Lots of choices for cloud backup

The oldest cloud storage services have matured into a variety of data protection offerings that can meet the needs of most enterprises. But there are key points to keep in mind.

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The oldest cloud storage services have matured into a variety of data protection offerings that can meet the needs of most enterprises. But there are key points to keep in mind.

"Get your data out of the building” is the best advice I can give about data protection, and it’s the part of the process many organizations still struggle with. Too many companies fall short when a crisis hits because they were either still planning or had made their data protection “solution” so convoluted that it failed when they tried to put it into use.

Backup as a service

With all the talk about “the cloud,” cloud backup -- or backup as a service (BaaS) -- seems like a natural solution to the problem of getting data off-site. It may be true in some cases, but you need to be very clear on a few key points:

  • Recognize that your primary business motivation in considering a service-based model is to reduce the operational implications of backup. The good news is that you won’t have to manage it nearly as much. The bad news is that you don’t get to manage it, so be prepared for new interfaces, installation methods, schedules and so on.
  • Understand that backing up to the cloud is relatively easy, but recovering from the cloud is less so. Your recovery goals should be well defined, and you may want to consider some sort of recovery device that can expedite recoveries rather than streaming data over the Internet.
  • Acknowledge that no one is as invested in your recovery as you are. If you can’t recover what you need when you need it, your cloud provider just loses a customer while you may lose your job or business. So testing that’s even more rigorous than you’d do with a traditional on-premises solution is essential.

Cloud-based backup can solve some great problems for a potentially large segment of the IT world, but like any new architecture, it isn’t for everyone. You should approach it with the same diligence, evaluation and assessment as you would for any other business-impacting IT project.

@pb

Use the cloud as backup media

Traditional on-premises backup vendors haven’t ignored their customers’ interest in cloud-based backup, nor do they underestimate the need to get your data out of the building. Many of them have long offered replication from a backup server to a secondary backup server at a different location. That works very well, as long as you have two locations with IT support at both.

But some backup vendors use the cloud simply as another form of media. That means that after deploying your typical backup infrastructure, you can restore from disk-based media, tape media or from the cloud. In some cases, that third tier is maintained at the vendor’s data center(s); in others, the application uses a public storage cloud infrastructure, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).

For many, this is an attractive alternative. If your current backup app already supports cloud-based storage as a media layer, then all your agents stay as they are. Your existing backup server(s) remain in place to perform fast recoveries from local storage and you now have an additional copy of your data out of the building. (Read our feature on “Integrated cloud backup.”)

When your data’s already in the cloud

Both BaaS and hybrid cloud approaches are based on the assumption that your production data is on your premises (or with your mobile employees). But if your production data is already someplace else, perhaps within a cloud of its own, then your backup model radically changes or perhaps even disappears.

  • If you’re using online file sharing (OLFS) where your primary data copy is already cloud based, your data likely already resides in multiple data centers hosted on whatever cloud you’re using. You’re protected from component-level failures and if the service provider offers the ability to recover previous versions, you may not need any additional backup for that data. It’s inevitable OLFS and BaaS will overlap; for example, Mozy recently announced OLFS for its BaaS subscribers.
  • If your data truly coexists in two locations, such as the iSCSI-extending technology offered by Riverbed with its Granite product, you already have data at both a branch and a data center using storage that enables point-in-time recoveries.
  • If your data is based in the cloud but lives locally, such as with gateway appliances like those from Nasuni, StorSimple and other vendors, where local site filers are synchronized using Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) or other cloud storage services, each site has native resiliency with disaster recovery as easy as spinning up a clean virtual machine and remounting the cloud-based LUN. You could also use an on-premises backup solution of your on-premises filer for additional copies.

However you decide to leverage cloud backup services, the goal is still the same: Get that data out of the building.

BIO: Jason Buffington is a senior analyst for data protection at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). He has more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry. 

This was first published in April 2012

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