Benefits and disadvantages of cloud backup and the alternatives

Cloud backup is often presented as the one and only viable alternative to on-location backups. Although backing up your data to the cloud has benefits, it carries a risk with it.

When we talk of off-site backup these days, we think of backing up to the cloud. The main advantage of cloud backup is that it geographically isolates the backed up data from live data. This protects your data against fire, flood and other disasters. However, cloud backup has many disadvantages.

A first point of failure of cloud backup is that you can’t guarantee the security of your data because of the uploading process to the provider’s servers. Of course, most providers these days offer VPN and encryption services through their apps, but if that’d be secure enough, why then do some cloud providers offer an (usually prohibitively expensive for small operations) option of leasing a dedicated connection between a data centre and the cloud? Surely that has nothing to do with the standard methodology offering bulletproof security.

A second disadvantage revolves around your upload speed. If you backup an afternoon of video clips, you’ll quickly spend a good few hours uploading the lot to the cloud.

Other risks include cloud providers’ employees possibly gaining access to your data and your data being exposed to the government. Finally, account hijacking is perhaps the most important risk, although honesty commands mentioning that most cloud providers work hard to make sure the cloud is as secure as possible.

So, what’s the alternative? Well, local backups have two points of failure and that’s natural disaster risk and device theft. To tackle the latter first, the solution to that problem can be simple: lock up your premises and encrypt the backup. If you use a 256-bit AES encryption key, the thief will never be able to read your data unless it’s a government institution.

The risk of natural disaster striking is harder to avoid. It involves buying a drive unit that will hold up against fire and high temperatures long enough for the fire department to put it out. It also requires a drive enclosure that is waterproof not just as in submerging but also against a powerful waterjet like a fire department’s hose.

If you have a unit that can live through that ordeal, the only real risk to your data is the power grid. For that risk, you can buy a UPS or Uninterrupted Power Supply.

The whole lot put together into a system might cost you a bit more than cloud backup costs yearly, but you’ll have your data right within arm’s reach, won’t need to wait for hours — and perhaps go through interruptions — uploading data and can rest assured no-one else will be seeing your new piece of art, blockbuster or bestseller.

Hold a different opinion? Think I’m crazy? I’m dying to hear your remarks and comments.