Backing up to the cloud requires new approach to bandwidth

A lot of attention has been focused on security issues related to cloud backup, but bandwidth and transfer issues may be bigger problems.

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Can you use cloud storage for backup? Sure, but beware the bandwidth and transfer issues that can arise, and take note of the progress several key vendors have made in this space.

As data growth and the costs associated with it keep rising, leveraging storage infrastructure hosted by a service provider and made available to subscribers over a network is gaining in popularity. That means cloud storage resources are frequently being combined with existing, on-premises backup technologies to provide off-site copies for long-term retention and, in some cases, for just-in-case-of-a-disaster copies. In addition, a...

few vendors are attacking the issue of bandwidth and optimizing cloud backup storage to ensure the implementation is up to the task and, importantly, makes fiscal sense.

Interest in cloud storage

ESG polled 611 IT professionals responsible for evaluating, purchasing and/or operating corporate IT and data centers in North America and Western Europe and found 61% were using or interested in using infrastructure as a service (IaaS). With IaaS, the service provider owns the equipment and is responsible for housing, running and maintaining it, with the subscriber typically paying on a per-use basis. Subscribers have access to a virtual pool of shared resources that promise elasticity, so storage for off-site backup copies is available on demand. The costs associated with owning and managing resources at a second site are reduced -- and the need to maintain a secondary site for off-site disk or tape storage is eliminated.

But backing up to and recovering from cloud storage may introduce challenges for large backup sets. The daily volume of backup data, and the time needed to complete transfers, may require more bandwidth and time than is available. IT organizations often struggle with the tradeoff between the high costs of purchasing more bandwidth and extending backup windows or recovery time.

Optimizing bandwidth for backup

But alternatives exist to address these issues. Products from vendors such as NetEnrich, Pancetera Software and Riverbed Technology make a hybrid backup configuration (the combination of on-premises backup technologies and cloud-based storage services) more feasible via technologies that optimize bandwidth.

NetEnrich saw an opportunity to provide virtual storage in the cloud for EMC Data Domain customers. Subscribers use existing on-premises backup software and EMC Data Domain appliances to protect data locally. For an off-site copy in the cloud, backup data stored on the local EMC Data Domain appliance is replicated to NetEnrich's Data Recovery Vault, which is based on EMC Data Domain deduplication appliances at the NetEnrich data center. Data Domain dedupe and compression radically reduce the capacity of bandwidth required for remote replication of backup copies.

Pancetera Unite is a virtual appliance that dramatically reduces I/O and bandwidth usage for backup and replication of VMware virtual server environments. Pancetera's SmartRead and SmartMotion technologies optimize the capture and movement of virtual machines into the cloud. The product integrates with in-place backup environments to enable optimization without disrupting the status quo. i365 teamed with Pancetera, embedding the Pancetera Unite virtual appliance in i365's EVault data protection products. The combination reduces the overhead associated with VMware backups initiated by EVault, and optimizes data movement across the LAN or WAN. Pancetera can be combined with WAN acceleration technology to further accelerate transmissions.

Riverbed Whitewater cloud storage accelerator leverages the WAN optimization technology in existing Riverbed offerings to provide a complete data protection service to the cloud. Integrating seamlessly with existing backup technologies and cloud storage providers' APIs, the appliance-based product provides rapid replication of data to the cloud for off-site retention. A Riverbed Whitewater appliance is installed in the network to serve as the local target for backup jobs and is attached to the Internet for replication of data to Amazon S3 cloud storage. The deduplication and compression technologies that are the cornerstones of Riverbed products deliver WAN optimization and accelerate data transfer.

As users look to cloud storage services as a low-cost alternative to maintaining their own infrastructure, there are clear benefits:

  • Provides a more cost-effective strategy than maintaining a corporate-owned and -operated secondary site.
  • Eliminates capital and operating costs, including the acquisition and maintenance of hardware, data center floor space, as well as data center environmental factors such as power and cooling.
  • Offers more predictable budgeting.
  • Facilitates disaster recovery via a remote-based copy.
With bandwidth contributing significantly to the hybrid backup configuration bottom line, it makes sense to explore bandwidth-optimizing technologies such as deduplication, compression and WAN acceleration. The latest crop of products introduces hyper-efficiency in LAN/WAN transfer of data center-driven backup copies to cloud-based storage. This is a key area for data storage managers to focus on when considering their hybrid cloud scenarios.

BIO: Lauren Whitehouse is a senior analyst focusing on backup and recovery software and replication solutions at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass.

This was first published in April 2011

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