Where Are The Affordable Enterprise Online Backups?

Online backups are a great solution to off-shoring your data for security. But what do you do when your company can't afford it?

The System, By Rosscott

Many years ago when I first started in IT, the common backup solution was the floppy disk. It was considered innovative when backup programs allowed you to simply swap disks without having to press any keys. Mini computers and mainframes used spool tape backups, and large companies could back up data using QIC-40 tapes. None of these are viable these days, with literally terabytes and petabytes of data needing to be backed up.

These days, you can use a high-capacity tape library system, a Storage Area Network (SAN), Network Attached Storage (NAS); or you can use online storage--data storage farmed out to a cloud service such as Amazon S3. In a pinch, there are even portable external drives lke the ones from Lacie that can handle multiple terabytes of data.

For the individual user, there are many online backup services that are very inexpensive, and even free in some cases. For instance, Mozy Home, CrashPlan and Carbonite are three inexpensive online backup solutions that give you unlimited storage.

These companies can afford to provide unlimited storage because they have determined that most customers don't use that much space, so the return on the investment in hardware and upkeep is much lower than the money they take in.

Here is where the disparity begins. These services provide unlimited storage to individual users, but for business customers, you will be spending 15 to 50 cents per gigabyte monthly, not including bandwidth costs. If that doesn't sound like a lot, imaging having to back up and store 10 terabytes of data. On Amazon S3, that's $1500 a month, not including bandwidth costs for uploading and downloading--with regular backups, that cost could easily double. So far, Amazon still has the lowest price for this kind of online storage.

For some companies, this isn't an issue. A Fortune 500 company could easily absorb that cost as a part of doing business. For a startup company, however, this kind of data security is not affordable. They are forced to resort to other alternatives: single-tape backup systems requiring human hands to change tapes, and external hard drives. Neither of these is 100 percent effective; tapes and portable drives can get easily damaged in transit. Tapes are especially sensitive to magnetic interference.

Perhaps a business might be able to afford hosting a small storage array in a datacenter loated far from the office; that way they at least have their data in the event of a catastrophe where the office building is destroyed. Unfortunately, the major issue comes down to pricing. A startup company that has a lot of data to keep is going to find it very difficult to provide comprehensive backup for that data.

Until the cloud storage companies realize that there is a small business market waiting to be tapped, online storage will be unavailable at an affordable price. For now, it seems that the best a small company can hope for is to invest in redundant local storage and hope their office doesn't get destroyed by fire, earthquake or flood.