Most providers offer backup services on a month-to-month basis. But Howe notes that changing providers may not be as simple as it sounds, so companies should also ask for clear terms: How long is the data kept? Where is it stored? Does it cross national boundaries? Can customers get documented confirmation that the data won't be released?
A pricing guarantee is crucial, too -- if you can get one. "You're a tenant at will, and they can change the terms and you as a business have to accept that those terms will change over time," Howe says. "But there's no harm in asking about future pricing trends."
Sweigart says backup is the only IT function he has outsourced, and he has no idea where his data is stored. What's more important to him is the sense of relief he feels coming to the shop in the morning and seeing a message that the backup was successful. "There's incredible peace of mind that the [data] is going out every night,'' he says.
Companies that must comply with stringent regulatory requirements, however, need to know where and how their data is stored.
For example, Gene Goroschko, vice president of information systems at Physicians Endoscopy, says, "Being a medical facility, [backups] are a regulatory requirement, not just a good idea. If there's a disaster, we want to be able to recover medical data regardless of what happened to the facility."
Physicians Endoscopy, which builds and manages ambulatory surgery centers, has 13 facilities around the US, plus a corporate office. Before the company turned to an online service, backup was a manual process. Goroschko's group shipped tapes to each facility, and then each facility contracted with a storage provider in its area. But since the facilities are geographically dispersed, the main office didn't have a good indication of whether the tapes were being handled properly, whether any were lost, or even whether a full system backup was being performed every night.
"Online backup has obviously been around for quite a while, and we decided to try it out," starting with the corporate office, Goroschko says.
He notes that he was surprised by the lack of response from some companies when Physicians Endoscopy asked how well protected its data would be. It evaluated several vendors and chose MozyPro from EMC about a year ago. Physicians Endoscopy pays a monthly charge of US$6.95 for each server, plus US$1.75 per gigabyte per month.