Online backup services have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to protect important files and data. While these services provide a number of advantages, such as offsite storage and automated backups, there are some potential drawbacks to consider as well.
Reliability and uptime
One potential disadvantage of online backup services is reliability and uptime. Since backups are stored on remote servers, you are dependent on your internet connection and the provider’s servers being up and running. If the servers go down for maintenance or due to an outage, you may not be able to access your backed up files when you need them. This lack of accessibility can be problematic if you need to restore a file or recover from data loss quickly.
Additionally, some online backup services have experienced notable downtime and outages over the years. Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, and IDrive have all had issues with extended outages lasting hours or days. If you rely on constant access to your backups, reliability problems like this could be a significant disadvantage.
Storing data remotely on third-party servers also introduces potential security risks. Your backup files are only as secure as the provider’s security measures. If their encryption is weak or their servers are compromised, your sensitive data could be exposed. Online backups may also be subject to government surveillance if proper encryption is not implemented.
Some providers may have access to your backup files for troubleshooting purposes. While reputable services will keep this access limited and secure, it still represents a security risk compared to local storage and encryption where only you control access.
Restore speed and large files
Bandwidth limitations can also be a drawback of online backups. Restoring large amounts of data or large files from the cloud can take a very long time depending on your internet speeds. For example, restoring 1TB of backup data on a 50Mbps connection would take approximately 44 hours!
Additionally, upload speeds are generally slower than download speeds for most internet connections. So backing up huge files to the cloud will require patience. If you have large videos, image collections or other big files to backup, it may be better to use an external hard drive or local network storage for those specific files.
Online backup services require an ongoing subscription fee which may be a disadvantage compared to a one-time investment in an external hard drive for local backup. Costs range from around $5 per month for 100GB of storage up to $20+ per month for multiple terabytes of cloud storage. This recurring expense can add up over time.
Some providers offer different tiers of storage and features. Make sure to choose the right plan for your needs. Paying for 1TB when you only need 200GB of storage is wasting money. On the other hand, paying for the lowest tier when you actually need more storage leads to the risk of running out of space for backups.
Once you begin using a particular online backup service, switching providers down the road can be difficult. While you can simply stop paying your current provider, restoring all of your backup archives to a new service is not straightforward. Most backup services use proprietary formats and encryption for your stored files.
Restoring all your data to the new provider would involve downloading the complete backup archive from your old provider, decrypting it, and then re-uploading the files to the new service. This could take weeks or longer depending on your bandwidth capabilities and archive size. The amount of effort involved tends to lock you into using your initial backup provider for the long term.
Limited version history
Some online backup services only keep a limited number of file versions in their archives. For example, a provider may save daily snapshots of your files for the past week, but only weekly snapshots for the previous month. If you need to restore an older version of a file from a specific date, it may no longer be available in the archive. This can be an issue if you do not discover the need to revert to an older file until weeks or months later.
In contrast, local backups allow you to keep unlimited version histories or set a version retention period that meets your needs. With online backup, you are limited by what the provider enables on their servers. Review the versioning capabilities carefully before choosing a provider.
Large restores can be impractical
If you suffer a catastrophic data loss and need to restore terabytes of data from your online backup, this can be impractical depending on the restore mechanisms offered. Some providers ship an external hard drive with your backup archive, which takes days and incurs shipping costs. Downloading huge amounts of data is time-consuming even on a fast connection.
For businesses that need to be back up and running immediately after data loss, large restores from the cloud may not meet their Recovery Time Objective. In these cases, local backups may be preferred for the faster and more granular restore capabilities.
Restores require an internet connection
In order to restore your backups from a cloud provider, you will need a high-speed, stable internet connection. If your local internet connection goes down, you won’t be able to retrieve your backup archive until connectivity is restored. This could be problematic in situations when you urgently need access to backup data, for example, during a ransomware attack that has encrypted your local files.
Having a copy of your backups offline on an external hard drive gives you immediate access to important files whenever needed. Cloud backups rely on internet access to be useful when restoring data.
Using a third-party online backup service requires you to hand over personal files and data to that company. While contracts promise security and privacy of your information, the provider ultimately has control and access to your backups.
Some individuals and corporations are not comfortable transmitting sensitive company information or private personal data over the internet to outside providers. Keeping backups entirely local behind your firewall helps alleviate privacy and confidentiality concerns in some cases.
Not ideal for backing up entire system images
Online backup services excel at storing important files and folders you select. However, they are generally not well-suited for saving complete disk images or bare metal backups of an entire system. Full system images allow you to restore both your operating system and data in one step in the event of a drive failure or other disaster.
The large size of system images makes copying one to the cloud slow and bandwidth-prohibitive. Local backup methods like disk cloning are much quicker and more practical for this purpose. Online backup is targeted more at protecting your personal files and documents.
Difficult to backup large databases
Very large databases with frequent transactions present a challenge for online backup. Copying terabytes of database files across the internet is slow. Backup providers also usually do not guarantee transactional consistency for database backups. This means if you restore from a backup, rolled back transactions could result in database corruption.
A hot standby database replica is a better way to protect large production databases than trying to force them to fit an online backup model. Database dumps to local storage may also be utilized.
Not meant for archival storage
While online backup services are useful for disaster recovery and protecting important everyday files, they are not typically suited for long-term archival storage and retention. If you have older files or data that need to be preserved untouched for years, offline archival solutions like LTO tape are more appropriate and cost-effective.
The monthly fees of unlimited cloud storage for archival data that is rarely accessed does not make sense. Offline storage allows you to lock away data for set retention periods at a one-time fixed cost.
Restores become complicated for entire companies
For a single user with just a few PCs, restoring from an online backup service is straightforward. However, when an entire corporation needs to restore petabytes of data across hundreds of systems along with configuration settings, the complexity rises enormously.
Rebuilding an entire IT infrastructure from the ground up based on cloud backups is difficult and prone to issues. Local primary backups plus offsite tapes improve reliability for complex enterprise restores.
Online backup services provide handy offsite protection for your important files. However, depending on your use case and requirements, they may not represent the ideal solution on their own. A prudent backup strategy often involves both local and cloud-based storage for maximum reliability, flexibility and cost-effectiveness.
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of different backup methods to determine the right technologies and providers for your needs. Online services solve a piece of the puzzle for individual users and small businesses but are just one part of a comprehensive data protection plan.