Back up your datacenter to the cloud? Why not?

The traditional method does work, of course, but is there a better way?

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If you are currently using the cloud to back up your datacenter, great. If not, perhaps now is a good time to a look at the costs and benefits of this service. Data is doubling every two years, with some projecting that it will reach 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes, by 2020. 

In a traditional datacenter environment, backups are typically made to tape or disk, then transported to a secure offsite location. These media are then used in the event of a disaster where your datacenter, or a portion of it needs to be restored. We tend to think of these disasters as fire, flood, and other weather-related events. The truth is, a disaster can be due to a loss of communications, a massive failure in datacenter hardware, sabotage, or a significantly corrupted set of data that cannot be recovered. 

The challenges with this method are cost and time. CIOs are repeatedly being asked to approve acquisitions of backup hardware and/or a large number of tapes on a regular basis. The capital and expense costs can be overwhelming, especially for small to mid-size businesses. These tapes are then transported to an offsite facility, costing more valuable resources. 

Then there is the time factor. The amount of time required to have these tapes retrieved is one component. The other challenge is to find hardware required to perform the restore (assuming your datacenter is out of service). The longer this takes, the more time your business could be shut down or unavailable for employees and customers. 

So yes, the traditional method does work, but there is a better way. 

Using this technology, your backups are still stored offsite in a trusted facility, but there are no tapes or transportation requirements, and your costs could be substantially reduced. Restoring your data from cloud backups saves time and money, and radically accelerates the time to get your operation back in business. This is true whether restoring to your original datacenter, or a secondary, temporary facility. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons. 

The pros of cloud backups 

  1. Reduced costs: Performing a cost-benefit analysis should not be difficult, as your existing backup costs are known and discussing options with cloud providers can provide a sense of the savings. For existing on-premises solutions, ensure you evaluate the complete investment including hardware, software, tapes, and depreciation. Tap into your finance department for expertise with this calculation.
  2. Recovery time objective: This is the time it takes to restore your datacenter to full (or partial in the event of a disaster) operation. Assuming you have an existing disaster recovery plan, and have tested it, this number is known. Working with a reputable cloud vendor can produce an estimate of the time it will take to recover the data.
  3. Service-level agreements (SLAs): When discussing cloud backups with providers, be specific about what your SLAs are, and ensure they will support them. These legal contracts are like an insurance policy to guarantee your backups and restores will be performed within an agreed-upon timeframe.
  4. State-of-the-art systems: Most cloud providers (especially those that are SAS-70 self-certified) are constantly upgrading both their hardware and software to provide the most secure and efficient service. Some offer encryption, virtualization, data deduplication, and 24x7 monitoring. In most cases, their systems are more advanced that what you already have.
  5. Anywhere access: Your data is accessible from anywhere in the world. This flexibility allows you to reestablish your datacenter in the location of your choosing.

The cons of cloud backups 

  1. Bandwidth: Depending on the size of your datacenter footprint, and limitations from some cloud providers, this could be an issue in terms of the time required to perform a backup or recovery. Significant bandwidth will be required especially with the initial data load.
  2. Security: Of course, there are risks when storing your most precious corporate asset with another firm. Most vendors have significant controls in place, perhaps even more that you do in your corporate datacenter. Proceed with caution and involve your CISO in these discussions.
  3. Vendor lock-in: Switching to a new vendor can be accomplished, but there will be complexities and challenges.

Steps to take

  1. Perform an ROI analysis to see if it makes economic sense to do this. Include not only hard costs, but the soft costs as well, including loss of business, customer access, and sales.
  2. Determine what will be backed up to the cloud and estimate size requirements. You may not want/need to back up everything to the cloud.
  3. Enter into discussions with three industry-leading cloud providers. Ask how their services work, the costs, the benefits, and their track record of uptime and issues. Have accounting check their financial stability as well.
  4. Ask for multiple references who can attest to the service. Do not take “Our client list is confidential” as an excuse. If they still refuse, ask your network of colleagues in the business who they have used and could recommend.
  5. Ensure you have an effective service-level agreement in place that fits your needs, not those of the cloud service provider.

You potentially have a lot to gain by pursuing this alternative to onsite backups. Follow the preceding steps and, in the end, the answer will be clear. This isn’t for everyone, so the answer will vary depending upon your particular situation.

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