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Researching, evaluating, and choosing a backup service in the cloud: recovery--another feature that differentiates various cloud backup vendors--should be easily accomplished.


Backups are a modern fact of life. Every organization that has any kind of computing technology (and that is all of them these days) needs to back up its data in case of technological or user errors. Traditionally, large-scale backups have been done via an internal or external tape drive that takes magnetic tapes (minicassettes, essentially) and puts the compressed data from the server onto the tape. These tapes are neither cheap nor fast and require a human being to move them around. From changing tapes on a daily basis to moving tapes out of the initial location in case of catastrophic damage to the organization's building (think earthquake or tornado), their maintenance is pretty labor-intensive, at least in comparison to a backup solution that takes advantage of always-on internet access and nighttime low-bandwidth times to run backup copies of the data and send it, via the internet, to the cloud.


For smaller organizations that have computer workstations but no in-house servers to use for backup, something such as Dropbox ( or Box ( would work to back up important files on each computer. Installation of the client for both backup providers is pretty easy, and once the Dropbox or Box folder is in place, remembering to store documents that you want backed up is the extent of the brain power required to make sure your data is both safe in a physically removed location (the backup providers' servers in the cloud) and easily recoverable (both services allow you to log in to their websites from any computer and redownload your data at any time). Both services mentioned here have free options that run from 2GB to 5GB of data, and both offer more storage for a relatively small fee. These sorts of services are ideal for very small libraries that have a few staff members who need to easily back up their documents and important files.

For larger libraries that have in-house servers and a more complicated technological setup, the general idea is the same, but there may be more cost and complexity associated with the setup of a backup solution. Most libraries that have servers in their buildings use those servers for file sharing and domain controlling purposes, as well as for any other purposes from website hosting to ILS management to running displays throughout the library. All of these server functions are important to libraries, and all must be protected in events such as a tornado or a system administrator with fumbling fingers.

Our library, the Missouri River Regional Library, is a midsize public library with several servers that perform domain controller, file-sharing, website serving, and display management services. We used to use traditional tape backups. I would change the tapes on a daily basis, and twice a week, I would send them to off-site storage at our branch library, which was 20 miles away, for physical security purposes. Today, I do none of that. I've switched to cloud backups for all of the computers in the library, and, for just a bit more money than buying tapes, I have completely eliminated the need to fuss with backups at all.

When it came time to buy a new set of magnetic tapes for our backups and to replace one of our servers, I decided to check out the possibility of using the cloud to back up our data, avoiding the purchase of more tapes and a tape drive for the new server. I discovered that there were a number of vendors out there willing and able to provide us with backup solutions--but those solutions were sometimes difficult to compare and required that I have a pretty good idea of everything we were backing up to accurately gauge the storage we would need.

Audit Yourself!

Evaluation of all of our current backups was the first step. I went through each server, which was backing up to its own tape drive, and determined the size of the monthly backups. The monthly backups consisted of a full backup every Sunday evening, with incremental backups of just the changed data the other six nights of the week; this was repeated monthly and then overwritten the next month. All backups were stored for a month and then overwritten on the tape. Using Windows Server's built-in backup utility, I could see the backups and how much space they were using on the disk. Combining all the servers' storage into one number gave me a starting point for comparing various backup services.

Beyond just storage, though, if I wanted to send that data off-site to the cloud vendor's server, I had to make sure our available overnight bandwidth was up to the task. We close at 9 p.m., so starting the transfer of data each night shortly after that gave me plenty of time to send all our data before we opened again at 9 a.m. the next morning. If your library is open 24/7, though, you may have to identify when to send those backups to avoid slowing down the internet for your users.

Most backup vendors have two pricing points. They charge for total storage (the numbers I got from the backup utility) and the transfer of data between the server and the vendor. Many of the services did offer a free trial that would run the backups for a month or so and give me all the data I needed to make my decision, but that came later. The vendors' prices were, generally, close to each other, but the features and services they offered varied widely.

