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Cloud-to-cloud backup: What it is and why you need it

Applications that run in the cloud are protected, but only so much. For full protection of data generated by cloud-based apps you need cloud-to-cloud backup

Spending on public cloud services will reach US$236bn by 2020, according to Forrester.

It’s a trend driven by increasing numbers of applications being delivered from the cloud.

Cloud computing is sometimes so easy that users and IT teams assume it “just works”, and they are happy to leave data protection and backup to the provider.

So why are we seeing the emergence of cloud-to-cloud backup?

Data protection risks in the cloud

Moving applications, workloads or IT infrastructure to the cloud poses risks. It means handing over control of a large slice of an organisation’s capabilities to store and protect data to a third party.

A cloud service will – or should – have multiple datacentres and multiple redundant data stores to ensure business continuity and the ability to recover data. It should also provide enterprise-grade security for data.

But there have been outages among cloud services. These are relatively rare, but CIOs that fail to consider how their cloud data is backed up will put their organisations at risk.

For businesses that use the cloud, the question is not whether cloud services will fail, but how the business will cope when they do. Although cloud services may offer a high degree of resilience, this will not be enough for all organisations’ backup needs.

Cloud versus on-premise service levels

Cloud services do what they can to keep services running. But CIOs should check the details of service level agreements. Public cloud services are unlikely to guarantee availability or recovery times, and only offer a “best endeavour” commitment.

When it comes to the data itself, businesses are even more at risk. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) suppliers typically take responsibility for infrastructure availability, but data loss is the sole responsibility of the client.

This could leave customers with a complex, costly and time-consuming data recovery exercise after an outage.

Nor will a cloud service provider take responsibility for accidental data deletion. Human error – from accidentally overwriting one field in a customer record to the wiping of an entire dataset – is the customer’s problem. Backupify, a cloud-based backup provider, estimates that one-in-three companies lose SaaS data. Human error is the most common cause.

Cloud services may also delete data for any user whose subscription ends. Microsoft, for example, wipes all data for users 30 days after their subscription stops. Unless a business has a robust plan to capture users’ files when they leave an organisation, vital data can be lost for good.

Cloud backup options

In small-scale scenarios, users can copy files from, for example, Office 365 and G Suite to a local volume, or if security rules permit, an external drive. But this is a manual process that might not be reliable, and will struggle to scale.

For larger files and larger applications, this is rarely practical. Enterprises using infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or SaaS applications can use application programming interfaces (APIs) or third-party software to back up to local servers, network-attached storage (NAS) equipment or their own datacentre.

But backing up cloud services to local storage is a step backwards. Instead of taking advantage of the cloud, it forces companies to retain on-site infrastructure, increases costs and limits flexibility.

Currently, just one in 10 businesses backs up their data to an IaaS supplier, but this will double by 2020, as businesses realise the importance of backups and more suppliers offer cloud-specific services

Enterprises that back up software-as-a-service applications will have the reassurance that they have copies of their data, but they will not be able to replicate or run the SaaS environment in-house. This limits the usefulness of local backups. At best, a business will face a lengthy recovery or migration to a new platform.

Backing up cloud services to the cloud should be a better option.

Currently, just one in 10 businesses backs up their data to an IaaS supplier, according to Gartner. But the firm expects this to double by 2020, as businesses realise the importance of backups and more suppliers offer cloud-specific services.

Cloud-to-cloud backup benefits

Cloud-to-cloud backup promises several advantages over local backups and SaaS providers’ own offerings, including lower infrastructure cost, faster backup and recovery, and far greater flexibility.

As with cloud infrastructure itself, cloud backups are accessible anywhere. And organisations can also use re-use backups for data mining and analytics, for example, without putting the original data at risk.

Broken clouds

Unfortunately for IT decision-makers, the cloud-to-cloud backup market is fragmented and relatively immature. Given the diversity of cloud computing environments on offer, backup services vary quite widely in capabilities.

Gartner says that in the past two years, backup providers have improved support for cloud services, making it easier to protect IaaS data, and to back up SaaS applications.

The area that has developed most over the past couple of years is backup for infrastructure as a service. The main backup suppliers now have, or plan to add, support for cloud copies of entire virtual machines (VMs).

For backups of private clouds, cloud gateways are an option. These use a cloud service APIs to enable backup and data recovery. Suppliers also provide virtualised backup and deduplication applications that can run in the cloud.

The market is moving from providing a simple “data dump” to cloud storage, to a more sophisticated, managed service provided on a pay-as-you-go or per-user model.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

There are pitfalls, however. Backing up SaaS applications, in particular, remains complex.

Native data backups from Salesforce.com, for example, are not exact copies of the application’s internal data. These so-called “one-directional” backups may miss metadata or be less rich than the original datasets. They can be restored back to the SaaS, but data needs to be reformatted first, and reloaded as new datasets.

And with any SaaS application, if the original service is not available, customers will have no way to use their restored data.

Nor are backups of application data from IaaS services truly platform-independent. “There are enough differences between data formats on the main platforms to make restoration a significant task,” warns Forrester analyst Naveen Chhabra.

The limitations of cloud backup even extend down to personal productivity applications. Some applications in Office 365 are hard to back up. Sharepoint, in particular, is only supported by a subset of backup suppliers.

Organisations need to do their own due diligence and testing. Although the cloud backup landscape is developing, not all cloud copies of data are “visible” to on-premise backup applications

Perhaps the easiest backups are for enterprise applications that can run on-premise, or in public or private clouds. IT teams should be able to restore their data to any provider that supports the application, to a VM running in the cloud, or a local datacentre.

Organisations need to do their own due diligence and testing. Although the cloud backup landscape is developing, not all cloud copies of data are “visible” to on-premise backup applications.

Forrester’s Chhabra says organisations must always back up their data, so they at least have copies. Restoring data in the cloud should be faster than an on-premise data recovery operation. But CIOs should not assume it will be easy.

Cloud-to-cloud backup products and services are available from companies including Cohesity, Commvault, Dell EMC (Cloud Data Protection), Rubrik, Veeam, Backupify, Datto, Keepit.com and Skykick.

Read more about cloud-to-cloud backup

  • From cost to a product’s capabilities, there is a lot to assess when selecting the right cloud-to-cloud backup technology – and provider – for your organisation.
  • Protecting data created in the cloud is a low priority for many organisations. Learn the biggest fallacies about cloud-to-cloud backup.

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