Cloud Backup: How It Works, Available Options & Why to Use It

With business-critical data living in more places than ever before, organizations of all sizes and sectors are susceptible to a wide range of data threats. It could be an accidental deletion of data by any of your employees, a network-wide ransomware attack or an unpredictable natural disaster; data threats come in all shapes and sizes today. If businesses solely rely on good fortune to navigate such a data security incident, devastating operational, financial and reputational consequences await.

That’s why it is important for businesses to back up their data. If a data disaster occurs, you can rest easy knowing that a redundant copy of your business-critical information still exists somewhere. Backups (and their subsequent recovery) help you get up and running swiftly with minimal business downtime.

However, just as important is where you back up your data. The cloud offers organizations an affordable and reliable off-site option to back up their critical data. Backing up your data in the cloud can help you save considerable money, time and resources. Let’s see what cloud backup is and why it can be an ideal option for backing up your critical data.

What is cloud backup?

Cloud backup (also termed as online backup or remote backup) is the process of sending a copy (backup) of the physical or virtualized infrastructure (files, images, databases) to a secondary, off-site location. TechTarget defines cloud backup as “a strategy for sending a copy of a physical or virtual file or database to a secondary, off-site location for preservation in case of equipment failure, site catastrophe or human malfeasance.” This off-site redundancy protects your data from outages that impact the local site, such as hardware/software failures, human errors, cyberattacks or natural disasters.

You can back up a single server or workstation or even an entire IT environment in the cloud. The backup or data storage systems will typically be hosted by a third-party cloud (such as Microsoft Azure) or a SaaS provider. Providers often offer services on a subscription basis, metered in months or years. As part of the cloud service, they may charge for:

  • Storage space/capacity utilized
  • Data transmission bandwidth
  • Data retrieval (egress)
  • Number of users
  • Number of servers
  • Cloud spin-up/hosting (referred to as cloud recovery, cloud disaster recovery and Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service [DRaaS] — an add-on service to cloud backups)

What is the cloud?

The cloud is an extensive network of remote servers worldwide that function as a single ecosystem. These servers store and manage data, run applications and deliver various services. Because these servers run online, you do not have to run software applications on your machines or manage physical servers. These services can generally be accessed via web browsers like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge or dedicated mobile apps.

The on-demand delivery of IT resources with its pay-as-you-go pricing model makes the cloud appealing to many businesses. Instead of buying and managing physical data centers and servers, a company can get access to technology services like computing power and storage on an as-needed basis with the cloud. This cost-effectiveness, along with its scalability and anytime, anywhere accessibility, makes the cloud an indispensable technology for modern organizations.

How does cloud backup work?

During a cloud backup, the data and applications on a business’s servers are replicated to cloud-based remote servers. A company can choose to back up a single server, a virtual machine (VM) or an entire IT environment, according to its disaster recovery strategy. The cloud backup process entails copying data at the production site, encrypting it to avoid illegal access and safe data storage in an off-site location where it can be readily accessed for disaster recovery (DR) purposes.

Cloud backup services are usually built around a client software application that runs on a pre-determined schedule decided by the service level agreement (SLA) between the cloud provider and the customer. You can back up your data hourly, daily, monthly or yearly according to your requirements. For instance, if you have opted for daily backups, the application collects, encrypts and transfers data to the servers every 24 hours. Similarly, during restorations, you can choose to restore data on a granular file-by-file basis or a complete restoration of the backup.

Is cloud backup secure?

Since cloud backups are stored in one or more remote servers managed by the service provider, it provides blanket coverage and protection for all devices in your network against data loss. In the event of a data security incident like a network-wide ransomware or malware attack, you can quickly restore data from the remote server and continue business as usual.

Moreover, cloud backups are end-to-end encrypted, which makes it hard for cybercriminals to access them. Backup encryption adds an additional layer of security by converting sensitive data into an unreadable format. Even if threat actors intercept the data, they cannot access or read it without the decryption key. Organizations can also leverage identity and access management (IAM) controls to limit the accessibility to backup copies and consolidate their security.

What are the different types of cloud backup methods?

There are different approaches to cloud backup that an organization can opt for according to its backup requirements. Here are the five standard cloud backup methods that can help you secure your business-critical data.

Backup to the public cloud

In this method, an organization directly duplicates its workloads on a public cloud like AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform or Wasabi. They use an on-premises backup appliance or software to pair with the public cloud bucket and write backup copies to the target bucket. While the cloud storage service provides the destination and safekeeping for these backups, it doesn’t specifically provide a backup application. The onus may thus fall on the customer’s IT teams to look into different data protection procedures, like data encryption and IAM controls, to secure and recover the backed-up data.

Backup to a service provider cloud

A business can also utilize backup services from a cloud service or SaaS provider. In this scenario, the provider provides and manages the necessary backup and recovery services from a managed data center. Unlike in the previous instance, here, the provider might offer the backup software to spin up in the cloud or support specific commercially available backup software(s).

Direct-to-cloud backup

Direct-to-cloud backup involves moving data directly from an endpoint, such as a laptop, PC or server, to the cloud with no on-premises appliance or local storage setup. This backup method can be beneficial in today’s hybrid work culture, where employees are on the move. Direct-to-cloud backup ensures that the data in the laptops of the on-the-go employees stays backed up and remains accessible all the time without being connected to the corporate LAN (where an on-premises system/appliance could take the backups).

