Cloud Backup Tools: 7 Factors To Weigh

Data backup and recovery technology is critical for cloud services. Here's how to make the right choice.

Tim Brophy

August 10, 2015

4 Min Read
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Companies are adopting cloud services for cost efficient pay-per-use applications, platforms and compute resources plus the benefit of high availability. But whether a company is implementing cloud services across all business departments or just for specific application use, there must be a cohesive strategy that also takes data backup and recovery into account. In the event of an application failure, a server crash, a natural disaster or a malware attack, IT staff needs to be able to ensure continuous uptime of business-critical applications, servers and data.

Many companies do not consider backup technologies and strategies until after deciding to move to a cloud provider. In some cases, such as with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors, there is limited flexibility with respect to the backup technology and policies. In the case of an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, there is a greater ability to customize data backup implementations.

IT directors often ask whether a cloud service's inherent high availability negates the need for a backup strategy;  invariably the answer is no. Backup is part of an overall business continuity strategy that not only ensures data availability in the event of disaster, but also allows the recovery of accidental deletions and data changes.

Integrated backup policies

Companies need to make sure their existing backup strategy is aligned with both their current business requirements as well as the operating models that cloud services introduce. In a global environment, finding the right time to handle the ongoing process of backing up data can be difficult as applications need to be accessible in different time zones.

Many providers cannot offer tape services for long-term data retention and most traditional provider license agreements do not align with the pay-per-use commercial model of cloud services. Consideration must be given to the portability of data. Can backup data be replicated to other geographies, and if so, does it need to be encrypted to maintain privacy law compliance?

Given the continued availability of managed services, does the organization need to continue to invest in IT operational skills and resources when it could channel this into core business activities that could deliver more revenue and profitability?  Simply put, the on-premise strategy may no longer be the best and most efficient way to align to the policies and business needs of the enterprise in the cloud. The backup policy needs to be considered holistically with the entire cloud strategy to ensure that both are aligned to provide data protection and cost efficiency.

Selecting backup technology

Often when employees make cloud purchases outside of  IT's purview, they use the de-facto tools available on the cloud platform. Conversely, when IT teams make the backup buying decisions, they tend to lead with the pre-existing tools deployed in their environments. Neither way is necessarily the incorrect approach; however, any decision made outside of a cloud strategy can lead to being locked into a technology that does not meet future business requirements.

When selecting cloud backup tools, IT leaders should carefully consider these seven factors:

  1. Self-service -- Administrators need to be able to configure and manage their backup schedules, file and application selection, as well as perform restorations without needing the assistance of a service desk.

  2. Geographic availability -- Does the cloud provider’s locations align to the business requirements of the organization?  Latency and bandwidth considerations need to be understood and factored in when considering backup and restoration speeds. Are there data sovereignty laws that should be taken into account?

  3. Data location flexibility -- Can a backup be executed in one location and restored anywhere? Are there options to backup data to on-premise, cloud and hosted sites at one location? Can the data and applications be restored to multiple offices?

  4. Reporting and management -- Is there a tool that provides real-time reports on failed and successful backups? Administrators need to know exactly what data and applications are ready for restoration at a moment’s notice.

  5. Workload flexibility -- Are there options to install application-specific backup agents rather than performing only file/folder or snapshot backups? Also, IT teams must be able to tier their backup requirements per workload. Each application, server and database has different retention periods based on requirements; thus a blanket backup policy is not ideal.

  6. Billing -- Are companies billed for uncompressed front-end source data or only for the consumed backup storage after deduplication and compression? Are the service provider’s roll-up methods favorable from a cost point of view or are there penalties for longer retention periods?

  7. Archiving -- While long backup retention periods are sometimes necessary, are there complementary archiving services and tools that can be used to reduce the cost of storing data that does not need to be immediately available?

Answering these questions will give  the IT team a better sense of the backup technology needed to ensure that all data, applications and servers in the cloud are protected. As cloud service offerings mature, companies could start to see a broader range of cloud-based backup services that offer greater levels of flexibility that incorporate multiple cloud locations and on-premise deployments, and offer a broad range of deployment options.

In the coming year, IT teams will benefit from greater advances in application backup that cater to different data types and structures. Advances in compression technology will also result in smaller footprints required on backend storage environments, reducing costs and recovery times as rehydration executes at greater speed. The future is bright for cloud-based backup technologies that align with corporate strategic cloud plans.

About the Author(s)

Tim Brophy

Global Cloud Architect, Dimension Data

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