Why the world is moving to Cloud Backup

Organisations of all sizes struggle with storing, protecting and managing large amounts of data. Traditional storage platforms such as hard disks, flash drives and other types of physical storage devices have long lost their sheen and people are increasingly looking for more advanced options of cloud storage for their files and data. Technology is further changing the shape of business, which means businesses are seeking more ways in which to protect critical business information efficiently and effectively.

Over the course of the next few posts, we will detail the reasons why the world is abandoning more traditional storage platforms in favour of cloud backup. This post maps the history of backing up and concludes with a comparison of cloud backup vs tape backup.  

The history of backing up

“Although the century-old technology has disappeared from most people’s daily view, magnetic tape lives on as the preferred medium for safely archiving critical cloud data in case, say, a software bug deletes thousands of Gmail messages, or a natural disaster wipes out some hard drives. The world’s electronic financial, health, and scientific records, collected on state-of-the-art cloud servers belonging to Amazon.com, Microsoft, Google, and others, are also typically recorded on tape around the same time they are created. Usually the companies keep one copy of each tape on-site, in a massive vault, and send a second copy to somebody like Iron Mountain. Unfortunately for the big tech companies, the number of tape manufacturers has shrunk over the past three years from six to just two – Sony and Fujifilm”.

What does ‘backing up to the cloud’ really mean? One way to understand the history of backing up is to understand the evolution of the technology that preceded cloud backup. In what follows, the history of how the current online backups came to be will briefly be outlines.


The forms of backing up

  • Magnetic tape

German engineer, Fritz Pfleumer, first patented magnetic tape in 1928. It was based on the invention of Vlademar Poulsens’ magnetic wire. However, it only entered widespread use as a medium for mass storage of computer data in the 1950s where it formed part of the so-called ‘computer revolution’.  One of the first practical high-speed tape systems was the IMB 726 of 1952. It used a vacuum channel system allowing the tape to stop and start almost instantly and could store 2million digits – a vast amount considering the time. The IBM 726 was sold together with IBM’s first digital computer, the Model 701, which could be rented for $850. The drawback of magnetic tape was, however, that it could deteriorate through what is known as sticky-shed syndrome. It is caused by hydrolysis of the binder in the tape that ultimately renders the tape unusable.   The hard-disk form of backup followed magnetic tape.

  • Hard disc

IBM introduced the first hard drive disk storage unit, the IBM 350, in 1956 and, by the early 1960s, the hard drive disk (HDD) became the preferred backup technology and is still in use today. Hard disks store data on rotating rigid disks (known as platters) coated with magnetic material, and use magnetic heads arranged on a moving actuator arm to read and write data to the surfaces. The 350 could store 5 million 6-bit characters (3.75 MB) and had fifty 24-inch (610 mm) diameter disks with 100 recording surfaces. Each surface contained 100 tracks and the disks spin at 1200 rpm. The data transfer rate is 8,800 characters per second. Several improved models were added in the 1950s. The IBM RAMAC 305 system with 350-disk storage leased for $3,200 per month. The 350 was officially withdrawn in 1969. Various other IBM HDDs followed before the introduction of the floppy disk.

  • Floppy disc

As computers became more prevalent and available to a broader audience (yet still too expensive for home use), the need for portable storage arose. This need was met when David Noble and his team invented the 1MB 8” floppy diskette. It was originally designed for the IBM 3330 (or, Merlin) but since the disc was lightweight and cheap and could easily be transferred, it gained mass popularity fairly quickly and became the default medium for computer storage. It remained popular well into the early 2000s where after it became less of a mass storage device and more of a means to transfer personal files.

  • Optical storage

James T. Russel invented the idea of using light to record and replay music in 1965, but it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that Sony and Philips began serious work on the concept. In 1984, the first CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read-Only Memory) was produced that was capable of storing computer data on tiny pits etched into the plastic of the disk.

It was not until 1990, however, that the CD-Recordable (CD-R), also developed by Sony and Philips, was introduced, and the heyday of optical backup could begin. Cheap, easily transferable, readily disposable, and holding over 600 times as much data as a floppy disk (650MB), CD-R rapidly became the back-up solution of choice for home users. Over the last few years falling hard disk prices (including the introduction of easily portable external hard drives). Moreover, the introduction of solid state media (most notably increasingly cheap and capacious USB ‘thumb drives’), has started to see optical storage falling out of favour as the home backup system of choice. Most importantly, the rise of cloud computing has revolutionized the field of backup storage.

  • Online backup

Cloud storage is a model of computer data storage in which digital data is stored in logical pools where the physical storage extends across multiple servers and sometimes in multiple locations. A hosting company typically owns and manages the physical environment.  These hosting companies (or cloud storage providers) are responsible to ensure the availability and accessibility of the data and furthermore that the physical environment is protected and running. People and organisations either buy or lease storage capacity from the providers to store user, organisation, or application data.

In simpler terms: when a file is uploaded to the cloud, it is usually encrypted and transferred over the internet to another computer that is called a server that is attached to banks of HDDs. The data is stored on these HDDs which are  typically arranged in RAID arrays in order to improve performance and mirror data across multiple drives. This method safeguards against data loss.

In light of the history above it is clear that the technology underpinning online backups are not entirely new. The combination of faster and more available internet plus cost-effective mass storage enables this concept. Instead of backing up data manually and storing it locally, the process in its entirety can now be automated with cloud backup and vast amounts of data can be stored offsite.

So how does the two forms of backup compare?

Cloud backup

Tape Backup

simple, easy to download software, transfers are fast and runs as a background task

additional hardware is required, transfer of information is accomplished manually

restoration is simple and easy and the data is accessible from anywhere, at any time

copies of data must be stored in a different location to the server in the event of a catastrophic event that could damage the equipment or the building in which it is housed, require additional physical store space and manual restoration

reliable with a 99% restoration rate; redundancies in place to ensure the integrity of stored data

traditional tape backups lack the same level of certainty; over three-quarters of all businesses that use cassettes are unable to restore their systems successfully. The data corrupts overtime, making it unusable.


compared to cloud backup costs, tape backup costs are astronomical

Our next post compares the different types of cloud backups.

At Stage2data, we are Canada’s premier Cloud Solution Provider for a reason. In addition to being an excellent top tier service provider solution we are also the preferred choice for Canadian businesses concerned about data residency. The emphasis at Stage2data is on world-class service, bullet-proof security and bespoke solutions. If you want to find out more about the backup and disaster recovery services offered by Stage2data, please get in touch.