Cloud backup and recovery solutions create point-in-time copies of your data and write those copies out to a secondary cloud storage facility—this is usually a public cloud such as AWS, or the backup provider’s own private cloud. This ensures that you can restore your data and resume normal operations quickly in the event that your local copies are destroyed.
In today’s digital-first workplace, users store data everywhere—in on-premises and virtual data centers, in applications, on local endpoints—and with such data sprawl, it’s inevitable that we’ll eventually find ourselves facing an instance of data loss. It could be a single file deleted by accident, or it could be an entire system encrypted by ransomware—however it happens, the most important thing is being able to recover from the loss.
Implementing a robust backup and recovery strategy is critical to ensuring deleted or destroyed data can be recovered, as well as minimizing downtime during an incident. However, managing backups manually can be challenging and time-consuming, and storing them can be expensive—particularly if your organization handles large amounts of data, or doesn’t have the in-house resource to build a backup server and deduplicate backups as they’re created.
Thankfully, cloud backup and recovery solutions exist so that your IT and security teams don’t have to undertake these tasks alone.
How Does Cloud Backup And Recovery Work?
Most cloud backup and recovery solutions work in a similar way—they write out copies of your data to secure, secondary storage facilities either in the cloud or on-premises, enabling you to restore those copies if the original data is compromised, deleted, or destroyed. However, there are some variations between solutions, particularly in terms of storage options and the way in which they create backups. Let’s take a look at those variations in more detail.
Backup Storage Options
All cloud backup providers allow you to write out your backup copies to a third-party cloud environment, which could either be their own private cloud, or a public cloud such as Azure or AWS. They usually write out data to this cloud storage environment via API connections. Because of this, cloud backups are a particularly effective option for organizations looking to back up data stored in SaaS applications such as Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, or Salesforce, as the providers of these cloud apps have their own APIs that enable them to integrate seamlessly with backup tools, making it very quick and easy for organizations to deploy cloud-to-cloud backups.
Some cloud backup providers also offer on-premises or hybrid storage options. On-premises storage means storing your data locally on hard drives, disks, or physical servers. On-prem backups are secured by your firewall and don’t require an internet connection for you to recover data, enabling low-latency recovery. However, they do require staff to create, manage and maintain the backup server, which can be a considerable up-front cost. They’re also vulnerable to natural disasters, and accidents that could damage the hardware your backups are stored on.
Hybrid backup storage (i.e., storing one copy of your backups on-prem and another copy in the cloud) is generally considered the most secure backup option, as it means that no single incident or point of failure can destroy all your backup copies. If this is important to your organization, we recommend looking for a cloud-based backup solution that offers hybrid storage options. As well as increasing security, you’ll benefit from the assistance of your service provider when you need to recover data, and you won’t have to manage or maintain your backup servers yourself.
Types Of Backup
There are three main ways in which a cloud backup solution will create backups of your data:
- If the provider offers full backups, they’ll create a new backup of every piece of data that you want to protect, every time you run a backup. This enables you to restore your data fully and comprehensively—and relatively quickly, as you don’t have to search through multiple backups to find the latest version—but it’s a time-consuming process and requires lots of storage space.
- If the provider offers differential backups, they’ll create a full backup and then subsequently only make new backup copies of data that have changed since the last full backup. This greatly improves backup speeds but, when it’s time to restore your data, you’ll have to restore the full backup first, then restore the latest differential backup in another layer on top of that.
- If the provider offers incremental backups, they’ll create a full backup and then subsequently only create new backup copies of data that has changed since the last backup—whatever type of backup that was. This hugely reduces the amount of time it takes to create backups and the amount of space needed to store them, and it eliminates duplicate backup files. However, incremental backups often take longest to restore, as you have to restore the full backup, then each incremental backup in layers.
Fastest – requires only most recent backup
High – stores lots of duplicate data
Fast – requires most recent full backup plus most recent differential backup
Medium – stores some duplicate data
Slowest – requires most recent full backup plus all subsequent incremental backups
Low – stores no duplicates
If you have lots of data to backup, you should consider running a full backup followed by differential or incremental backups as they use fewer resources, and your cloud backup provider can help you piece together your backup layers during the restoration process.
What Are The Benefits Of Cloud Backup And Recovery?
There are multiple reasons why you should invest in a cloud backup and recovery solution:
Save Time, Cost, And IT Resource
Implementing a robust backup solution is critical to recovering lost data and minimizing downtime during such an incident. However, creating and managing backups manually is time-consuming, logistically difficult, and can be costly—particularly for businesses that handle large amounts of data, or that do not have the resource in-house to build their own backup servers.
Investing in a cloud backup and recovery solution can help solve these challenges: you don’t have to hire staff to build or maintain backup servers, and you only pay for the storage and bandwidth you need. Additionally, cloud backup providers offer support should you need to restore your data, and some offer backup and recovery as a managed service.
