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Does cloud-based file syncing qualify as backup?

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File synchronization vs. file backup

As backup SaaS, file synchronization, sharing and collaboration services take hold, the proverbial lines are beginning to blur. Backup SaaS vendors like Mozy offer capabilities to access files stored in the Mozy cloud from multiple types of endpoint devices, enabling syncing. File sharing and collaboration services, such as Insync, SugarSync and Syncplicity (among others), also promote their backup capabilities.

Backup is any process or technology that automatically makes a secondary copy of data, and makes it available for recovery in the event the primary copy of data is lost. Typically, backup solutions provide versioning (automatically retaining multiple versions of any file), allowing data to be recovered from multiple, previous points in time.

Using file synchronization and collaboration solutions involves setting up a cloud-based folder and copying files into that folder. The files are immediately available for access via a Web interface from any Internet-connected device. In some solutions, like SugarSync, a user’s sync workspace on one device is automatically synchronized with sync folders on other devices.

Back to the question of what qualifies as backup. Using the aforementioned backup definition, file syncing could be considered backup. If the primary copy of the file is lost or corrupted, the copy maintained in the cloud-based sync folder can be retrieved. From a versioning perspective, Dropbox

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actually does create copies of the files saved to a cloud folder, including deleted and prior versions of files, and saves them for a 30-day period or longer with advanced features. Solutions like Box and SugarSync have a similar versioning feature with the ability to restore previous versions of files stored in the cloud repository. However, not all cloud-based collaboration tools have automation for backup. However, a few do have automated synchronization where new and changed files are automatically synchronized with cloud folders.

The other side of the cloud

We haven’t even talked about the biggest challenge in relying on these synchronization tools as backup. While leveraging file syncing solutions as a form of backup takes care of one pesky problem for IT, making endpoint users happy and productive, it presents another. In many cases, it allows employees to adopt consumer-grade file syncing solutions haphazardly, leaving organizations more susceptible to risk.

Consider this: Endpoint devices have typically been the most underprotected business asset. In a 2010 survey of more than 500 IT professionals, ESG research found that less than 50% of respondents back up 100% of desktops, less than 40% of organizations back up 100% of laptops, and less than 25% of those surveyed back up 100% of handhelds. Today, there are several forces at work in elevating file syncing and backup to the fore: increased worker mobility, growing interest in and use of cloud services, and the consumerization of IT. Today, IT professionals are challenged to embrace certain consumer technologies in the workplace while maintaining IT standards to minimize risk and meet corporate and/or regulatory requirements. Clearly, enabling file synchronization for both personal and professional mobile devices with centralized IT services and cloud storage services will be a high priority to facilitate user productivity.

This was first published in February 2012

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