I had some spare time last week and decided to make use of it by testing disaster recovery when using cloud storage. I was interested to see how long it would take to download files from Dropbox if a hard drive failed and I would have to replace it and reinstall the operating system. A lot of small businesses are beginning to use Dropbox on a single system and using it to back up all their data so it would give me more insight in what could happen to them.
My system would be a desktop with Ubuntu 12.04 installed on a 500GB hard drive which I would wipe completely (simulating hard drive failure) and replace with Debian 6. After installation I would then install Dropbox and see how long it took to sync all the files (in this case 200 GB). My internet speed for this test was 13 Mb/sec.
So without waiting to see if Dropbox was synced (real world disaster scenario) I wiped the hard drive and set about installing Debian 6. It didn’t matter what the new operating system was but I had Debian to hand and decided to use that. Installation went smoothly enough and then I set about reinstalling Evolution (email client) and Dropbox. All the Evolution emails were backed up to Dropbox so I could either wait until the whole thing synced or go onto the Dropbox website and download them. Website it was and the download took over an hour. Once downloaded it was easy to restore and soon enough we had emails.
During this time Dropbox was quite happily downloading files from its servers (in this case 200 GB) but it was taking ages. At one point the estimated time was 35 days!!! This is the one major drawback when only using online services for data storage. If you store a lot of data online and you need to download the whole lot it can take forever. If that data happens to be business critical which you require instant access to then you will have problems unless your broadband speed is very high.
Another problem I encountered was that of bandwidth. If you change the upload and download settings in Dropbox to maximum then your internet performance will suffer dramatically. I tried to access my website on another system on the network and to say the performance was sluggish is an understatement. At times it was unworkable so I adjusted the settings again but this had the effect of increasing the time it took for the files to be completely downloaded. It is a tradeoff between requiring internet access and requiring access to all your files.
After 8 hours I had only downloaded 60GB. I still had 140 GB to go.
So all in all what can I take away from this test?
1. If possible don’t have Dropbox installed on a single hard drive. Recently I have been installing Debian Linux servers which are set up as RAID 1 onto which Dropbox is installed. If one hard drive fails then the second takes over which means there is less chance of you needing to resync all your files.
2. Only sync the files that you need. Keep all your business critical files in one or two folders in Dropbox so if your hard drive does fail you can quickly download the required files on another system and not have to wait for a complete resync.
3. Get the best broadband speed you can afford. The faster the broadband speed the quicker your files can be downloaded.
4. Don’t rely on cloud backups alone. Cloud storage is great for backing up all your files but when you don’t have access to your files (eg broadband outage, hard drive failure etc) it doesn’t really work. I would seriously have a think about not keeping all your files on your laptop or desktop but instead keep a full copy on a dedicated server with Dropbox installed and RAID (RAID 1 minimum). This way you can continue to access the files through Dropbox but when you lose the connection you can still access all your files locally.
Cloud storage is great but don’t get caught out when you can’t access it.
About the Author
Hi I am Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows and Linux based IT Support, laptop repairs and computer repairs to both business and personal clients in and around Stirling.
For a list of what I can offer you why not visit my website www.comtech247.net where you will find a list of my services, testimonials, blog and much more.