Recover From Ransomware
Ransomware is a form of malware that, once downloaded, holds data hostage either by encrypting it or locking users out of it. Once the attacker has successfully seized an organization’s data, they demand a ransom for its return. But paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get your data back, and it also doesn’t ensure that the attacker will completely remove the ransomware from your system afterwards—which could leave you vulnerable to another attack.
The most effective way to recover from a ransomware attack is to completely cleanse all your systems and storage devices, then start fresh, reinstalling all your applications from the ground up. This will ensure that there aren’t any traces of ransomware left behind. Once you’ve cleansed your systems, you can use restore your data using backups. Some cloud backup providers offer added protection against ransomware by securing your backups with encryption, anti-tampering, and anti-malware technology, and offering continuous backups, which allow you to restore data to within second before the ransomware detonated. If you were backing up your data less frequently—such as daily or weekly—you’d be likely to lose any work that had been done between your last backup and the ransomware incident.
Two out of three mid-sized organizations suffered from a ransomware attack in the last 18 months. If an attack strikes, having secure, comprehensive backups in place can help you recover more quickly and cost-effectively.
Mitigate Human Error
A recent survey found that accidental deletion is responsible for 20% of SaaS data loss. Whether it be the accidental deletion of a file that it turns out was *really important*, the early wiping of an ex-employee’s user account, a spilled coffee that makes a laptop short circuit, or a phone left in a pocket in heavy rain, it’s inevitable that your organization is going to suffer some amount of data loss caused by human error. And when an accident does happen, a cloud backup tool can help you recover that lost data.
The best backup and recovery solutions not only offer full-system restoration, but also granular search and discovery functionality and single-file recovery, which enable you to quickly find and restore specific files, emails, and even chat history.
Recover From Natural Disasters And Hardware Failures
If your organization is based in a geographically or environmentally turbulent part of the world, you could lose data at the hands of a physical threat, rather than a digital one. While hurricanes, fires, floods, and other natural disasters are less common causes of data loss than human error or cyberattacks (causing only 5% of business downtime), they can cause just as much damage to your data if they do occur—particularly if all your data is stored on-premises. A cloud backup and recovery solution can help you recover from data loss at the hands of Mother Nature by ensuring you have at least one copy of your data stored in a secure cloud location that’s isolated from your on-prem environment.
Similarly, hardware failures and service outages can lead to data loss or, at the very least, operational disruption while you try to fix the issue and get your systems back up and running. In the event of extended downtime, a backup and recovery solution can ensure your employees still have data with which they can work.
Comply With Data Protection Standards
Organizations of all sizes and across all industries globally are facing increasing pressure from compliance regulators to implement robust processes for securing and managing their data. While not all compliance standards explicitly require you to backup data, some do. These include:
- HIPAA: HIPAA’s Administrative Safeguard 45 CFR § 164.308(a)(7)(ii)(A) requires organizations in the healthcare sector to implement a backup plan that ensures protected health information (PHI) isn’t lost or destroyed should a disaster occur.
- GBLA: GBLA’s Safeguards Rule requires that financial organizations provide a written information security plan that outlines the processes they’ve implemented to secure customer information—the Federal Trade Commission recommends maintaining secure backup records that are written out to an encrypted server.
- SOX: SOX’s Section 103 requires public accounting firms to maintain all documents related to audits for a minimum of seven years, and Section 105 requires that all documents presented for inspection are kept confidential.
Note that this isn’t a comprehensive list of standards that require data backup; you should check with your federal and industry compliance regulators to find out what their specific requirements are, including how long you should retain backups and archives.
A cloud backup and recovery solution can not only help you achieve compliance, but also help you prove it by providing comprehensive reporting into backup and restoration activity.
Protect Your Reputation
Investing in a cloud backup solution means that if your organization is hit by a cyber attack or suffers from a different data loss incident, you’ll be able to recovery quickly and efficiently, with minimal downtime. If you didn’t have backups in place, it would take much longer for you to recover from the incident, and you may not be able to provide services during that time—which could cause your customer to look for those services elsewhere. As well as this, implementing a backup and recovery solution means you can assure your customers that their data is secure, and won’t be destroyed or lost as the result of a security incident.
What Are The Limitations Of Cloud Backup And Recovery?
Having comprehensive, secure backups in place is the only way to ensure that your organization can recover fully and effectively from a data loss incident. However, as with any cybersecurity tool, backup and recovery solutions aren’t just something you can “set and forget”—you need to make sure that you correctly configure them so that they’re backup up all your data and no systems go overlooked, and you need to regularly test the solution to make sure it’s working properly. That means testing your backups to make sure they’re not missing any data and that all the data being backed up is accessible and readable, and it also means testing different types of restoration (e.g., single file restore and full system restore).
