Whether they are cloud service outages or natural disasters, cloud computing can be both a nightmare or a savior to your IT organization: either it halts your business operation or loses your data, or it allows you to continue operate your business as workloads are switched to or backed up by physically safer data centers.
Whatever outcome they bring, it boils down to the use of cloud-based storage and cloud data backup, which are two very different concepts.
Cloud-based storage vs. cloud data backup
Paraphrasing from the NIST definition of cloud computing (PDF file, page 2-1), cloud-based storage is the on-demand network access to a shared pool of storage that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort. According to Acronis APAC President Bill Taylor-Mountford, however, "Cloud-based storage will not be able to perform any recovery in the event of disaster."
On contrast, cloud data backup is the online redundant data storage for backup and recovery. This means the backup of data to the cloud, or the backup of data which is stored in the cloud.
"These are two very different things," said Manmohan Jain, CA Technologies' software engineering vice president. "The first relates to providing a backup and recovery solution with cloud storage being the backup destination. The second relates to protecting the data on the cloud -- for example, data stored on elastic volumes on Amazon Web Services' EC2 or S3, on Microsoft's Azure, or with any other cloud storage vendor. In that sense cloud data backup would mean backing up data stored in the cloud to: 1) An on-premise/vault; 2) Within the cloud itself; or 3) From one cloud to another."
Cloud data backup is an application, not just storage, and is a vital part of any organization's data protection system, said Andrew Sampson, Hitachi Data Systems APAC managed services director. "With backup you get the functionality that allows you to choose what you backup and how often. Cloud data backup lets you retrieve it and even search it online. A good cloud data backup system also provides reports and other features."
On a more technical level, cloud data backup is typically aligned with maintaining tape or disk-based copies of one's critical, frequently accessed server/SAN data for a defined period of time. "This allows for rapid recovery from disaster, system downtime (onsite retention) and data protection (offsite retention)," explained Ray McQuillan, Verizon Global Strategic Services' cloud & IT services practice manager.
"Whereas cloud-based storage is a resilient on-demand Web-based storage infrastructure for data that may be categorized as less critical or rarely accessed (Tier-2 or Tier-3 as opposed to Tier-1) including functions such as archiving," McQuillan added.
10 cloud data backup strategies
Six cloud service providers offer the following 10 cloud data backup strategies below. But whichever strategy your organization adopts, "All of the considerations of a conventional backup scenario still apply to cloud backup and we encourage the adherence to established best practices for backup and recovery," said Cameron McNaught, group executive director, solutions and cloud services, Fujitsu Australia and New Zealand.
1. Address specific business needs. Define a solution for cloud data backup as part of a consultative process, while addressing the customer's specific business needs.
2. Conduct TCO analysis. Before moving to a cloud data backup service, IT organizations should do a TCO (total cost of ownership) analysis and determine the payback period for moving to a cloud data backup service. Use a provider that can integrate archives, so you can move data sets from a backup plan to an archive plan and provides online search and retrieval functionality. And make sure your provider has good management processes, good quality reporting and a secure facility and connectivity.
3. Test before provisioning. Put the cloud data backup provision in place long before you need it.
4. Encrypt backup data. Security is of prime concern in all forms of cloud computing and cloud services. To ensure security and privacy always use encrypted backups.
5. Follow governance and compliance rules. Always make sure to follow governance and compliance rules. For example, regulatory compliance related to where data may move or be stored when different countries or regions are involved, or compliance related to retention periods of data. If you are purchasing backup service from vendor other than the cloud provider then ensure the backup service vendor is also following the governing laws for that region.
6. Bulk data import process governance. Data center staff should be familiar with process and procedures related to bulk data import wherein data is shipped on removable media storage to on-premise. This option will be critical when faster data recovery is needed for large data backups. In addition customer should have in place good governance for data-import process -- such as who is authorized to receive the removable storage media and who is notified.
7. Backup locally and remotely. Data that is recovered frequently should be backed up to both on-premise storage and to cloud storage. This is because the on-premise backup assures faster recovery, while the off-premise copy can be used for disaster recovery purposes.
8. Backup locally to ensure public accessibility. If the purpose of putting data in the cloud is for public accessibility, then backup the data locally even before storing in cloud.
9. Engage multiple vendors. If one can afford it, it is recommended to backup very important and critical data to multiple vendors to mitigate risks. This gives an extra level of safety in case one of the vendors has an outage at a business-crucial time.
10. Ensure data interoperability. Ensure that the backed up data can be recovered on premise and/or to another cloud vendor.
"A good backup strategy includes tiered backup and backup storage from on-premise for operational recovery to off-premise and cloud for offsite disaster recovery," Acronis' Taylor-Mountford said.
"Customers should look for backup solutions that can easily extend their on-premise backup strategy to include cloud data backup and avoid having separate solutions. This means that as confidence increases, customers can gradually increase the usage of cloud easily and hassle-free," he added.