“Cloud” Backups

An increasing number of vendors are beginning to offer backup solutions where your data ends up being stored on some cloud storage platform or other (e.g. Amazon S3). As with any new technology, some people will lap it up, some will keep a curious eye on it and others will eschew it completely. Which are you? Are you likely to adopt it or not?

dlt-tapeI think the answer to that is not cut and dried. Think for a minute about why you’d want your backups to end up on a cloud storage platform. In years past, backups ended up on tape cartridges. Most sensible organizations would then store those tapes offsite and hopefully not need them again until the data expired. Of course, if you did need to perform a restore it meant getting the tape back etc. I’ve been in this industry long enough to have had to do that.

The point anyway is that backup data conventionally got stored offsite so that it was available if the worst happened. That is the concept behind cloud backups too. The only difference is that the medium has changed. So instead of your backups ending up on tape, they end up on someone else’s server effectively. You don’t know where exactly but you rely on the resilience of your chosen cloud storage provider to safeguard that data.

Is It a Good Idea?

In my view, it’s neat solution to something that used to take up a good deal of time for me or one of my colleagues a few years ago. The whole process is automated once setup. Of course it may not be the right solution for everyone for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Available Bandwidth – If your sitting on the end of a slow link to the internet then trying to push many GBs or even TBs of data to a cloud storage provider every day is going to be a non-starter.
  • Volume of Data – Related to the above, how much data do you backup, how often and how often does it change. The first backup will typically take the longest to complete but subsequent ones will be quicker. Partly though this will depend on the mechanisms the backup vendor are using to minimise the volume of data being transmitted. Different vendors are likely to have different approaches here.
  • Legal / Compliance / Security – If you’re storing your data on someone else’s infrastructure you naturally want it to be secure. I’m not saying that the cloud isn’t secure but is it the right place for exceedingly valuable or sensitive data? You wouldn’t keep the Crown Jewels in a Big Yellow storage facility.
  • You may even have a Disaster Recovery facility and backup directly to that.

As with everything in IT, the answer is that it depends. I suspect that the majority of takers for cloud backups will be SMBs and medium sized enterprises although I’m always happy to be proved wrong about such predictions. I doubt that cloud backups are going to be a rapidly passing fad but it remains to be seen whether they will see massive adoption. Still, cool technology all the same.

So, what’s my interest? Well, I’ve been working on a project recently to create and support the infrastructure elements of a software prototype. This modest infrastructure is sitting away in a data center that I’ve never been to and could not easily access. It’s quite a simple setup, it’s documented and we have all of the installation files and source code secured offsite. The infrastructure itself though represents many hours of effort and all of the application server configurations are not completely automated. If we were to lose the infrastructure or the data center…

Of course we’re running backups locally but the backup destination is just a VMDK on the same datastore as all of the VMs – not very resilient. On a semi-regular basis I have transferred the VMDK to a cloud storage provider but it’s been a manual process so I thought I’d take this opportunity to try out a couple of different backup solutions and see how they help out. Over the next few weeks I’ll post a couple of reviews.

Michael is a Senior Consultant for Xtravirt. If it's got buttons or flashy lights on it then it'll probably be on his radar. When not "mending computers" (it's sometimes easier than explaining "cloud" to relatives), Michael provides essential education, entertainment and trampoline services to his two children.

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