So Which is Better?
Now the big question. Which backup system is best? Online or offline? The answer really depends on what type of data you're backing up, how much data you're backing up, and your support model. Small businesses don't always have dedicated I.T. support and this responsibility may need to be shared.
So who knows your data the best? This is the individual that you should seek guidance from when determining what needs to be backed up. Is it a small amount of super sensitive, confidential data? If that's the case, you may feel more comfortable using the offline backup method. Is it a huge amount of non-sensitive, publicly distributed material? If that's the case, why not go with an online backup service and save yourself the hassle of maintaining backups at your local site. As you can see, the answer is very subjective. You know your data best so you'll know the right backup method to choose. Common sense should rule this decision.
However, what if your specific data set doesn't fall nicely into one category? What if you have a mix of highly sensitive data and publicly distributed data as well as categories in between? I would venture to guess that most small businesses fall into this category. So is it feasible to use both online and offline systems? Absolutely!
Not only is it feasible but it gives you more flexibility (i.e. more options) and may be more cost effective than limiting yourself to one or the other. In most cases, an online backup service will charge you by the gigabyte for a set amount of storage. If you were to purchase the lowest amount of space that could store all of your publicly distributed data, you could setup a small digital tape drive system - or something like an ioSafe - locally to handle all of your highly sensitive data.
This could save you money for a number of reasons. First, purchasing a large amount of space through an online backup service can be costly. Second, maintaining a large number of data backup systems locally requires man hours that could be spent elsewhere in your day to day I.T. activities. Then again, if you don't have dedicated I.T. support, an online service may be more expensive but essentially the best choice. Therein lies the compromise that you'll have to make.
As you can see, choosing a backup system requires some forethought, research, and planning. It pays to do your homework when you're investing in something that could essentially make or break your business in the event of a catastrophe. Cost should always be a big consideration but think of this as an investment in the stability as well as the security of your business. Done right, you could even use your data backup systems as a selling point to potential customers, featuring your backup system as a top selling point! This is one of the instances where there is such a thing as bad publicity. Losing a large amount of customer data due to a faulty (or non-existent) backup system can not only be embarrassing but costly to recover from. Keep these tools in mind as you continue modify and strengthen your small business systems.