Cloud backup services popular despite risks, solution providers say

SMBs using cloud backup services as their sole disaster recovery option hear about the risks from solution providers but still use it for some level of protection.

As more SMBs opt for cloud backup services, some solution providers advise clients that the cloud isn’t the best or most reliable disaster recovery option.

Still, many solution providers use cloud backup services to help their small and medium-sized business (SMB) clients gain at least some level of protection for their data and technology infrastructures.

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"Backup is one of our core solutions," said Andy Carlyon, technology director for Business Technology LLC, an IT solution provider in Fairfield, Conn. “I don't think we have a client that we don't use cloud backup for.”

Cloud backup services are the third most popular cloud service used by SMBs, after Web hosting and email hosting, according to an April 2012 survey about SMB IT spending by Spiceworks, an IT management software developer. What's more, cloud backup services were at the top of the list of cloud services that SMBs expect to purchase over the next six months, cited by 17% of the close to 1,500 Spiceworks survey respondents. According to the survey, the leading services for SMBs are Backblaze, Carbonite, Mozy and SpiderOak.

Cost avoidance with cloud backup

Some SMBs view cloud backup as a way to sidestep capital investments in on-premises equipment that can be difficult to manage, solution providers said. Others view cloud backup services as one piece of a broader disaster recovery strategy, they said.

The motivation for recommending cloud backup services to clients is twofold, said Peter Ferrio, president of Business Technology: It helps the solution provider recover data more quickly if there is a business disruption, and it provides a second level of protection in the event that an outage has affected onsite backup resources.

"There is a significant liability to us in not backing up client data, either perceived or real," Ferrio said. "Disaster recovery is our primary responsibility. We need to be able to replicate our clients' business environment rapidly."

At Corvallis Technical, an IT management firm in Corvallis, Ore., cloud backup services are an integral part of its managed infrastructure services -- one that demonstrates the benefits of developing a more holistic disaster recovery strategy.

For example, one of the company’s clients lost one of its hard drives with all its bookkeeping data, payroll information and client database. Because Corvallis Technical bundled Carbonite into the managed service arrangement, it was able to get the client up and running within 36 hours, according to a case study about the incident.

"Truly, if they didn't have Carbonite, they wouldn't have a business anymore," said Corvallis Technical owner Benjamin Brewster. "To know that we can prevent that from happening is very powerful, and it drives new clients to us."

Adding backup coverage to basic services

SMBs are becoming more proactive and practical about disaster recovery. Most understand the need to back up infrastructure images and files and store them at a second location, but many balk at the price of investing in onsite backup hardware and software -- let alone the resources to manage it, said Larry Velez, chief technical officer of Sinu, a managed service provider in New York City.

Sinu has addressed these objections by building backup coverage for the first few gigabytes of data as part of its basic managed services -- not just because it makes sense for its clients, but because it helps the Sinu technical team recover more quickly when there is a disruption.

"This changes the conversation and helps us make the case for a more comprehensive data management discussion that includes disaster recovery considerations," Velez said.

When it comes to which cloud services are appropriate for backing up data, solution providers caution clients not to rely solely on cloud storage and file-sharing services such as Dropbox, Box or the new Google Drive service.

Some of these services may be secure enough for saving documents, but they were not designed for archiving images or server configurations, Velez said.  Also, most cloud storage services don't support the concept of file version control, he said. That means if someone overwrites a file, it could be difficult to recover the original, making it not a true backup solution.

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years’ experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Leah Rosin at

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Using a cloud backup service as your only disaster recovery option may have risks, but so does every DR service, and it is better than having no disaster recovery option at all. Many SMBs probably haven’t even thought about DR or, if they have, it get’s pushed onto the backlog by more urgent matters (even larger businesses fall prey to this scenario far too often). Vendors including backup services as part of their basic services package is a good way for SMBs to get their feet wet and affords more protection while they continue to grow and address a full-blown DR strategy as time and resources permit.