On average, only 57% of data backups are successful and 61% of restores are successful. If you don’t test your cloud backup solution, you may find that you’re unable to recover all your data in the event of a security incident—and by then, it’ll be too late to make any changes.
Another potential limitation of cloud backup solutions is that they can be susceptible to cyberattacks. In fact, 97% of modern ransomware incidents attempt to infect backup repositories, as well as primary systems. However, many cloud backup solutions offer ransomware detection and anti-tampering technology that help to mitigate this risk.
What Features Should You Look For In A Cloud Backup And Recovery Solution?
There are a lot of cloud backup and recovery solutions on the market, so it’s important that you create an implementation strategy outlining your key requirements. You’ll need to know how much storage and what retention periods you require, as well as any other security and compliance needs. Once you have this strategy in place, you can start comparing solutions.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the top features that you should look for when choosing a cloud backup solution:
When choosing a backup solution, you need to consider how frequently you want to back up your data. When a data loss incident occurs, you could lose all the data that was created between your last backup and the incident. So, if you’re only creating backups weekly, you could lose up to a week’s worth of data.
We recommend looking for a solution that creates backups multiple times a day or offers continuous data protection for critical apps, such as M365, if not your whole network. Continuous data protection, as the name suggests, continuously creates backups whenever a file is changed. This enables organizations to recover their data from a specific point in time, right up to seconds before the data loss incident occurred, in order to minimize data loss and ensure as little downtime as possible following the event.
There’s not much point in backup up your data if you can’t then restore it later, so effective restoration is one of the most important features of any cloud backup and recovery solution. When comparing solutions, you should make sure that:
- You can restore data in the same state and quality as the originally—this is especially important if you plan on backing up images, such as medical scans
- You can easily find the specific data you need to restore—whether that’s a user account, a specific folder, or even a specific file
- You can export files either in their original formats, or as a PTS, EML, or ZIP file
- You can restore files to their original location and a different, user-defined location—this will come in handy if you’re restoring data that was previously owned by a user that has since left the company
- The solution offers a non-destructive restore, so as not to overwrite all the data in the original file location, as this could delete any new work
Search And Discovery
Your chosen solution should offer granular search capabilities so you can search the backup database for specific files. This should include useful filters such as file type, mailbox type, user, and time period; the best solutions also offer an intuitive keyword search tool. As well as enabling you to search for data, the system should return the results of your searches quickly.
Access Management And Activity Auditing
Malicious deletion is the most common cause of SaaS data loss, responsible for a quarter of all incidents. Backup solutions can store your data for a long time, so it’s important that your chosen solution has measures in place to prevent aggrieved employees, or threat actors that have taken over the accounts of legitimate users, from exfiltrating that data or tampering with it.
The first measure should be an audit log of all user and admin activity within the backup solution. If someone accesses a backup and tries to modify it, for example, this activity should be logged and an admin notified.
The second measure should be user authentication; all users should have to login to access backups. The strongest solutions offer support for multi-factor authentication as an added layer of login security.
Finally, the solution may implement separation of duties on backup and restoration activity, which requires more than one person to sign off on a task before it can be actioned or completed.
Ease Of Deployment And Management
Most cloud backup solutions are relatively easy to deploy, but it’s important that you choose a solution with a level of complexity that your organization can handle. If you’re a relatively small company, you may want a solution that offers a simple Azure sync that only requires an admin login; if you’re a larger organization with multiple IT or security staff, your solution’s deployment may be more complex, but it will likely offer more granular levels of customization and more technical support throughout the process.
Once deployed, it’s important that the solution is easy for your admins to manage; you shouldn’t need to dedicate lots of IT resource to running the solution. To help with the ongoing management, the solution should offer customizable alerts, with policies available for specific events.
Compliance With Data Protection Standards
You need to make sure that your chosen solution is compliant with any federal and industry data protection and privacy standards that your organization is required to comply with. Some specific points to consider when it comes to compliance include:
- Retention periods: You may be required to store data for a certain length of time, or even to store different types of data for different retention periods. Ensure your solution can meet the maximum retention period that you must comply with.
- Data sovereignty: You may be required to store your data in a certain country, so make sure your chosen solution has data centers in that location before investing.
- Security: You may be required to encrypt your data at rest or in storage using a certain encryption standard, or to ensure that all copies of your data are tamper-proof.
