As a computer consultant, you help clients make tech decisions about a variety of services, including cloud computing and continuous backup. No doubt, you understand these services from a technical standpoint, but what about a legal one?
When you recommend or install a service for your clients, you assume liability for that service. If anything goes wrong – like when a client is hacked or loses their data – you can be sued. That's the unfortunate reality of the IT world. When something goes wrong, you get blamed.
To help you get a better handle on your liabilities, let's take a look at the different data backup solutions.
What Is Continuous Backup?
Continuous backup saves any changes you make to data. If you accidentally delete important sections of a document, continuous backup will have a copy of the current file and one from before you made the deletion. It's like having an "undo" button for all your files. Rather than have backups from different times, you have a continuous history of every change that occurs in your files.
This is important from a data security standpoint. If data is infected with a virus or Trojan, you can comb through your history and restore files from before they were infected.
Your two basic options for continuous data backup are…
- Onsite backup. Network attached storage (NAS), external hard drives, or other in-house devices make continual copies of data.
- Cloud backup. Internet-connected devices are synced and backed up with data servers through a service provider like Dropbox, Microsoft's SkyDrive, or Amazon's S3. (To help you sort through different options, here's a chart of different cloud services and their features).
Choosing between Onsite Backup and Cloud Backup
Many different factors go into your choice of continuous backup technology. Here's a breakdown of how onsite backup and cloud backup differ on key considerations.
- Cost. Depending on how much data you back up, a cloud storage plan can cost anywhere from $3 to $25 a month. Multiply that for a year and the annual cost comes to $36-$300. While that's not a major expense, it's not insignificant – especially if it comes with an increased risk for data breaches. In addition, there are integration and other periodic costs associated with cloud computing (We highlight those costs in our article "New Worries about the Hidden Cost of Cloud Computing"). Setting up your own hardware certainly costs less. You may have to pay more upfront, but after a year or two, you easily recoup the expense.
- Reliability. Each type of data backup has its flaws. On the one hand, onsite backup is more susceptible to physical problems. If your office burns down, you lose your data.On the other hand, cloud storage means you're not in control of your data. If something goes wrong with the cloud service provider, you could lose your data. In his article for The Guardian, Jack Shofield examines the problems with cloud backup and goes into detail about his problems with cloud storage provider Streamload: when the company went belly-up, thousands of consumers lost access to their data.
- Interconnectivity. One advantage of cloud backup is that it easily syncs with mobile devices. Of course, you can get the same effect from your onsite storage by setting up your own private cloud service (using Ubuntu or other software). These so-called private clouds are a good solution, but take more effort to set up and manage.
- Security. Proponents of cloud computing argue that your data is actually safer when it’s housed in cloud data facilities. They argue that cloud providers like Amazon are better able to repel hackers. But the jury is still out on this one. Many companies are concerned about sending their data to cloud servers. In addition, businesses with lots of private data (e.g. medical businesses) have legal concerns about sending data to someone else, even if it’s encrypted.
- Ability to restore. All continuous backup helps prevent data loss. If a virus or Trojan infects your data, continuous backup can give you the most recent "clean" version, which minimizes productivity losses. One downside to cloud backup is that restores take longer because you have to download the data. Let's say you’re doing a complete restore on a client's network. You would still have to boot each computer from a startup CD, hard drive partition, etc. After the boot, you will have to download files from the cloud storage site. With gigs and gigs of data, this can take a long time.
- Resource consumption. One drawback to continuous backup is that it can slow down computers. It takes processing power, bandwidth, and other resources to send your data to the cloud or onsite storage device. Some cloud backup services are slower than others, so it's a good idea to try one out before you commit.
What Data Backup Liabilities Can You Face?
Anytime IT professionals install or recommend data backup services they face two tech liabilities:
- Professional Liabilities. If you make a mistake or the product fails, you can be sued for your errors or the errors of the program. Errors & Omissions Insurance can pay for lawsuits about data loss and other professional errors.
- Cyber Liabilities. Hackers can target both cloud storage and onsite backup, and when they do, you can be sued for the security breach. Cyber Liability Insurance protects you from lawsuits over data breaches.
While there's no silver bullet to prevent all lawsuits, understanding the differences between data backup services is key to keeping your customers secure and protecting your liabilities.