Cloud-to-cloud backup

Cloud-to-cloud backup solutions are solutions purpose-built for backing up data that already live in the cloud to an alternative cloud location. Cloud-to-cloud backup is commonly used for SaaS applications like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. Backing up the SaaS data in an alternative area protects businesses from data loss incidents that impact the provider’s cloud. Usually, the cloud-to-cloud backup provider hosts the software that handles this process.

Online cloud backup systems

Businesses can also make use of plug-and-play hardware/software solutions that facilitate data backup to a dedicated cloud backup service. The appliances or solutions deployed in this method typically have an all-in-one approach, catering to everything from backup software and computing to storage and networking, eventually providing a seamless link to one or more cloud backup services or cloud providers. In this case, recoveries can be performed locally off the appliance, downloaded from the cloud for on-premises recovery or, in some instances, spun up in the provider’s cloud as part of a cloud recovery or DRaaS.

What is the difference between cloud backup and cloud storage?

Cloud storage is used to store critical data in an off-site location, which can be accessed through the public internet or an exclusive private network connection. The primary goal of cloud storage is to keep the data readily and easily accessible, ensuring seamless sharing of the data. On the other hand, cloud backup is leveraged to create redundancy by copying data and storing it on a separate and secure server. The primary goal of cloud backup is to secure data and make it readily available for DR in case of a security incident or other data disaster.

In fact, cloud storage and cloud backup are both complementary solutions to data storage. An organization must have an integrated approach to cloud computing, ensuring they always have a backup in the cloud for their cloud storage.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of cloud backup?

Today, cloud backup has become a popular method for data protection with many advantages and a few disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Pros of cloud backup

Anytime, anywhere accessibility

In today’s hybrid work environment, it doesn’t make sense for data access to be tied to a physical location. Cloud backup ensures you can access your data backups from anywhere at any time through a wide range of internet-connected devices.


Cloud backups offer considerable cost savings for organizations, especially for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Since you do not have to invest in the expensive infrastructure required with backup hardware, disks and servers — and not to mention the capacity and added maintenance this would all require — cloud backup is a cost-effective approach to secure a large amount of data. Moreover, organizations only have to pay for the storage that they need.


Unlike in-house backup solutions that are time- and cost-intensive to scale, you can add backup capacity in the cloud with a few clicks. This is a massive advantage for modern businesses with rapidly growing data volumes.


The whole point of having a backup is for data security and redundancy. Backing up your data on-site leaves your backup copies vulnerable to a wide range of threats like cyberattacks and natural disasters. However, storing these backup copies on a third-party hosted cloud-based remote server not only ensures better protection from these threats but also means spending less time, money and resources while recovering from these costly security breaches.

Cons of cloud backup


Cloud backup necessitates a good internet connection to complete backup and recovery without interruption. So, your internet connectivity issues can directly impact your cloud backups.

Data bandwidth

While the cloud is a cost-effective option to store backups compared to the conventional on-premises solutions, it is essential to note that the costs can quickly creep up, ballooning your total cost of ownership (TCO) if you do not keep a close eye. The public cloud costs are deemed highly unpredictable since they charge for data egress and ad hoc usage of instances like DR testing. Thus, organizations should look for a cloud storage option that offers all services like DR testing at a flat-fee pricing model.

Why use cloud backup?

Many SMBs consider themselves safe as far as data threats are concerned. They operate under a false assumption that cyberattacks are being designed for large enterprises with enormous IT infrastructures and a treasure trove of valuable information to steal. However, that’s not the case today. Cybercriminals increasingly target SMBs, citing their lack of preparedness and resources to defend themselves. The threat actors believe they can fly under the radar and still quietly receive stable sums of money by targeting SMBs.

Now imagine what would happen if SMBs do not back up their data in an off-site location. In the event of an IT threat, like a cyberattack, a user error or a natural disaster, they will not be able to recover their business-critical data, risking the solvency of their business. Cloud backups enable SMBs to back up their critical infrastructure easily and affordably, providing insurance for their data and business.

Get reliable cloud backup with Unitrends

Now the question of the hour is how SMBs can seamlessly leverage cloud backups. That’s where Unitrends Unified Backup can be the game changer.

Unitrends Unified Backup is an industry-leading business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) platform that can accommodate all kinds of cloud backup use cases affordably and reliably.

The platform has robust plug-and-play backup appliances offering effortless cloud backup protection. Pre-configured with hardware, software and networking, they make it simple for your business to scale up, out or to the cloud according to your requirements. Unitrends appliances can replicate your data to a public cloud target (i.e., AWS S3, Google Cloud Platform Standard, Google Cloud Platform Nearline, Rackspace and Wasabi). If you’re looking for more predictable long-term retention and support-assisted disaster recovery, Unitrends Forever Cloud can offer easy, hassle-free off-site retention with white-glove Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service.

Now, if you want a cloud-to-cloud backup for your SaaS data, the platform’s Spanning Backup can take care of that. Purpose-built for SaaS applications like Microsoft 365, Google Workspace and Salesforce, Spanning Backup can automate backup and recovery, giving you 100% confidence in SaaS data protection. Meanwhile, Unitrends can also safeguard your critical Microsoft Azure workloads.

Unitrends also offers direct-to-cloud backup (endpoint backup) so you can comprehensively protect the data of your on-the-go workforce and remote servers.

Unitrends is your one-stop shop for all your data backup and disaster recovery needs, regardless of where your data lives. Get an on-demand demo of Unitrends Unified Backup to get an in-depth look at the all-in-one enterprise backup and continuity solutions of Unitrends.


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