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Grow Your Business Technology

Online Data Backup: A Small Business Guide

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Businesses can no longer afford the risk of storing important data only on their computers. More than ever, data has become a business' lifeblood in today's technological world, and protecting it is critical. While businesses once relied on magnetic tape, floppy discs and other practices to ensure data was protected, today the majority are using online data backup.

Online data backup is a way to give business owners security in knowing that all critical data — project information, payroll details, customer and client information, etc. ­— is being stored and saved in an offsite location should their computer be damaged or stolen, or their business be inaccessible due to fire, floods or any other disaster.

Most online data backup services offer a variety of backup options, including automatic backups, in which  data is constantly being backed up without the need for user input or help.Other popular features that most online backup services offer include archiving, incremental backups and file managers.

Online data backup services also give business owners and employees the ability to access data from remote locations. Since the data is being stored in an offsite location, you aren't bound to your computer. Other remote-access features online services offer are the option to sync data to numerous computers, folder and album sharing and data access from any computer with a Web browser. Many of these services   provide their own mobile apps as well, allowing businesses to access and change data from a smartphone or tablet.

In order to ensure the data is protected while it's being transferred to and from the backup site, online data backup providers offer a host of security features. Most providers use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol when transferring data. Originally developed by Netscape, SSL uses cryptographic protocols to establish an encrypted link between the business and the servers on which the data is being stored. The majority of online data backup providers use a 128-bit SSL encryption, considered more than a trillion times stronger than the common 40-bit encryption.

Additionally, nearly all of the online data backup service providers use an encryption method, often with a 448-bit Blowfish or 256-bit AES encryption algorithm, to protect the information that is being saved in their severs. While not offered by all services, many also use geo-redundant storage to help protect the data. This type of storage keeps two copies of backup files. Each one is in a different location, so if something happens at one location, the copy is still safe at the second.

These security features are designed to give business owners peace of mind in knowing that even if their critical data isn't under their watchful eye at all times, it is still being guarded with the utmost protection.

There isn't a business out there that shouldn't be backing up their data. The question is which ones are best-suited for using online data backup services versus other types of data backup, such as local backups, tapes and external hard drives. Small businesses are the ones that benefit most from using these online services. While large corporations have millions of miles of data that need to be backed up, the amount is much smaller for small businesses. This makes using online data backup services much easier and cost effective. Larger businesses that need to backup substantial amounts of data and information may find that building their own backup protocols are more cost-effective then paying a monthly or annual fee for an outside service provider.

The cost of backing up data with a third-party service provider is based solely on how much data is being backed up. The majority of online data backup providers have a tiered pricing plan, with smaller amounts of data backup costing less and the price going up as the amount of data increases. Other providers use a flat-rate cost, letting users back up as much or as little data as they like each month for a flat fee.

The cost can vary greatly among providers.  For tiered plans, prices can range from just 99 cents for 1 GB of backup space to as much as $300 a month for 300 GB of backup space. Some online data backup providers offer flat rate fees for as little as $8 to $10 for an unlimited amount of backup space.

There are a number of benefits pushing small business owners toward online data backup services. One of the largest factors is cost.  Instead of having to pay exorbitant fees for extra external hard drives, hundreds of floppy discs and rolls of magnetic tape, online services let business owners pay one monthly fee for all their backup needs.

Additionally, online data backup services offer automated backup procedures, meaning business owners never have to think twice about backing up their data. The service does it for them. Many services also offer incremental backups, which only copies new data or changes that have been made to already backed-up files.

Another key advantage to online data backup services is that data is stored in an office location. Should a disaster strike a business, the data is protected. If that business were using external hard drives or magnetic tape and storing them in the business, a natural disaster could wipe the data out for good.

Online data backup services also store multiple copies of the data in different locations, giving the business owner extra protection against something happening to the service provider's servers. In addition, the security measures they provide are far stronger than any used with other types of backups, like hard drives and discs.

There are a few downsides to using online backup data providers. The major drawback is that businesses are essentially entrusting their sensitive data to the service provider. When they back up using external hard drives and magnetic tape, the business is always in control of the data, and it is always in their possession. That isn't the case when working with an online data backup service. While the services do offer enormous amounts of security protection, there are always risks involved when handing off control to another party.

Another potential negative is a businesses' Internet speed. If it isn't fast enough, the business runs the risk of having the backup transfer completely bog down their network every time a backup is occurring.

A final risk, albeit not a large one, is that if the online backup provider suddenly stops operating, a business may never be able to retrieve those files. Additionally, the out-of-operation service provider would still have the files stored on its system and could potentially access sensitive documents.

When selecting an online data backup service, there are a number of factors a small business should consider. The first is the type of backup options and features the service provider has available. The service should offer automatic backups, archiving, incremental backups and file managers, as well as versioning features that allow users access to previous versions of edited documents.

The service should also be easy to use. A major reason to use these types of service is the convenience. If it isn't easy to use, the benefits of using an online service drop dramatically.  The tools and features the service provides need to be easy to work with and understand.

The service also needs to offer remote-access features, such as the ability to sync to multiple computers and access data from any computer with a Web browser. The best services also provide a mobile app so users can view and edit backed-up data from their smartphones or tablets. From a security standpoint, the best online data backup services provide high levels of encryption both during the transfer and while it's in storage.

Finally, with so much riding on having data properly and securely backed up, business owners should look for an online data backup service that offers excellent support should trouble arise. The best services are accessible via telephone, email and live chat sessions.

Our sister site, Business.com, has done extensive research on online data backup services. The services the site ranks as the best include CrashPlan, Storage Guardian, which offers the ability to sync any folder and file across multiple computers and mobile devices; and Carbonite, which provides both backup and cloud computing features. Other highly rated services include Zoolz, Egnyte and IDrive.

Follow Chad Brooks on Twitter @cbrooks76 or BusinessNewsDaily @BNDarticles. We're also on Facebook & Google+. This story was originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.