Off-site backups refer to copying and storing important data or files in a location that is physically separate from the main office or location. This contrasts with on-site backups, where copies of data are stored locally, usually on an external hard drive or local server. There are several key advantages to maintaining off-site backups compared to only having on-site backups:
Protection Against Physical Disasters
One of the main benefits of off-site backups is protection against damage or loss due to physical disasters or events. If there is a fire, flood, theft, or other disaster at the main office location, any backups stored locally could also be damaged or stolen. However, with off-site backups stored remotely, the data remains safe and intact even if the local equipment is damaged.
For example, if a pipe bursts and floods the server room, any local backups stored in that room would likely be destroyed. But backups stored off-site in another facility or with a cloud backup provider would be unaffected. This gives an additional layer of protection in case of catastrophic events.
Isolation From Network or Equipment Failures
Storing backups off-site also protects against network issues or equipment failures. If there are connectivity problems or an outage that affects the local network, users may be unable to access on-site backup files. Similarly, if the backup storage device fails, on-site backups could be lost.
With off-site backups in a different location, connectivity issues or equipment failures at the main office will not impact the ability to access the remote backup files. This provides redundancy and an alternate recovery option in case of network or hardware related problems.
Protection Against Human Errors and Malicious Acts
Keeping backups off-site also provides protection against accidental or intentional deletion or corruption of files at the primary office location. Whether due to human error, insider threats, hackers, ransomware, or other issues, having off-site backups ensures the data remains recoverable.
For example, if an employee accidentally deletes important files and the backups are stored locally, those files could not be retrieved. Storing those backup copies off-site would allow recovery of those lost files.
Geographic Redundancy for Disaster Recovery
Storing data off-site in a geographically distant location provides geographic redundancy that supports a disaster recovery plan. If a major event such as a hurricane, earthquake, flood, or wildfire affects the local area, off-site backups stored miles away in another region remain protected.
This geographic separation of backup locations lessens the chance of any one event impacting both the primary data and the backup copies. It provides flexibility to restore operations from the off-site facility if needed after a disaster.
Better Long-Term Viability
Media used for backups, such as tapes or hard drives, can degrade over time. Storing backups off-site in appropriate environmental conditions improves the long-term viability of the media. Temperature-controlled and humidity-controlled storage facilities help extend the life of backup media.
Rotating backup media to different off-site locations also reduces the chance of media damage or decay. This results in backups that can be reliably restored even years later if needed.
Off-site backups provide constant accessibility from various locations, rather than requiring someone to be physically at the office to retrieve local backups. As long as the backups are stored at secure and accessible facilities, authorized users can retrieve off-site backups as needed for recovery operations.
Some industry regulations and compliance standards either recommend or require off-site backups. This includes regulations in healthcare, finance, insurance, public companies, and other sectors. Maintaining compliant off-site backups reduces regulatory and compliance risk.
Off-site backup solutions provided by cloud storage vendors or managed service providers often include additional value-added capabilities. These can include dashboard reporting, monitoring, scheduled backups, backup verification testing, configurable retention policies, and other features to automate portions of the backup process.
The convenience and automation of cloud-based off-site backups reduces the management burden on internal IT staff compared to maintaining only on-site backups.
While there are costs involved in off-site backup storage and transmission, these costs may be more economical than upgrading internal storage infrastructure to accommodate growing backup needs. The use of lower-cost third-party off-site services can be more cost effective than maintaining dedicated backup systems and storage in-house.
Extra Protection for Critical Data
For priority data that absolutely cannot be lost, an off-site backup provides an additional layer of protection on top of local on-site backups. Critical business data, intellectual property, customer information, financial data, and other high-importance files warrant the extra assurance of remote off-site backups in case local backups fail or are compromised.
Flexibility for Testing and Development
Off-site backups provide additional flexibility and options for testing, development, QA testing, analytics, and other use cases beyond just disaster recovery purposes. Developers, analysts, and QA teams can leverage the off-site copies as needed without affecting the local production systems or backups.
Types of Off-Site Backups
There are different methods companies can use to maintain off-site backups:
Physical Transport of Backup Media
One approach is to physically move backup tapes, disks, or other media to an off-site facility on a regular basis. This may involve a company employee driving the backup media to a secure remote office or data center location. Some companies also outsource pickup and transportation of backup media to specialized vendors.
Replication to Dedicated Off-Site Servers
Many organizations maintain their own dedicated off-site servers for backup replication. They establish connectivity between the main office and the remote servers to continuously or periodically mirror and copy backups off-site.
Off-Site Vaulting Services
There are vendors that specialize in providing off-site vaulting services for physical backup media. They pick up the media on a set schedule and store it in secured, controlled vaults in remote locations.
Cloud Backup Services
Cloud-based off-site backup has become very popular in recent years. Backup files are replicated through the internet to robust cloud storage infrastructure maintained by vendors such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Acronis, Carbonite, and others.
Hybrid Local and Off-Site Backups
Some organizations use a hybrid approach with both local and off-site backup copies for maximum redundancy. They may perform fast local backups for frequent recovery points, then asynchronous replication to off-site cloud storage for disaster recovery protection.
Choosing the Right Off-Site Backup Approach
Organizations should consider factors such as their RTO (recovery time objective) and RPO (recovery point objective) when designing an off-site backup strategy. A shorter RTO and RPO may dictate more frequent transport of media to off-site facilities or synchronous mirroring of data to cloud-based backup services.
Cost, data security, compliance, and ease of management should also be balanced when choosing the appropriate off-site backup methods. The optimal approach depends on the organization’s specific backup and restore requirements, budget, and risk tolerance.
Best Practices for Off-Site Backups
Some key best practices for maintaining effective off-site backups include:
- Regularly test backups – Verify recoverability by restoring sample files from off-site backups.
- Encrypt backup data – Encryption protects off-site data against unauthorized access.
- Document retention plan – Define how long backups are retained on-site vs off-site.
- Monitor storage capacity – Ensure sufficient capacity for growth in off-site storage.
- Check backup logs – Review logs closely for any errors or warning during backups.
- Test disaster recovery – Rehearse restoring from off-site backups to ensure the process works.
- Consider backup cloning – Make multiple clones of backups and store in separate locations.
- Control accessibility – Only authorized individuals should be able to access off-site backups.
- Evaluate media viability – Refresh older media to maintain reliability of off-site backups.
Off-site backups provide critical protection and redundancy for a company’s data by maintaining copies in an alternate location unaffected by the main office’s connectivity, equipment, network, power, or physical issues. While on-site backups are important for fast restores and operational recovery, off-site backups are essential for true disaster recovery protection.
There are various methods to send backups off-site from physical media transport to cloud-based replication. The optimal off-site backup approach depends on a company’s RTO, RPO, budget, resources, and compliance needs. Following best practices for regular testing, encryption, redundancy, and capacity planning helps ensure off-site backups are viable for disaster recovery when needed.