The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Cloud/Online Backup: Part 1

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With more companies realizing the importance of protecting their mission-critical data, we know that businesses are also evaluating the resiliency of their backup systems. Is tape still the way to go? Or is it time to move to online and cloud-based backup models?

Ultimately either model will accomplish the same task, but the way they affect your IT experience – including costs, time, labor and method longevity – can vary significantly based on which model you select for your business.

With that in mind, I wanted to address many of the most frequently asked questions regarding cloud and online backup. In the first of this three-part series, I’ll address general questions about online/cloud backup (compared to other methods) along with questions about what data and applications you should back up. In the second installment we’ll look at data security, disaster recovery, and methods of data access with online backup. Finally, I’ll conclude the third section with answers to pricing and productivity concerns.

With that, let’s take a look at what online/cloud backup actually is.

1. What is cloud/online backup? Are they the same thing?

Cloud and online backup are synonymous terms that indicate data replication directly to a cloud hosting model. Online backup may be used as its own model or, alternately, in a hybrid approach.

A hybrid approach would introduce a local backup point (usually disk-based) to keep recently replicated copies of your data in an easily accessible location. The benefit of this local piece is that more often than not, your disaster scenarios are going to be localized to your office (think about a motherboard failure, power outage or natural disaster). You will also need data restored at your office location, and if it has all been backed up directly to the cloud, it will take some time to get back to your office.

2. What are the benefits of online backup for my business?

Like all backup models, online and cloud-based backup is your data insurance policy in the case of a full disaster. Unique to cloud-based backup, though, is that your infrastructure resides off site. Your local data is not the only copy you have, so even if your office is inaccessible or, in the worst-case scenario, is destroyed, all of your company’s data lives in at least one additional location.

3. How does online or cloud-based backup compare to other backup options?

Tape-based backup, the most traditional data backup method, does feature off-site storage to protect against local disasters. However, writing to tape is much slower than disk or cloud-based backup. More importantly, if you need to restore files from tapes that are already off site, it can take a long time to retrieve and then restore from those tapes. The equipment needed to read and restore tape-based backups also becomes costly to support and maintain, whereas online and cloud-based models keep the data digital and more readily accessible to the latest and greatest hardware and operating systems. In short, online and cloud-based backup models offer greater speed and flexibility.

Of course, online backup is not instantaneous, either. If you have 100 gigabytes of data in your cloud that you need to restore, it can take a while to retrieve it based on your network connectivity. This is why hybrid approaches to data backup are often innovative and effective methods of ensuring data redundancy and quick availability in the event of a disaster.

Read a full comparison of tape, disk and cloud-based backup options here.

4. What data is backed up? Do I have a say when working with a service provider?

Typically all data is backed up, but sometimes trying to back up everything costs you in your ability to replicate it as quickly and efficiently as possible. You should take a close look at your data and decide which mission-critical resources you need off site.

If working with a service provider, you should engage in conversations around tiering your backup needs. The process of tiering segments your data between mission-critical, immediate restoration needs and more long term, “just don’t lost this data” type of requirements. Ultimately, your decision will be based on your data, applications, and the servers they rely on.

5. Are there any types of data or applications I should not back up to the cloud?

Ask yourself these questions: Is the data important? Would your business suffer if you didn’t have this data? If you answer “yes” to either of those questions, then ensure you have a backup solution for that data. End of story.

People often wonder if sensitive data – for example, financial or healthcare information – should be backed up to an off site location. Remember, regardless of your own security policies, always confirm that your service provider adheres to those same policies and standards. Encryption at rest, in transit, and dual authentication are all pieces of the puzzle to confirm. Data integrity should be considered paramount to your overall backup strategy, regardless of the model (physical tape, virtual disk).

Stay tuned for part two of the series, where I’ll answer your questions on general data security, highly regulated data subject to things like HIPAA and PCI, and protocols for data access in the event of a disaster.

shawn-fichter100x100Meet the Author: Shawn Fichter is a data center veteran who has been working in the DR and business continuity space for over 15 years. Over the course of his career, Shawn has been involved in managing infrastructures through the transition of client server to utility computing to cloud-based service models. He now leads the development of next generation cloud-based products and services for Xtium.

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  1. I most agree with Shawn about the excellent opportunity cloud backup gives even small companies to achieve high data redundancy and therefore resulting in better data security. With the price of cloud computing, and especially online backup, dropping through the floor, I really can’t see any economical reasons for not taking proper and secure backup of vital business information. How often have we not heard about major hardware failures ruin entire companies? Or even worse, hacker attacks taking down operations for a prolonged period of time. Here in Denmark, where we operate from, some of our local government offices have been attacked by ransom ware like Cryptolocker. The attacks spread quickly due to poor internal security, but fortunately a couple of crafty guys from the IT department where able to stop the spread and recover data using external backup. I can understand that some companies are concerned with data security in the cloud, and they are quite right to be concerned. But having these concerns also shows that they are aware of some providers lake of proper security protocols and have the willingness to actively search for providers that are taking security seriously. Thank you for this great article series Shawn, I feel it can be a good start for a lot of small and medium enterprises looking for advice on what to look for when converting from tape/offline backup to a data backup in the cloud.