Backup to cloud

Tips for planning your backup to the cloud strategy

Backup to the cloud is a rapidly emerging data protection strategy and can remove management overheads, whilst also improving performance and efficiency. It is a big shift for many organisations however and there are a number of considerations that it is wise to address beforehand.

Firstly, it is crucial that you clearly understand your data retention requirements, whether they are required by regulation, for compliance purposes, or set by the business. It is a recommendation that you retain data backups onsite long enough to cover around 85% of the typical file restore requests that come in.

On the topic of compliance, it is also wise to look at regulatory requirements as a whole to make sure that your new backup strategy adequately addresses those. This could mean making sure that your data will be kept in a geographical location that is accepted, and not moved to a cloud location in a country that doesn’t comply with your local regulations. It could also mean that you need to look at the protection your data has whilst in transit, not just while it is at rest in storage. You should look at encryption to protect the data while it moves from location to location and in between.

Before starting your backup to cloud planning, it’s useful to update your DR plans, as this can help you identify any areas that your current backup strategy isn’t addressing, where your backup to cloud strategy could help. At the same time, run a gap analysis on your current backup strategy to see where improvements can be made with the new solution. For sustainability and budget purposes, it is a worthwhile exercise to identify any reusable elements of your current backup solution, that will work in your new backup infrastructure.

The next step is to consult with the key stakeholders within the business. They can help you understand what the business requirements of your backup strategy need to be and could include performance requirements, scalability and security. The IT Department might think that some performance degradation is acceptable, or even unnoticeable, or that it a recovery window of 24 hours would work for the business, while another business function, such as finance or sales, might believe that performance cannot be undermined at any cost, and that data must be instantly recoverable for a set period. It is only through consultation with each head of department, that you will understand the expectations and requirements and be able to build these into the solution’s scope (or not, if you deem it unattainable or unnecessary).

Whilst reviewing the expectations of the business, review your formal Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to make sure they are still appropriate and to ensure that your new backup strategy can meet the most up to date SLAs.

The stakeholder consultation may also uncover different requirements for different data sets, or applications, which is not uncommon. Finance data is likely to be governed by more regulations and could have longer retention periods than marketing or sales data for example. Most current backup strategies treat all data the same but a backup to cloud strategy could incorporate granular policies for different data sets, applications or departments.

The benefits of a disk-to-disk-to-cloud strategy are clear; rapid restores, almost instantaneous offsite vaulting, lower cost backup storage options and greater levels of security, but as with any major project, planning is essential if you are going to realise all the benefits and meet the needs and expectations of the business.

The questions you should ask when planning your tape-to-cloud migration

With the huge advances in public cloud security, efficiency and value for money, many organisations are now planning to move towards cloud backup strategies, which are less complex and more reliable than traditional tape backup solutions. But migrating your backup to cloud from tape can be a big project and does require careful scoping. There are some key questions to ask before embarking on a migration from tape to cloud, which will help you to understand the scale of the project.

Firstly, do you need to move all historical backups to the cloud, or could you start backing up new data to the cloud and gradually reduce on-premises tape dependency as data reaches end-of-life? This is a straightforward approach but depends on the business being comfortable with different RPO and RTOs for new versus aged data.

Next, what is the best way of migrating a large data set to the cloud initially? You can use on-premises network transport methods, or physical transport methods. High speed internet transfer would only be an option for smaller data sets, as can be time consuming.

You might need to consider that when you move data from tape to cloud, it could be prudent to perform any indexing, transcoding or repackaging that will make it easier to extract value from the data once in the cloud.

Do you know if your current backup vendor can natively support a cloud backup store, or are new feature licenses or major version updates required? Once you’ve migrated, can you restore to cloud virtual machines or will data restore to a physical machine?

Can you write data directly to the cloud and do your backup windows support that too? Should you use a traditional storage protocol such as a network file system (NFS)?

Do you need to change your workflows to suit the cloud environment, or will your cloud solution appear as a virtual tape library allowing you to keep the same processes and save time and management overhead?

Does your cloud backup provider give you the scalability and elasticity needed to make changes without disruption to the backup activity? Enterprise cloud providers should have the provisions, AWS offers Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute which can flex to keep processes consistent.

When accessing backup data will this be done in the cloud, or will it be pulled back and accessed on-premises? It could affect the services you purchase, from archives which are seldom accessed to a virtual tape library which holds frequently accessed, recent files.

Can you leverage the cloud to simplify widely distributed backup workflows?

Many cloud providers offer complementary services such as analytics, data lifecycle management or compliance features. Do you need these as part of your backup solution?

Could a cloud integrator help you to scope, implement and migrate your current backup environment across to the cloud?

Getting answers to these questions now will save immeasurable time during and after your move to the cloud and can help you to maximise your budget, by cutting out unnecessary services.

Benefits of backing up to the cloud versus tape

The benefits of backing up to cloud versus backing up to tape

Tape has been the backup media of choice for over 60 years, due to its portability and reliability. Tape technology has developed and density has increased, meaning cost per gigabyte has been low, but the complexity and time consuming nature of tape management means many organisations are looking for an alternative.

A traditional tiered storage architecture uses local disk or networked storage for speedy access to primary data, then periodically sends snapshots or data to a backup server that writes the data to magnetic tape. Usually stored onsite in tape backup libraries and sometimes replicated to an offsite location, via WAN or even manually moved to an offsite storage facility.

Cloud backup offers organisations a new way of backing up their data, removing the complexity and risk of manually moving and handling magnetic tapes and improving the performance, availability and reliability of backups.

Whilst the cost of tape storage has come down, the costs associated with handling, managing and storing tape media have been increasing. At the same time, the cost of public cloud services has been coming down, allowing customers to take advantage of economies of scale, making them an accessible and affordable backup solution. Cloud has no upfront capital investment costs, no costs associated with media, or configuration and no data retrieval costs.

Using the public cloud to store backup data is generally a very reliable solution, with some CSPs offering a durability service level agreement of 99.999999999%. The chance of data loss through infrastructure failure therefore is incredibly low. The availability that public cloud providers can achieve is generally higher than most organisations can implement in house, with multi-site replication and failover of every single component.

Magnetic tape on the other hand is based on mechanical equipment which can fail and lead to data loss or unavailability. The quality of data stored on tape can be eroded if retrieved and read too often, although more robust tape intended for frequent use is available, the cost is often prohibitive.

Tape can perform well for read write capabilities but can be unpredictable. The retrieval of data is particularly slow, especially for large datasets, from hours to days. When retrieving data from the cloud, organisations are often hindered more by WAN speeds than native storage performance, but there are still options available offering lower cost, longer term storage, which inevitably takes longer to restore.

Whatever requirements an organisation has, there are many reasons why a public cloud backup solution is the right option. Cost, performance, availability, reliability and the ability to restore quickly and easily, are all big reasons to consider cloud over tape.