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Instead of in-house IT managing backups, responsibility for backups is deferred to a managed service provider (MSP). This is especially attractive for smaller and midsize companies with IT generalists who are forced to juggle and prioritize competing tasks, and may be unable to give ROBO data protection sufficient attention. Favored by many chief financial officers, cloud-based backup becomes part of monthly operational expenses (OPEX) rather than a capital expense (CAPEX) as is the case with in-house backup infrastructure and software.

Setup and configuration are as simple as installing agents on protected systems and support, if needed, is provided by the MSP. Despite the now de facto standard encryption of data in-transit and at-rest in the cloud, security concerns are still a major impediment for more rapid adoption.

With ROBOs spread around the globe, compliance and privacy requirements further complicate

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cloud backup adoption. In most cases, the geographic location of data in the cloud is unknown, which poses a challenge in countries that require data to stay within defined geographic boundaries. “Strict privacy requirements in some European countries are in conflict with regulations like the USA Patriot Act, which basically enables the government to go through any data,” ESG’s Whitehouse noted. Customers who opt for cloud-based backup can choose from a fast-growing list of cloud backup providers. Business-level cloud-based backup offerings are available from EMC with Mozy, Carbonite, Symantec with Backup Exec.cloud, IBM with SmartCloud Resilience, i365 and Iron Mountain, as well as many regional providers.

Using a cloud backup service with a local backup data copy. Direct backup into the cloud has the same restore challenges as backup to a centralized data center when a local copy of the backup isn’t retained. It works well if the amount of protected data is small, but can be problematic for larger amounts of data. If a lot of data needs to be restored, some service providers offer an option to have backup data shipped to customers on a disk or network-attached storage (NAS) device. Some services, such as i365, provide an on-site option to cache the latest backup on-premises to enable local recovery. “Although there are a large and growing number of cloud backup MSPs, most only support directly backing up into the cloud and only very few provide an on-premises option for quick recovery,” StorageIO’s Schulz said.

Do-it-yourself cloud backup. The benefit of delegating ROBO backups to a cloud backup service is best suited for small to midsize companies with limited IT resources. For larger firms and companies that want to supplement in-house backup infrastructure with cloud storage, an external backup service provider usually isn’t the best option, mostly because they’re difficult to integrate into the existing backup infrastructure and are likely to end up as isolated backup islands that run in parallel and are independent of the existing backup environment. If the intention is to extend existing backup infrastructure into the cloud, direct backup to cloud storage from the likes of AT&T, Amazon, Microsoft, Nirvanix and Rackspace is the way to go. Direct backup to cloud storage can be done from the backup application, if it supports cloud storage, or via a cloud backup gateway. While Arkeia Network Backup, CommVault Simpana, and Symantec NetBackup and Backup Exec support cloud storage as a backup target, EMC Avamar, EMC NetWorker and IBM Tivoli Storage Manager currently don’t support direct backup to the cloud.

Cloud backup gateways such as Riverbed Whitewater decouple cloud backup from the backup application. Akin to backup target appliances, cloud backup gateways are disk targets to which backup applications write. They manage communication and interface with cloud storage providers, and perform tasks such as deduplication, compression, encryption and scheduling. Furthermore, they allow recent backups to be kept on-premises for quick recovery.

ROBO backup trends

The dismal state of ROBO backups should be a specter of the past. With the emergence of non-tape-based options, there’s no longer an excuse for mediocre and negligent data protection of remote-office and branch-office data. From technical advances in networking and security, backup applications with features like dedupe and cloud integration, to cloud backup MSPs and cloud backup gateways, IT managers now have an arsenal of options to judiciously and cost-effectively protect remote-office data. Even though tape is still alive in many places, the trend is clearly toward disk-based backups, centralization and adoption of the cloud as a viable backup media.

BIO: Jacob N. Gsoedl is a freelance writer and a corporate director for business systems.

This was first published in January 2012

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