What you should know before you jump into the cloud
Let's face it, backups are hard work. You've probably tried multiple everything: multiple backup technologies (e.g., tape, disk), multiple employees to create and monitor backups, and multiple enterprise software tools. But despite personnel, hardware, and software changes, backup and restore operations don't always succeed. The stakes are high to get it right. As a fellow systems administrator once confided, "No backup, and I might as well not come to work tomorrow." Given the heightened importance of corporate data, considering new methods to back up and store data is appropriate.
Over the past few years, cloud-based backups have made major inroads into the consumer market. As online consumer backups have gained acceptance, a variety of offerings have popped up in the online enterprise backup space. Although some of these offerings are from startup companies, others are from companies with which you might already be doing business.
With promises of unlimited backups and low prices, cloud backups might seem appealing, especially if you're currently using onsite removable storage such as tape. However, before you jump into the cloud, you need to take a look at your current backup and restore requirements and assess your data portfolio from a security and volume perspective at the very least. Only then should you begin evaluating the various online enterprise backup solutions.
When it comes to online enterprise backup solutions, the way that the service is charged varies widely, making it hard to compare prices. For example, some providers charge per gigabyte based on usage, whereas other providers charge in gigabyte ranges. Pay special attention to hidden costs, such as the cost per device backed up, licensing cost per device, and the minimum fees per month to retain an account.
With that said, it's important to note that price is probably not the best qualifier to narrow down the list of online enterprise backup solutions to consider. The backup and restore features should really drive your evaluation of which solution is best for your company.
Backup Features to Consider
When evaluating cloud backup solutions, it's important that the features meet your needs. Features to consider include:
- Encryption. Chances are you're looking for more than a place to dump your files. Vendors offer various levels of encryption (i.e., encryption strength), some of which are tailored to meet certain compliance needs.
- Certified data center. If your company requires that data be stored at a certified data center, this feature needs to be at the top of your list.
- Deduplication. A key feature that can reduce costs is deduplication, which is a method to reduce data storage requirements by eliminating redundant data. Deduplication implementations vary, so testing reductions in backed up data is important.
- OS and application support. The majority of cloud backup solutions support backing up most Windows versions and various Linux distributions. Many solutions also offer application-aware backups for popular Microsoft applications such as Exchange Server, SQL Server, and SharePoint. Virtualization-aware backup support varies considerably, with most solutions supporting at least VMware. Some solutions also support backing up Hyper-V and Citrix Systems virtualization environments.
- Agents. Some cloud backup solutions require that you install agents to back up and recover data.
- Onsite backup appliance. If the cloud is replacing your current backup environment, using an onsite appliance in a disk-to-disk-to-cloud (D2D2C) backup solution might give you peace of mind that your data is local. It might also improve backup performance and flexibility. However, there are some caveats. First, you need to consider the initial upfront cost of this device. In addition, you'll need to spend some time installing and managing the local backup appliance. Finally, there could be a single point of failure. For this reason, checking the appliance's guaranteed replacement time frames and the equipment warranty is crucial to ensure you don't miss backups due to hardware failures.
Restore Features to Consider
No matter whether you need to restore a file or file system, the ability to easily and quickly restore data is paramount. Thus, you need to consider the restore features when evaluating online backup solutions. Common restore features include:
- Single web console. Having a single web-based management console simplifies restore operations.
- 24Â x 7 live support. In the event that you have an emergency restore, having 24Â x 7 live support is a plus.
- Onsite backup appliance. If you're using an onsite appliance in a D2D2C backup solution and you need to restore data from a recent backup, the restore operation won't affect your Internet bandwidth usage because the data is local. Plus, it's typically much faster than an Internet restore.
Check Out the Buyer's Guide Table
Whether you're looking to replace your current backup system, bolster your disaster recovery capability with offsite storage, increase the reliability of backups, or just dip your toe into the online enterprise backup arena, the Online Enterprise Backup Solutions Buyer's Guide table will help you sort through the options. Approaches vary widely, so research the online enterprise backup solutions carefully. Trying out the solution is one of the best ways to see whether it'll meet your needs, so the Buyer's Guide table includes whether the various providers offer free trials.
Remember that your backups are only as good as your last restore, so regularly test your restore strategy to ensure the integrity of your backups. Be prepared so that come tomorrow, you'll want to come back to work.