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Cloud storage vs. cloud backup
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there's a difference between cloud storage and cloud backup. Cloud storage is storage as a service. To tap into cloud storage, you get an account with a service provider; they provide you with their API and you use some type of software that enables you to store data via that API. Voila! You have storage with unlimited capacity. You don't manage the storage where your data resides, and you don't even have to ask for additional capacity. All you have to do is pay the bill. All cloud storage providers charge a "storage fee," a monthly rate based on how many gigabytes of data are stored in your account. In addition, some cloud storage providers may charge a fee for each gigabyte that's downloaded or uploaded -- essentially a "bandwidth fee." With cloud storage, you still have to manage the application that's sending the data into the cloud.
To be considered a cloud backup service, a cloud service must provide all of the above plus the software to make the backups happen. A cloud backup service typically provides some type of client software that must be installed on all the systems to be backed up. Backups are then automatically scheduled to occur on a regular basis. The backup software generally uses techniques such as delta-level backups or full deduplication to minimize network traffic.
The provider's service-level agreement (and the price they charge) will determine
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Traditional backup software meets the cloud
Some companies may use a cloud backup service for all of their backups, while others may opt for a combination of traditional backup methods and cloud services. There are two very different ways to go about integrating traditional backup software and the cloud. You can use a traditional backup system in parallel with a cloud backup system, or you can use backup software that has the ability to use a cloud storage system as its target.
If the main reason you're considering using cloud backup is the "hands-off" aspect, then this is the route to take. You can continue using traditional backup software to perform the bulk of your backups, then use cloud backup software to handle those parts where it would be most beneficial. The most common practice is to start by performing remote site and laptop backups using the cloud backup service. Many companies aren't yet performing backups of their laptops, and backing them up with traditional backup software is problematic, to say the least. Most companies back up their remote sites, but they often use less than desirable methods because their remote offices don't have dedicated IT staff. A cloud backup service can solve both the laptop and remote-office problems; all you have to do is write a check.
Using cloud storage as a target for a traditional backup software package is a bit more problematic, but it's not without its advantages. The same things that are true of cloud storage for traditional data are true of cloud storage for backups: no management, endless capacity, etc. As a "bonus" you automatically get off-site backups, which is still a hassle for many companies.
There may be more challenges than advantages, however, when it comes to using cloud storage as the destination for traditional backups.
This was first published in October 2010