Most backup providers will give you a free client to install in your server in order to manage the backups. Some offer a fee-based installation and tuning service that will help you set up your backups in a way that is less costly in both storage and data transfer. Others offer multiple layers of redundancy and security for your data. Some will give you multiple ways to recover data (online, through a mailed CD or DVD or hard drive of data, locally, etc.); others only offer a couple of those options.

I asked around to see what vendors other folks were using and selected a few to try out. These are the vendors I fully evaluated:

* MozyPro (

* CrashPlan PRO (

* MOREnet ( one is available only to MOREnet customers in Missouri.

Others were Jungle Disk (https://, which is based on Amazon's servers, and Carbonite ( I ended up with the three noted above because I needed to be able to make a decision relatively quickly, so I went with the recommendations I received, not necessarily because those three were better than Carbonite or Jungle Disk.

The major features I was looking for in a cloud backup system were ease of installation, data compression at the client (to cut down on the amount of data being sent between our library and the storage server), and price. Most of what we were backing up consisted of documents and website files, nothing that required extraordinary levels of security. But if you are backing up patron information, you will want to add security assurances to that list of features for your organization. After installing clients, testing each service, and checking the pricing, I decided on CrashPlan PRO for our backup needs.

Our Library's Decision

CrashPlan PRO offers clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so it would work on any computer or server we chose to use. It also offered an unlimited plan that charged per server, rather than per data unit. This reassured me because the price would be steady all the time. Even if our PR department decided to drop a bunch of heavy graphics into the file share server, the amount we pay each month would be static.

In the beginning, the library paid for three servers: two file/domain controller servers that both backed up to an external hard drive (these counted as one server for CrashPlan PRO's purposes) plus our web server and a file share server we have in a separate administration building. With our new virtualization setup, though, we combined the two domain controllers and file share server with the web server, and they are now all contained within one physical server, cutting our costs down to two backed up servers for about $15 per month.

Considering that the library was paying $60 every 6 months for tapes and buying tape drives for each server I provisioned, our backup costs didn't go up very much at all as a result of this decision. If you add in the time I'm not spending moving tapes around, costs may have actually gone down.

After installing the client in the various servers and pointing to the folders that I wanted backed up, I haven't had to deal with backups at all, except to restore a file or two that got accidentally deleted by staff. Recovery--another feature that differentiates various cloud backup vendors--should be easily accomplished. With CrashPlan PRO, because the servers first back up to a local data storage site (this can be a USB hard drive, a spot on the server itself, or a full-fledged storage device that does nothing but collect backup files on your network), recovery for unintentionally deleted files is easy. All you have to do is access the local backup through the provided client, find the file that was deleted from the actual server, and click Restore. It is immediately placed back in the location from which it was deleted, and you are now the library's hero.

More extensive backups are available, though, if there is a catastrophic event at your library. CrashPlan PRO offers both network and hard copy backups. This means that you can recover your data over the network, or, if you are backing up large quantities of data and a network backup would take too long and use too much of your bandwidth, you will be sent a hard copy of your data on disk, if necessary.

Recapping the Process

While the process I went through was pretty standard, let me summarize the steps for this evaluation:

* Determine what vendors are being used by your peers.

* Determine what features you need for your library.

* Determine what features the various vendors offer.

* Determine price points for the features you need.

* Test each final vendor for ease of use, client installation flexibility, and recovery options.

* Choose the winning vendor and set up its client--then forget about it altogether (except for the daily emails that inform you of what the backups did the night before).

The choices I made were the ones that were best for our library. Your library will be different, and your choices will vary as well. As long as you do a thorough evaluation of your library's needs, find a vendor that meets those needs at a price you can afford, and follow the directions to install and initialize your new cloud backups, you will be able to "set it and forget it" when it comes to even the very important IT task of managing backups for your library.

Robin Hastings is the information technology coordinator at the Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City, Mo. Some of the things she gets done during her workday include network administration, website management, social media management, and, of course, working the public desk. You can keep her from achieving Inbox Zero by contacting her at
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Author:Hastings, Robin
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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