Cloud backup and cloud storage: what is the difference?

The cloud hype has blurred the lines between cloud storage and cloud backup. Many providers like it that way because it gives them a broader appeal in capturing potential customers. But clouding up cloud definitions confuses the market. In reality they are very different solutions for different business challenges.

What is cloud storage?

Cloud storage, like Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s SkyDrive, is a great way to easy share files. The main goal of cloud storage is to store files online to be accessible, and to work with, from any device anywhere. You can compare it with a cloud based USB flash drive.

However, there is no guarantee, no monitoring and reporting, no support and if a server goes down in one of their data centers, you may never see those files again. The majority of the services have a web interface for you to upload files. Therefore files can only be encrypted on the server side; making transportation less secure. They do not offer an automated process for uploading or syncing files between your computer and their service. Files have to be put over manually or placed in a shared folder to be synced. And last but not least, only files and folders can be stored, so no application data.

Cloud Storage is a great way to share documents. However, it isn’t the place to back up your business-critical applications and documents.

What is cloud backup?

Cloud backup is a cloud-based application, which provides you with the ability to automatically backup your files, applications, virtual machines or servers and store them safely for disaster recovery purposes. Cloud Backup is an insurance for your data and business continuity.

Cloud backup is typically built around a local client application that runs on a, ideally multiple times daily, automatic schedule in the background. The application collects, compresses, encrypts and transfers data to the service provider's servers. To reduce the amount of bandwidth consumed and the time it takes to transfer files, the service provider provides incremental backups after the initial full backup.

The primary data resides in the original location where secondary stored data is safely stored to the cloud, to be used for data recovery. The cloud backup solution stores all data with a custom retention policy, so you can fix corrupted files by restoring earlier versions of a file. Professional cloud backup solutions comprise special plugins to back up data from third party applications (e.g. MS Outlook, Exchange, SQL). Clear reporting on the success of the backups, makes it easy to verify if all files are safe.