Sync and share solutions; no substitute for Backup

Brien Posey

In recent years enterprise sync and share solutions have become popular mechanisms for protecting endpoint data. Even so, sync solutions do not typically provide the same level of protection as a true backup solution. The reason for this is simple. Although there are undeniably some overlaps in functionality, sync software and backup software were created for completely different purposes.

Backup software vs sync and share solutions

No-SubstitutesBackup software has one purpose and one purpose only – to allow the organization to get its data back following a data loss event. While enterprise sync software may allow for data recovery in certain situations, data recovery is not the software’s primary focus.

Enterprise sync software is designed primarily to make user data available in multiple locations. For example, copies of the user’s data might reside on the user’s laptop, a network file share, and perhaps the user’s tablet. The synchronization engine is designed not only to copy data to each of the designated locations, but also to make sure that each copy of the data remains up to date and identical.

Enterprise synchronization software primarily provides protection against data loss in the event of lost, stolen, or damaged hardware. If for instance, a user accidentally drops and destroys their laptop, a copy of the user’s data remains stored safely on a server. Even so, there are some major shortcomings to this approach.

The disadvantages of sync and share

One potential disadvantage to using sync software is that the software may not protect everything. Sync software allows a user to choose which data they want to synchronize between devices. It is somewhat common for a user to configure the software incorrectly or to accidentally create and store data in a folder that is not being synchronized. The end result is that some of the user’s data may be left unprotected.

Another disadvantage to using enterprise sync software is that such software may not offer point in time recovery capabilities. Suppose for instance that a user were to make an incorrect change to an Excel spreadsheet. That change would immediately be synchronized with the other copies of the data. In other words, unmodified copies of the spreadsheet would be overwritten by the copy containing the error. If the user were to later discover the error, they may not have a way of reverting to a known good copy of the spreadsheet.

In all fairness, there are some enterprise sync applications that do provide point in time recovery capabilities. Even so, these capabilities may not be as flexible as what would be included in a dedicated backup application. For example, the software may only allow for a few recovery points to be retained or may not support point in time recovery for all file types.

Perhaps the biggest potential disadvantage to using enterprise sync software is that such software has been known to cause data loss in certain situations. There are documented instances of synchronization databases becoming corrupted. In most of these incidents, the synchronization process simply stopped working, leaving newly created data unprotected.

In other instances, however, database corruption actually caused good data to be deleted from synchronized folders. This happened because the corrupt database did not contain a record of the data and the software wrongfully concluded that the data must have been deleted from one of the other synchronized copies and therefore needed to be removed from the remaining copies.

Conclusion

Overall, enterprise sync software does not typically provide the same level of data protection as would be provided by a dedicated backup application. Backup applications focus solely on data protection, whereas sync software is often treated more as a convenience feature that makes data accessible from multiple occasions.