Our Recommendation: The Best Cloud Backup Tools
Here are some of the top cloud backup tools that we recommend for businesses:
Part of the OpenText group, CloudAlly is a leading provider of data protection solutions for SMBs. They offer a range of cloud backup and recovery solutions that cover Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, SalesForce, DropBox, and Box. These solutions are very easy to deploy, thanks to their Active Directory integrations for automatic user discovery, intuitive interface, out-of-the-box configurations, and 24/7/365 customer support. Once deployed, admins can schedule automatic daily backups of their organizations’ data, with unlimited retention and immutable storage to minimize data loss, and multiple recovery options. All backups are encrypted at rest using AES 256-bit encryption, and the platform offers support for multi-factor authentication via Okta and OAuth integrations. Organizations can also choose in which of CloudAlly’s data centers they would like their data stored, helping to meet compliance requirements. Overall, we recommend CloudAlly as a strong backup tool for any SMB looking to secure their cloud data long-term.
Veeam is a global market leader in the backup and recovery space, holding the largest market share in EMEA and the third-largest share worldwide. They offer multiple backup solutions to meet a broad range of use cases, including backup for SaaS applications; their Backup & Replication solution is their flagship product. With Veeam, admins can backup their data as often as every five minutes in its native format, which helps ensure business continuity in the event of data loss. Admins can also choose between item-level storage, or incremental, snapshot-based storage. Admins can also choose to store their data in the cloud or on-prem, enabling them to follow the “1-2-3” best practice for backup and recovery. Finally, the platform offers 25 recovery options, from granular, file-level recovery to full system restorations. Overall, we recommend Veeam as a strong cloud backup provider for mid-size to larger enterprises.
Druva is a leading provider of data resiliency solutions that enable organizations to backup and secure the data stored in their endpoints, workloads, and cloud applications (including Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Slack, and Salesforce). Their solutions offer automatic, cloud-to-cloud backups with deduplication, which minimizes storage pressure and streamlines file discovery. Admins can search for specific records via a text search tool and choose between individual item restore or full system restores. To ensure maximum security, the platform offers a full audit trail of all backup and user activity, AES 256-bit encryption at rest, TLS 1.2 encryption in transit, and role-based access and single sign-on via Okta and ADFS integrations. Finally, Druva is FedRAMP authorized and aligns with EDRM and Department of Justice (US) requirements for legal hold management, and offers support for SOC 2 Type 2, HIPAA, and Privacy Shield compliance. As such, we recommend Druva to mid-size to larger enterprises, and particularly those that need to secure sensitive data such as PII, PHI, and legal records.
For a more comprehensive list of the best cloud backup tools, check out our guide: The Top 11 SaaS Backup Solutions.
If you’re looking to secure data within a specific suite of cloud apps, you may want to browse some of our other guides, which recommend the best tools for particular enterprise use cases:
How Else Can You Ensure Business Continuity?
While having a backup and recovery solution in place is an intergral part of responding to a data loss incident, it’s not the only part—you also need to contain the breach, assess the damage and risk to your data, notify your stakeholders, report the breach to the necessary authorities, and take any steps that are needed to prevent the same thing from happening again.
In a time of crisis, it can be difficult to remember all of that. So, to make sure you get your ducks in line and go through each step properly (and in the right order!), you need to put together a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan.
Business continuity and disaster recovery is a set of processes and policies, that you can implement to help you return to normal operations effectively and efficiently from a disruptor such as a cyberattack, natural disaster, service outage, hardware failure, or human error. To achieve this, BCDR combines two components: business continuity, which focuses on maintaining operations during and in the wake of a disaster; and disaster recovery, which focuses on restoring critical data, infrastructure, and technologies following a disaster to minimize downtime and financial loss.
Implementing a robust BCDR plan can help you minimize downtime, ensure the safety of your employees and stakeholders, protect your data, and ensure compliance with regulatory standards. Of course, there’s a big difference between following a plan in theory, and doing so during a real-life disaster. To help you keep on track and make sure you’re not missing any steps, you may want to invest in a BCDR solution. The best BCDR solutions offer features such as risk assessments, approval workflow automation, and live status reporting, to help you tick the right boxes and recover as efficiently as possible. Some BCDR solutions also offer data backup and replication and data recovery; others offer integrations with backup solutions such as those listed earlier in this article.
In today’s digital-first workplace, where your data is at risk of being breached, deleted, or destroyed by any number of ways, having backups in place is a fundamental best practice. A strong backup and recovery solution means that if you find that your organization has lost data, you can quickly recover it and resume operations quickly.
Creating backups can be a time-consuming, tedious process that drains IT and security resource—but thankfully, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Cloud backup and recovery solution exist to make it easier for you to ensure business continuity and recovery quickly and effectively in the event of a data loss disaster.
By enabling you to create multiple copies of your data and store them in multiple isolated, secure locations, cloud backup solutions can not only help you protect your data in line with industry best practices, save time and resources, and ensure business continuity; they can also help you prove compliance with federal and industry data protection standards.
So, if you aren’t already backing up your data, it’s time to start.