Q&A: Claire Galbois-Alcaix, Mozy

Mozy is one of the world’s most trusted online backup service for consumers and businesses with more than 1 million customers and 60,000 business customers backing up 50 petabytes of information to multiple data centres around the globe. We spoke to Claire Galbois-Alcaix, Senior Marketing Manager EMEA, who offered us some strategies for businesses looking to back up their data online.

Why is backup important to businesses?

Ask yourself how long your company would survive without your customer database, your billing information or your supplier agreements and you’ll soon understand the importance of backup. 60% of companies would be forced to close down if they lost their data for more than 48 hours. ‘Backup’ is the term used to talk about protecting that data by making a duplicate copy that you can use if anything happens to the original. It’s the data equivalent of having a spare key.

How can businesses protect themselves against data loss?

Unfortunately, there are lots of ways that a business can lose data: computer viruses can destroy it, disgruntled employees can steal it or the CEO can leave it on his laptop in the back of a taxi. Protection against data loss should include a rigorous (and enforced!) security policy, a disaster recovery strategy and, arguably the most important, a backup strategy.

How many copies of your data do you need?

There’s no hard and fast answer to this but, typically, more than two and fewer than five. If you rely on having just one backup, and that backup fails, then you still don’t have your data. This happens more often than you might think. If you’ve copied your information to CDs and your office burns down, the CDs will have burnt at the same time as your computer’s casing melted into your hard drive.

However, if you’re trying to keep a copy of your data on your PC, server and external hard drive as well as with an offsite backup provider and in hard copy, the process of keeping all your backups synchronised is going to be overwhelming and could ultimately lead to confusion.

What’s critical is that at least one copy of your data is kept offsite. Otherwise, all the copies of your data are in the same place and subject to the same risk. Using an online backup service is a simple and cost-effective way of achieving this as they provide the infrastructure that you back up to.

A wise man once said: “if you’re data doesn’t exist in three places, it might not exist at all”, and that’s the mantra Mozy works to. A good backup provider will offer you a service like our 2xProtect, where the same system creates both a local and an offsite backup.

Is online backup the same as using a cloud provider?

Not necessarily. Not all online backup is a cloud service and not all cloud services are designed to help you back up—though many give the impression that they are. So it’s crucial that businesses check out suppliers thoroughly before they hand over their data.

Businesses should be looking for online backup services that store their information in managed data centres. Some providers outsource the actual storage of your data to third parties—which is a great way for them to manage costs but means that you have no control over where your data is. With many third parties basing resources in developing economies, your data could be subject to a wide variety of access laws that are beyond your control. Make sure you’re with a provider with data centres in the EU to ensure your own compliance and the security of your information.

Worse still, some online backup providers lower the cost of their services by allowing you to exchange space on your servers for backup space on someone else’s. If this is the case, you need to be aware that your data is not in a state-of-the-art, secure, data centre and it could be on someone’s mum’s PC.

It’s also important to check whether a cloud provider is offering a solution that’s designed to support online backup. Many providers list backup as something that you could use their service for, but if you have to manually select files for upload and create the backups yourself, the administrative burden can get in the way of protecting your data. The best solution is to find an online backup specialist with its own locally-based data centres and to thoroughly check what you’re getting.

How do you preserve the security of people’s data?

Mozy secures customers’ data at every stage of the backup process by using the same technologies deployed by banks and the military. Before any data is sent to the Mozy data centre, it’s encrypted to military standards on the customer’s device. For extra security, the customer can even choose their own encryption key, so even we can’t unlock it.

Data is then transferred to our data centre using SSL encryption, the same technology that’s used in online banking to protect your financial data in transit. When it reaches the data centre, each packet of information that you’re backing up is split into multiple, duplicate copies that are then spread across our many, many servers. We believe that this provides the highest level of security for the data that’s entrusted to us.

How are companies leaving themselves exposed to unnecessary data-loss risks?

Many companies think that they are protected from data loss because they backup their servers regularly, however, businesses are increasingly recognising that some of their most important data never makes it to the corporate server.

Often, the most valuable pieces of data are the ones that people are working on right now—and they tend to be kept on their laptops, PCs or mobile devices. If you’ve just gone to a customer meeting and got their input to a project, that’s the most important file to get back—but if you’re only backing up the server and you’re laptop is stolen from your car on the way back to the office, that file is not secure.

Small businesses are also particularly at risk as they seldom have time to backup every day. Backing up once a week will often leave you without your most pressing work if you ever need to restore. Daily backup is crucial. If I could give one piece of advice to everyone, it would be to test your backup regularly. Do a practice restore and check what information you get back. It’s easy to assume that everything you need is backed up—but it’s also easy to miss something that your business absolutely relies on.

How could better due diligence before partnering avoid risks in data loss?

You’re not the only person who owns important data about your business. We don’t tend to think about it regularly but, if the people we do business with lose data, the impact on our businesses can be immense. Imagine if your accountant lost the information for your tax returns because their computer crashed? Or if your marketing company lost all the contacts in your database because their server room flooded? We’ve become accustomed to trusting others with our data but, according to research from Mozy, 80% of SMEs in the UK had never checked if their suppliers backed up their data. It only takes a moment to check but you could lose a lifetime’s information if you don’t.

Why do companies need to be more vigilant in their backup plans in 2011?

The recession had a real impact on the way that businesses in the UK were staffed with many administrative roles being made redundant. Backup responsibilities for, smaller businesses especially, have often been handed someone whose main role is normally a frontline function. As the market starts to pick again but companies are reluctant to risk investment in new staff, it’s really easy for backup to slip down someone’s to do list and, ultimately, get forgotten. Yet data loss in a fragile recovery can destroy a business.

Companies should also look at how and where they’re backing up. There are now more part-time, contract and remote workers than we’ve known before. A shared computer is especially vulnerable to data loss, a contract worker can easily move on, taking the data you need with them, and remote workers are easy to miss in a purely-centralised backup model.

There are more things to consider when securing data and planning your backup than ever before; but backup doesn’t need to be difficult. Automated solutions can do it all for you. And, if you’re not technically minded, you can even have your outsourced IT company manage the whole thing for you, administrating an online backup remotely and controlling the restoration process for you if the worst happens.

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Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.