Recently, we did an article on how to air gap your backups. One of our readers had an interesting question: how do you get around spending effort and manpower to remove your air-gapped backups and take them offsite?
Obviously, with public and private cloud backup, it’s easy to send your data offsite. But with a physical disk or tape, separated from a network, you’ve got to go into the server room, disconnect them, and then there’s transport to a secure location.
There is actually a type of service that exists to do this for you—a backup courier service, where a person shows up with a metal case, takes your backup into a unmarked van, and transports it to a data vault where it’s kept offsite until you need it.
In this guide, we talk about what these services are, how to tell the good ones from the bad, and the pros and cons of using this sort of service.
About Backup Courier Services
Every courier business is different, but they all have one thing in common—offering you a highly secure delivery service where your backup travels with a courier. So how to tell the good ones from the bad ones?
Good backup couriers will typically offer:
- Secure transport of your backups under lockdown, in a typically unmarked vehicle, using their own fleet of vehicles.
- The vehicles will be specially adapted to transport backup media.
- There is a rigorous chain-of-custody and audit trail so your backups are not lost, and those who are in charge of them are held accountable. This may involve scanning your media at key points to make sure they’re where they’re meant to be.
- Delivery of your backup media is offered on an ASAP basis. There is a guaranteed minimum delivery time, usually one for business hours and another for non-business hours. E.g. Delivery guaranteed within two hours during business hours, and three hours during non-business hours. They’ll clearly list these times, as well as which days they count as holidays.
- The vehicles are equipped with tracking, so they can’t just drive off course, and all staff are police cleared.
- Vehicles are never left unmanned when your vehicles are in transit.
- They will synchronize their pickup and delivery times with your backup schedule, not the other way around.
- A secure storage facility. (See below)
Secure Storage Facilities
If the couriers offer a secure storage facility, which they typically do, it will usually be the following:
- A highly secure facility in a low-risk area.
- Climate controlled, with a high emphasis on humidity, dust, magnetism, and secure access.
- Protected by security safeguards such as CCTV, keycard access, and rigorously screened staff.
- Located in a major city, making it easily and centrally accessible.
- A site with a secure indoor loading dock and multi-tiered authorization protocol.
- Fire-proof storage area
When you shop around, be sure to ask if they have all of these things. It makes a handy checklist, and lets you know they’ll be protecting and storing everything properly.
Many data courier services won’t just offer to transport and store your data; they’ll also offer a bunch of extra services. These may include:
- Hard copy document storing
- Secure document destruction
- Backup Media Destruction (E.g. Tape Media Destruction)
- Scanning and digitizing of documents.
- Data backup and disaster recovery services.
- Rotation of your backup media
- Selling backup media and supplies
- Online access of your physical and digital data (Aka. Digital Hosting Service)
However, if there are any services that are unnecessary to your needs, make sure they’re not compulsory. Some businesses will attract customers by offering one service (media storage) but make another service (buying and using their backup devices) necessary for the service. At the very least, strong coercion may be used to make you fit their mold.
There are plenty of reasons what they offer may not fit your business model. For instance, you may have pre-existing backup media that is perfectly adequate (or even more reliable), but of a different brand. In terms of disaster recovery, you may wish to implement any strategy yourself rather than outsource this process. This is particularly true when you want just a few files or e-mails restored, which involves ruffling through your business data.
The software they use may not also offer the optimal features for your server environment. E.g. They may use backup software that is more focused on physical server recovery, whereas you use one that is specially tailored to your Hyper-V environment, and offers more flexible scheduling on how often you backup data. That’s the fallacy of a ‘one true solution’ approach – not every computer, server, or business is the same!
Remember the Golden Rule: When it comes to data courier services, they should be fitting your business needs, not the other way around!
What You Should Look Out For
First thing’s first, you want to check their track record. Years and existing clients matter—look for the names of large commercial and governmental organizations. This third-party business is going to be handling your precious backups, so you can’t be too thorough.
Ideally, you want a data protection service that offers a manned telephone service, 24 hours a day. Chances are if you really need your backups back pronto, you’re not going to send an e-mail and wait around an hour for the reply.
Their archiving should be top notch, with high transparency on where and how they’re stored for you and your business. Some services will offer a web-based media inventory tool so you can manage all your off-site media and request exactly what you need.
Most important of all is time. If a courier service can’t be trusted to be on time, then they’re not reliable. If they’re not reliable, they’re not worth your time. Disaster recovery is always a race against the clock. Customer reviews are a great way to find out if they’re able to meet your needs without signing up to the service.
The Pros of Data Courier Services…
The biggest pro is of course, you don’t have to personally transport or deal with your offsite backup storage. It’s also air gapped and protected in facilities above and beyond what most small, medium and even Enterprise businesses can manage.
