Disaster strikes and your data is gone! But never mind, you’ve got cloud back up. Or have you? Not all Cloud services offer you a fail-safe way to ensure security and continuity, though, on the surface, lots of very different products can look very similar. And, by the time you find out that a service is not what you think, it may be too late.

When you uploaded those files to the cloud, was that file backup? Or was it file sync? Or file sharing? Making sure that your cloud service is fit for purpose is key to making the most of the benefits that it has to offer. So here’s my guide to understanding:

What are the types of service on offer?

‘Sync’ solutions enable users to keep all their computers up-to-date with the latest versions of your files. Sync services are great if you work from a number of different devices, for example, a laptop, a tablet and a smart phone; but the process of choosing what to sync is manual and, since it’s usually only the documents that you’re currently working on that you’d choose to sync, those will be the only things that you’re able to restore. Sync solutions are great for accessing key data but aren’t designed to offer you a complete backup version of your data.

‘Share’ solutions enable users to work collaboratively with colleagues, using the Cloud to host files that you can all edit and access. Some can also be used to post information to social networking sites. Sharing services are by nature suited to files that you want others to interact with, which means they are not meant to mirror the versions that might be missing from the PCs that a company wants to restore data to.

Online storage solutions give companies space in the Cloud where they can keep files. But this is the online equivalent of being given an empty box. It’s a blank space to do with as you want, but you have to do something to make it useful.

If you want to use it for back up, either you need to buy and integrate a backup client to manage that or you need to manually upload each document that you want to protect, every time you make any changes to them. Moreover, when you want to get that data back and restore it to your computer, you need to manage that process yourself.

Online backup systems are complete solutions created specifically to protect a company’s data. A specialised online backup solution will automate the process of selecting which files are new or changed and need to be backed up, before systematically managing their transport to the Cloud.

The service will ensure the integrity of the data by encrypting it, and will transfer it over a secure connection – similar to those used for online banking. Finally, it will support the organisation through the process of managing and restoring its data. When things go wrong with your IT and you need to get your data back, having someone on hand who knows exactly what they are doing is invaluable.

What else do you need to consider?

Encryption is vital to protect sensitive data that you’re accessing through, or storing in, the Cloud. AES encryption is the same technology used by the military to encrypt its data. Some services will automatically encrypt your files, others won’t. Check what’s encrypted and where.

Security can also be breached during the transit of your data. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol is the technology used by banks to ensure that your online banking is transacted safely and is used by some Cloud providers. Check how data is transported and how safe the connections are.

Location may not seem important when you can link seamlessly to a server on the other side of the world but each region has its own laws about data. Your information will be subject to the laws wherever the Cloud provider has its data centre, not the laws of the country you’re in. Check whether the data centres are in the EU.

Connection speed has a big impact on your user experience. Some suppliers ‘throttle’ your connection to the data centre, which means that they restrict the amount of data per second that you can download or upload. This can cause extensive delays in getting at your data or prevent you from uploading and protecting everything. Check whether your access will be ‘throttled’.

Get what you need from the cloud

Getting what you need from the Cloud is all about asking the right questions during the vendor-selection process. Many companies that already provide Cloud services offer online backup to their portfolio as an add-on; but these often lack the core functionalities and security provisions that are key to effective online backup. Organisations that want the peace of mind that comes with knowing their data is protected need to ensure their provider has the backup side of things covered before weighing up any additional benefits.