-the-line data centers, there is no guarantee the backup is going to work; nor is there any liability on behalf of the service providers for anything that might be lost or corrupted.”
Benlevi recommends Apple systems for their “flawlessness” but encourages publishers to create backup disks for local and physical remote storage.
“I am not warm to the idea of granting an outside entity custody of all of my company’s sensitive data—even if the vendor claims that it’s not accessible to anyone else,” says Matthew Gollub of Tortuga Press in Santa Rosa, CA. Bill Boik at DBM Press in Springfield, VA, agrees: “I have too many concerns regarding security and privacy.”
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes from Seattle, where dead batteries and hard drive failures have taught her the importance of backing up.
Tips for Choosing Among Cloud Services
Here’s what IBPA members recommend that you consider when you’re selecting a cloud backup provider:
• Availability of backup via FTP
• Availability of backup via handhelds
• Compatibility with your platform (Windows, Mac, Linux and/or mobile)
• Continuous backup (which may slow routine computer operations) vs. backup at set intervals
(which could mean the loss of some files)
• Encryption for security
• Stability of the provider (Any chance it’ll go out of business? What protects you if it does? What
protects you if its data center has short-term or massive failures?)
• Customer service
Especially if you question whether cloud backup makes more sense than tape backup, Fran Romero at Wigton Publishing encourages you to focus on comparing costs, including the fees involved with adding new drives and tapes and software licenses. She recommends that you evaluate every option based on ease of installation and ease of recovery and notes that you also need to know what’s compatible with your driver. “We looked at about a half dozen vendors,” says Romero, “and chose MozyPro, because Mozy was the only provider that was SOX/GLBA/SAS70 compliant, and that is our main driver.”
Carole Carson, at Hound Press in Nevada City, CA, and Dan Poynter at Para Publishing, which is 15 miles from downtown Santa Barbara, also went with Mozy. “My criteria were convenience, features, and cost,” says Carson.
Other IBPA members are hoping to be able to use Apple’s new iCloud service, which hasn’t yet been released at this writing.
Claude Kerno, who provides IT services, makes these recommendations for small offices:
With Windows 7, use the built-in Windows Backup program to back up to the external hard drive (it’s available for download at windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/features/backup-and-restore).
With Windows Vista/XP, consider the free EaseUS Todo Backup to back up your files to the external hard drive (download.cnet.com/EaseUS-Todo-Backup-Free/3000-2242_4-10964460.html?tag=mncol;1).
With Mac OSX 10.5/10.6, use Time Machine to back up your files to the external hard drive (support.apple.com/kb/HT1427).
With Mac OSX 10.4 or an earlier version, use Carbon Copy Cloner to back up to the external hard drive (download.cnet.com/Carbon-Copy-Cloner/3000-2242_4-10169677.html?tag=mncol;1).
If you don’t use a Mac, another option is SOS Online Backup, which David Marlin of MetaComet Systems in South Hadley, MA, recommends for its customer service. “Whenever we’ve had an issue, such as migrating to new servers, the SOS crew has been diligent about helping us resolve any problem. We’ve had a couple of minor issues with their software over the years, but as with all their support, they spent the energy to fix the problems we were experiencing.”
Especially if you consider yourself low-tech, customer support is a huge issue, as Carol White of RLI Press in Portland, OR, discovered with a service she tried; she “could never get it to work, and the customer service was nonexistent.”
Chosen Vendors for Cloud-Based Backup
Here are some companies that IBPA members are using for cloud backup.
• Carbonite (carbonite.com) for Windows and Mac
• Cloud Drive (amazon.com/clouddrive/learnmore); 5 GB free (unrelated to the free storage tool Cloud
• Crashplan (crashplan.com) for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris
• Dropbox (dropbox.com) for Windows, Mac, and Linux; 2 GB free
• Jungle Disk (jungledisk.com) for Windows, Mac, and Linux
• Mozy Backup (mozy.com) for Windows and Mac
• SOS Online Backup (sosonlinebackup.com) for Windows, iPhone, and iPad
• SugarSync (sugarsync.com) for Windows and Mac; 5 GB free
• SkyDrive ( windowslive.com) for Microsoft Office documents; 2 GB free
• MobileMe Apple (apple.com) for Macs (MobileMe will be replaced by iCloud in 2012)
Other hardware manufacturers providing backup include some who sell external hard drives. Hitachi is one of these; if you have purchased its LifeStudio drive, 3 GB of free storage is available for Windows and Mac platforms, and more is available for a modest annual fee.
Selecting for Sharing and Storing
For sharing within the company and with its public relations agency, the Round Table crew of 10 uses Google Docs . “This is primarily for client and project update sheets that we all share and add to, as well as for sharing weekly company and individual goals,” Blake explains, continuing, “We use Dropbox for larger-file sharing. It’s an inexpensive way to give our staff access to important documents. Both Dropbox and Google Docs have eliminated a high percentage of the numerous daily requests to send someone something or to verify the latest version of something.”
Equinoctes Media In Davidson, NC, also likes Dropbox, partly because of the security it offers. “For any single project, you can add selective access for the book author, editor, copy editor, or designer,” says publisher David Schlosser. And Seth Chenroff, owner of SpiritScope Publishing in Boulder, CO, is similarly enthusiastic, calling Dropbox “a fantastic way to synchronize files, share files, and automatically back up any files in a particular folder.” Also, he notes, “It’s incredibly affordable.”
A couple of other—and older—options for publishers with relatively small amounts of data to store: Maureen McCabe, at Moon Over Vaudeville in Bellingham, WA, is sticking with SkyDrive’s two free GB for Microsoft Office documents. And Maggie Parkhurst, who writes the Rashi’s Daughters series as Maggie Anton, uses Gmail’s unlimited cloud storage for e-mail.
“Now that I’m writing my next historical novel series, I merely attach the file I want to save to an email and send it to myself,” she explains. “Then all my files are automatically saved in Gmail’s ‘Sent’ box, as well as in the ‘archives’ of the receiving account. I also send myself PDFs of my Quicken accounting files and other important documents. I’ve been doing this for years, and my files are accessible anywhere, from any computer, when I log on to Gmail. I see no reason to pay for a service, as Gmail meets my needs completely and is easily searchable.“