How Cloud Backups Work

How Cloud Backups WorkContrary to popular belief, cloud backup do not occur as a result of little computer elves going through your files, taking notes, and reporting back to that great big server in the North Pole. Instead, you have a series of technological events to thank for your securely backed up files.


Since cloud backups were first introduced, the process of backing up files over the internet has been streamlined and honed down to a science. The typical cloud backup process is designed to be fast, efficient, and secure. Behold, the behind-the-scenes cloud backup system.


The Initial Backup

The initial backup is the beginning of the cloud backup system. It provides a base for your future cloud backups to occur on. The initial backup contains all of the files that you choose to back up – documents, photos, music, you name it. If you have a limited amount of space on your plan, you will likely want to choose which files to back up, but people with unlimited cloud backup plans don’t have to worry about this as much.


Whether or not you have a data limit, make sure to prioritize which files will be backed up first. We have a whole bunch of tips for your initial backup here.


Incremental Backups

All of your backups after your initial backup are quick and usually hardly noticeable. Most cloud backup providers use an incremental backup system to keep your files up-to-date. Incremental backups are designed to copy only new data, saving both space and time in the process (for more information on different types of backups, check out our article on the subject).


Incremental backups occur through a series of steps.


Prioritization: Cloud backup providers scan and back up data in a certain order. In general, this order depends on recent modifications and size. New files or recently modified files will get priority, while older files that have not been changed in a while do not. Similarly, small files (which can get backed up faster) are given priority over time-consuming larger files. This process helps cloud backups get your data backed up as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Scanning and De-Duplication: First, the cloud backup provider has to see which of your files has changed. It scans your files and checks for new information. This can either happen in real-time or via automatic or scheduled scans.


When the cloud backup provider looks for changes, it compares what it finds to the recent backed-up version of your files to make sure it isn’t duplicating information. This process is appropriately named de-duplication, and it only comes into play on existing files.


If you have a brand-new file that you just created, your cloud backup provider will back up the whole file. However, if you make changes to an existing file, your cloud backup provider will scan the file in separate chunks. Each little piece of the file is analyzed separately, and only parts that have changed will be backed up.


Transfer: Next, your data is prepared and sent off. Before saying goodbye, the data is compressed, which helps it travel faster over the internet. It is also encrypted for security purposes. After preparations are complete, your data is securely sent to its backup destination and stored there.



We could go into a lot more technical detail, but we don’t want you to get bored, so we will stop here. Suffice it to say that the cloud backup process is very smart. It uses as little bandwidth as possible to keep huge amounts of data up-to-date, sometimes by the minute. Even Santa’s little helpers would be proud.


Lynn is the founder and chief editor at She is responsible for strategy and business development. Her background is in software development, marketing, and project management. She loves camping, traveling, and all things soccer related. She has been married for over 30 years to one great guy and has two adult children. Lynn is also the human companion to two cats - Jynx and Spanky. She is based in Minnesota, USA.

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