Creating backups is crucial, and many rely on cloud backups to keep our data safe. Yet the majority have the wrong idea of how these backups work and whether their data is actually covered. As we celebrated World Backup Day last month, let’s look at who is responsible for data backups in the cloud.

Protecting your data is very important. Email can be deleted, project management files can go missing, and an important spreadsheet can sit on someone else’s laptop. Many data threats are mundane, such as a broken device or accidental deletion. Then, there are more insidious risks, such as ransomware or hostile employees who delete essential files.

To protect our data, we need to make frequent backups. Doing so with on-site storage, such as an external drive or network-attached storage (NAS), can be cumbersome or expensive, so many organisations rely on cloud backups. This approach is excellent and often part of a good backup strategy (ideally, you want at least two copies of your most crucial data).

But there is a catch: not all cloud backups mean the same thing.

Even though over half of us use cloud backups to store our data, only 12% use proper cloud backups. The rest of us rely on our cloud services for backups. This is a mistake, says Clyde van Wyk, director and co-founder of PaySpace.

“Good cloud services, such as PaySpace, make frequent data backups. But these backups are intended to maintain the overall service and ensure we don’t lose client data. They don’t necessarily facilitate easy recovery of specific files or data objects. The data isn’t retained for periods that would support a client’s compliance or risk-mitigation requirements. A lot of people overlook this. They think that, because you store data in a cloud service, that cloud service takes care of all their backup needs. This is rarely the case.”

Cloud responsibility versus personal responsibility

For backups, we can distinguish two types of cloud services. The first is a cloud backup service provider, whose job is to create and store backups for your data. The second is any other cloud service, which you access, and they create backups to maintain that service.

A cloud backup service will provide features such as long-term storage, multiple data snapshots, and easy backup and restore tools. The cloud backup service should complement a client’s backup policies. For example, if you need to keep data for tax records, a cloud backup provider can retain that data for a multi-year retention period.

Other cloud services create backups based on their operational needs. For example, PaySpace uses Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure to create backups every few minutes. If anything goes wrong, the platform can quickly recover and start operating again. However, these backups are not necessarily archived or compatible with client backup strategies.

“The job of a cloud service’s backups is to guarantee uptime,” says van Wyk. “A cloud-based email service creates backups that can recover the service if something goes wrong. But if you accidentally delete an email and need to recover it a month later, they are unlikely to have the processes and data retention to help you. That’s not the purpose of their backups.”

What’s your backup responsibility?

A good cloud-native service, whether it’s PaySpace, Office 365, Slack, or anything else, will retain data in the short term to ensure service delivery.

But if you delete a file on your side or ransomware locks your systems, you cannot expect the cloud service provider to restore that data. It’s not their core focus, and they are unlikely to have the processes or long-term retention policies to support such a recovery. This is the fundamental difference between a cloud service and a cloud backup service.

“Your data in a service is safe, but not stored in a way that acts as a backup system for your business. This concept is commonly called the Shared Responsibility Model. The cloud provider is responsible for uptime and will do backups according to that goal. The user is responsible for data retention and must create regular backups through a plan that fits their needs. Just because something is in the cloud doesn’t mean it counts as a backup,” says Van Wyk.