Cloud-based backup: Best strategies and practices

By CIOReview | Friday, August 5, 2016
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The traditional technique of creating backups on an external hard drive is slowly being replaced by rewarding online backup service that saves the data on servers in the cloud. Cloud-based backup is a strategy that is increasingly gaining popularity for backing up data that involves sending a copy of the data over an Internet connection to an off-site server.

Hybrid Clouds

There are many facets to cloud-based backups. Hybrid clouds are used regularly for backup purposes because they relieve enterprises from the need to use a secondary data center. With a hybrid cloud in place, an organization has the full freedom to manage backup data on-site for restores, with an additional copy stored in the cloud.

Hybrid clouds give you options, particularly if you leverage public cloud as more of a destination for backup. In other words you can start to use the hybrid cloud for more than just a target where you dump data in case you need it. That sets the stage perfectly for using the cloud to actually restore or restart, resume, rebuild, reconstitute and reconstruct your on-premises environment in case of disasters. The primary use of cloud storage today is for unstructured data, which is the fastest growing and is considered the most voluminous content, causing massive administrative pains. Hybrid cloud storage is less suitable for structured data, which continues to live on traditional enterprise data storage.

A hybrid cloud environment is also a “home run” for the simple fact that you can strike a balance with what resources you currently have. You can leverage the infrastructure that you currently work with, you can protect what you currently have, and also leverage the capabilities of the cloud to enhance the environment, whether it's for cloud backup, cloud storage, or cloud computing.

Cloud-to-cloud backup, the practice of copying data that is stored on one cloud backup service to another cloud, is another emerging technology. Cloud disaster recovery (DR) is a component of a DR plan that involves maintaining copies of enterprise data in a cloud storage environment as a security measure. Cloud DR has evolved quite a bit in the last couple of years, as virtualization allows users to run applications from cloud-hosted instances of virtual servers.

But there are a number of challenges to cloud-based backup. One such concern is security and the bare fact that nothing is secure. While cloud DR offers many benefits, it is still in its nascent stage and users should be cautious and tread carefully.

The technology has been talked about and marketed in such a big way that there is a perception among some users that cloud holds the key and any service can be made better by running it in the cloud.

As cloud services gain popularity, data protection should become a greater concern for organizations. Critical business data stored off-site should have the same level of protection as on-premises data. According to a Gartner report released in February, the public cloud market is expected to grow by roughly $20 billion this year, reaching an estimated $131 billion by year's end.

Cloud Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery has turned out to be a killer application for the cloud platform. Cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) offers some persuasive advantages over legacy DR solutions, whether those traditional scenarios involve a dedicated IT infrastructure maintained in a secondary facility or just removable media carried off-site.

DR offers simplicity, lower costs, and faster recovery both in terms of infrastructure and administrative overhead. In short, leveraging the cloud as a DR platform can provide a better value than traditional methods, and it can actually make a highly effective disaster recovery solution attainable for many organizations, regardless of size.

Cloud-to-Cloud Data Backup

The most common misconceptions about cloud-to-cloud data backup:

. It isn’t necessary: It's easy to assume storage as a service provider (SaaS) will back up your data. But they often create backups only for their own purposes, and may be unable to restore the data for individual customers. If they do restore your data, you may be charged an additional fee for that.

. You only need a general backup subscription: When it comes to on-premises backup, you can typically purchase a single product that will provide everything you need to back up your organization's data (though you may need add-ons for specific applications). In contrast, you may need a variety of products to protect cloud data. 

. The initial configuration is tedious: At one time, it was common to configure cloud-to-cloud protection on a per-user basis. Thankfully, things have gotten better and most cloud-to-cloud data backup services no longer require such a tedious configuration process.

Advantages of Cloud-Based Backup

. Data isolation: Backups stored in the cloud are isolated from your data center, which means backup data will not be lost in the event of a data center-level failure.

. The backup target capacity can be considered unlimited: There’s always a constraint, as you have to pay for the data storage resources you consume, but, depending on your provider, you may not have to worry about exhausting the available storage space.

One of the most significant disadvantages of using cloud-based backups is that recovery times are limited by Internet bandwidth. For small or medium scale recovery operations, bandwidth constraint is not an issue, but for large-scale recoveries, they can be very problematic. Backup service providers  have even resorted to sending customers physical storage devices containing their data as a way of reducing recovery times from weeks to days.

Cloud-based backup is still in its infancy, and will continue to mature, and may eventually become a viable replacement for on-premises backups. For now, one of the best backup strategies involves creating and retaining local backups and replicating those backups to the cloud for safekeeping.