Automated online backup programs require only an Internet connection, a small software program, and a few minutes of your time. To perform a backup, you simply install the software on every computer containing data you want to back up; set up a backup schedule; and identify the files and folders to be copied. The software then sends copies of the files to a remote repository via the Internet.
Note that online backup is not equivalent to online file storage, a service that lets you upload individual files and folders for future retrieval.
Automated online backup is ideal for small nonprofits (say, two to ten people) that need to store critical information such as donor lists, fundraising campaign documents, and financial data, but lack the equipment or inclination to set up dedicated on-site storage.
With local storage, all the data is within your reach — and therein lies both its value and its risk. You can always access your information when necessary, but that information is vulnerable to loss, whether through theft (someone breaking in and stealing computer equipment) or damage (such as a leaky water pipe or a natural disaster). Online remote backup moves the data out of your office and to a third-party facility, usually a large, shared datacenter. This means you don't incur the capital expense of purchasing backup equipment, and in the event of a disaster you can still recover critical data (assuming you choose a remote facility outside the radius of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or other potential disasters).
Automation is another key benefit to remote backup. A software program won't forget to make an extra copy of a critical folder; a harried employee at the end of a busy week might. By taking the backup task out of your users' hands you avoid the problem of, “I forgot.”
Choosing a Remote Online Backup Provider
A downside to online remote backup is that you have to entrust critical data to a third party. Thus, due diligence is required on your part to ensure that the provider you choose is reliable and financially secure. Otherwise, you might end up with a company that has sloppy data-protection habits or goes out of business.
When shopping for a provider, ask to speak with one or two customers who have used that provider. You should also ask for specifics about each provider's storage facilities. The following are some other important questions to ask:
What redundancy have they built into their system to ensure that your data will always be available? For instance, do they make backups of your backup?
Will your information be kept on hard disk or moved to tape? How do they secure physical access to the equipment where data is stored?
Will your data be stored in a secure facility?
Who has network access to the machines that store your data?
Does the backup provider automatically encrypt your data? (Some services recommend that you encrypt your own data before backup.)
Does the provider offer a guarantee or insurance of a successful recovery?
You should also discuss pricing. Are there additional charges to the base price? Will the company notify you if you are nearing your allotted storage capacity, and how much do they charge if you exceed that capacity?
These questions will help you avoid unpleasant surprises and ensure that copies of your critical information are secure and available.
Backing up Data on Mobile Devices
Your mobile device probably doesn’t have enough memory to store all of your organization’s data (nor would it be the most convenient place to do so), but it is worth considering what data it would be most essential to have at your fingertips in an unexpected scenario. In the chapter on documentation, we suggested storing documentation on your device; consider storing your most essential documents there as well; for example, what information or files would be key as you wait to regain Internet connectivity so that you can restore from a hosted backup?
Of course, if you’re storing sensitive data on your mobile device, those files must be encrypted. For instructions on how to encrypt your files, see the device’s manual.
Alternatives to Regular Backups
TechSoup strongly advises that every organization should regularly back up its critical data. Using the options outlined in this chapter, you should be able to find a backup solution that meets your needs and doesn’t break the bank. Recognizing, though, that organizations’ needs vary widely and that some organizations may be unable to heed our advice, we cautiously offer some suggestions for nonprofits that can’t make regular backups.
If it’s impossible to commit to a backup strategy, keep your organization’s documents on systems with backups built into them. For example, Google offers a special bundle of its Google Apps services free to 501(c)(3) nonprofits. The bundle includes an email and chat client as well as a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software, all accessible through any standard web browser. Similarly, Microsoft now offers a web-based version of Office called Office Live Workspace. A free Office Live Workspace account includes 5 GB for storing your files. In both cases, since your information is stored on Google’s and Microsoft’s servers, loss of data is unlikely, though possible.
Alternatively, you can set up your own self-hosted web applications on your web hosting provider’s servers, assuming your provider backs up website data regularly. OpenGoo is a free, open-source suite that includes an email client as well as a word processor, presentation software, a shared calendar, shared bookmarks, and more. You can install OpenGoo on your web server and provide your staff with accounts to access it.
Are these tools as secure as running Microsoft Office and Outlook on your own computer? No, and they’re not appropriate for storing highly sensitive information. But for many of your nonprofit’s day-to-day operations, they’re a better alternative than risking a major data loss. For more information, see Are Web-Based Collaboration Tools Secure? on Page 33.
Of course, should you lose Internet connectivity, online services will be unavailable. Keep that in mind as you determine which files are crucial to store locally.