The people who are handling your offsite backups, if you’ve chosen the right company, are also more vetted and watched than your actual staff. If you have one of your staff members store your backup offsite, there’s a chance they’ll become disgruntled one day, and that becomes a security and business risk. However, members of a data courier service are watched from end to end, with an incredibly high level of accountability.
…And Now For The Significant Cons
In what should come as no surprise—and for business owners, this has probably been screaming in the back of your mind for this whole article—it’s costing that’s the biggest issue! From the hiring, vet checks, CCTV monitoring, highly secure storage facilities, and more, it’s not like this sort of service comes cheap. This is particularly true if you’re running a small to medium business.
For many, the cost alone outweighs all the benefits the service may provide. This isn’t wrong—your business operates because of money, and what you are paying for is something you could probably do yourself if you took some time out of your day. It may not be done as professionally, but it will certainly be done cheaper.
The second drawback is also quite considerable, and that is speed. Chances are, you’re going to be able to get your own business backup faster than you can get one from a data courier service. Even at a speedy two hour delivery time, that’s two hours before you even start the disaster recovery process. This is optimistic, since many of these services might only guarantee you delivery within 24 hours.
3. Small-Scale Recovery
Grabbing your offsite backups is a pain, but never more than when you’re only trying to restore one or two items. Unless you and your data courier service are eerily in-sync, easily or regularly getting your backups for a recovery job isn’t going to happen.
In the end, it adds an extra step to a process that should be swift and simple.
4. Losing Control of Your Backups
If you go with a service that offers to provide you with the whole funnel from your storage media, to backup and recovery, you’re going to be wholly dependent on an outside party to get things done. If they don’t show up for five hours, there’s nothing you can do to speed that up, since they’re in control of your whole disaster recovery plan. You are literally paralyzed without them.
This mean you have to make sure you read your service agreement with them like a hawk. And there’s another problem with this, noted as point 5.
5. Jack of All Services, Master of None
When you get a service that does everything, they’re not specialized. And if they’re not specialized, that means they’re probably banking on you being lazy enough to just want one person to do everything, rather than having quality in everything.
It may take time and coordination to find the best solution for five different things, but at the end of the day, you’ve got quality solutions across the board.
Self Airgapping vs Data Courier vs Cloud Backup…
So at the end of the day, you’re presented with a few different options. Let’s summarize them here:
Self Airgapping: Getting someone to take and store your backups offsite.
- Biggest Pros: All in-house, cost effective, backups are airgapped.
- Biggest Cons: High chance for internal sabotage, takes up employee time, storage facilities are nowhere near as good as with a data storage company.
Data Courier Service: Paying a professional company to take and store your backups offsite.
- Biggest Pros: Frees up time, high level of backup security and storage, backups are airgapped.
- Biggest Cons: The cost! Being at the mercy of another company whenever you need your backups for anything. Not very speedy.
Offsite / Cloud Backup: Backup software that lets you send your backup data to a public or private cloud destination.
- Biggest Pros: Very low cost, high accessibility and speed, all in-house.
- Biggest Cons: If malware makes it into your network, typically through user error, those backups are going to get damaged or encrypted.
No Offsite Backup: Just leave your backup devices connected without an airgap or offsite backup of any kind.
- Biggest Pros: Requires the least thought, training, or implementation of any backup strategy. No offsite storage location or vendor required.
- Biggest Cons: Not only are you not protected from malware threats, any onsite disaster (E.g. Flooding, fire) will leave your business without any data whatsoever. In almost all cases, your business will be over in that instant.
The Best Choice?
There isn’t a best choice, but there is a wrong choice—doing no form of offsite backup. Whether you airgap your backups or not, you need to make sure at least one of your backups is offsite, and that you rotate your backup media constantly, no matter who is doing it.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the 3-2-1 backup strategy is still the golden standard for backup practices. How often you back up and how many backup media devices you use is entirely dependent on your business needs, though as a general rule, we recommend a grandfather-father-son backup scheme.
Regardless of what you choose, make sure you have a proper outage plan in place (Thinking of writing one? Read our guide here). If you’re using a data courier service, make sure your service agreement is part of this. And no matter how reliable the courier service is, always make sure to encrypt your backups before you send them off site.
If you don’t have backup software already, we highly recommend BackupAssist. BackupAssist is the #1 Ranked Backup and Disaster Recovery Software for Windows Servers, used by Fortune 500 companies and other organizations such as NASA, MIT, and Cessna, but priced for small and medium businesses.
You can download the 30-day free trial here, or read more about its features. If you’re using another sort of OS, you can also check out this free backup buyer’s guide to see what’s the right fit for you, and make sure it meets the six essential requirements for any backup software.