The cloud is so common it’s easy for people to forget that it’s not some magic place where folders go to live forever in space. At least in theory, we all know it’s just some company’s computer. Because the cloud is so widely-used and generally reliable (though there are plenty of cloud outages), it’s easy to forget that these company’s systems are just as fallible as anybody else’s. Files, folders, and entire virtual machines in the cloud are susceptible to corruption, downtime, or even accidental deletion. To keep data safe in the cloud, here’s a quick refresh on what to do (and not to do) when it comes to the most common cloud storage types.
What’s Your Goal?
Before we get into specifics, it’s helpful to define and outline your goal for cloud storage—the cloud isn’t necessarily just for storing data and you may want capabilities that extend beyond the basics.
- Storage only. With just storage, you’re using the cloud to hold files and folders, so people can access them anywhere. Think of tools like Dropbox or Onedrive. Depending on your setup, these files may not be on an end-user’s machine – they may only be in the cloud.
- Backup. In this case, you might use the cloud for redundancy and keep extra copies of files and folders in a cloud-based app. You may even store entire image-based backups through solutions like StorageCraft Cloud Services.
- Recovery. Having a backup and having a way to recover are two different things. Just because the data is stored in a backup, doesn’t make it useful if something happens to the machine you backed up. Many cloud backup options (StorageCraft Cloud Services included) offer a fast way to virtualize a machine from the cloud so files and apps aren’t just safe, they’re accessible and can be put to work almost immediately.
With that out of the way, let’s dig into some best practices whether you’re using the cloud for file storage, or for backup and recovery.
There are dozens of storage tools for files and folders. There are even cloud storage tools that aggregate all the free cloud storage you get from the other cloud storage providers. But whatever tool you choose, there are a few smart ways to make sure you never lose anything important.
- Keep files in a minimum of two places. For anyone in IT, this is obvious, but it bears repeating: never keep files and folders in one place only. Ideally, you’ll have a physical, on-site copy and one in the cloud (at bare minimum). It’s tempting to store files and folders in the cloud, then delete them from your machine to save space, but you’re eliminating redundancy. If something happens with your cloud storage account (and bad things do happen), you’ll only have yourself to blame if something goes wrong.
- Develop policies. For IT admins or MSPs responsible for client’s cloud storage, it’s important to develop policies around cloud use, both for security purposes and to ensure data redundancy. If you’re considering moving portions of shared network storage to the cloud, make sure it’s a corporate account that you can control. As soon as employees start using personal cloud storage to store work documents (and they often will), you suddenly have many new ways for corporate information or sensitive client data to leak out. Give people the tools they need, but take care in creating policies that keep data secure.
Cloud Backup and Recovery
Files and folders are important, but what about the software and apps that make all that data useful? As noted, if something major happens (Mother Nature, hardware failure, etc.) and servers start going down, you run into problems that can include decreased (or no) productivity, website outages, and other issues that can prevent work from happening. That’s why smart IT admins take full image-based backups of machines and develop intelligent ways to recover. Below are some considerations for using the cloud as part of a backup and recovery plan.
- Keep backups on-site and off-site. Did we already mention that with any data, redundancy is the key? Be sure you have data copies both on-site and off-site. Off-site could be in the cloud, but it could also be backup images stored on a hot-swappable hard drive that you can take to a secondary location (i.e. a “poor man’s cloud”).
- Choose a cloud with recovery options. If, for some reason, you can’t recover locally, what’s your strategy? Some cloud services will allow you to spin up a Virtual Machine (VM) of a machine even if local recovery is impossible. For systems that have zero tolerance for downtime, a cloud-based recovery option is your best bet.
- Mirror your critical data. 99.999% uptime is exceptional, but nothing is infallible. Remember, uptime is great, but errors do occur, and data can be accidentally deleted or somehow corrupted. For extra critical data, it’s wise to not only backup your data in the cloud, but to mirror it to a geographically disparate region for extra assurance.
The cloud is great, but the easiest thing to forget is that it’s not magic. Take responsibility for your data by having a local backup first, then think of how to incorporate the cloud into your backup and disaster recovery strategy. As noted, redundancy is key, but that extends past data and to the systems themselves. A company may protect data with a backup, but it’s the quick recovery that makes a difference when it comes to reducing costly downtime.