Five ways that backup has changed since the days of tape

Back in the day, all this was tape, but times have changed, with cloud-to-cloud backup, cloud storage, virtual and physical backup appliances and myriad endpoint hardware

Backup has changed almost beyond recognition in the past decade or so. Traditional backup, to tape that was moved offsite with a secondary site to operate from in case of disaster, has given way to newer, better ways of doing things.

In the last 20 years, backup infrastructure has evolved at an unprecedented rate. Today’s organisations have been impacted by the rise of the cloud, virtualisation, big data, mobility, DevOps and the internet of things.

These trends mean the old ways of backup are no longer adequate to provide data protection. Some areas can be backed up safely, but whole swathes are left unprotected.

So, to ensure comprehensive data protection, backup has had to change. Let’s look at the five key backup trends that characterise these times.

Cloud-to-cloud backup

Growing in popularity, cloud-to-cloud backup is where data stored in one cloud is backed up to another cloud, rather than to a tape or disk.

This is done because although a cloud or software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider may have solutions in place to protect data in the cloud, it only protects against loss on their side (such as disk failure), but not on the customer’s side. Businesses can keep a duplicate of their data in a separate cloud as another layer of protection.

Among the benefits of this approach are quick data restoration after a data breach, unintentional deletion, data corruption or other events. Also, IT support doesn’t have to go to a physical location to retrieve business data in a disaster.

Cost is a major factor in choosing cloud-to-cloud backup, as organisations don’t need to invest in on-site backup infrastructure.

However, it can be too easy for organisations to waste money on storing data that is unlikely to ever be used again.

Cloud storage of on-site backup data

Organisations can use the cloud as a repository to store virtual machine and physical server backups, as well as to restore data from the cloud repository. This can help enterprises avoid the cost of building and maintaining an off-site infrastructure.

Using such a repository for backups can enable organisations to manage backup and replication services for businesses centrally, with multiple locations such as remote office/branch office environments, as well as mobile users.

Such backups off-site and in the cloud can be used as a last resort if primary and secondary on-site backups are deleted or corrupted by cyber criminals or careless employees.

But the drawback of this strategy is that it can require lots of bandwidth to port terabytes of backups. This can be overcome to an extent by sending seed copies of backups on physical disks to the cloud backup provider.

Backup appliances

Appliance-based backup is an emerging trend that offers automated backup that ensures data can be restored regardless of the situation, be it employee error or hackers. Data is backed up to a multitude of datacentres and any data can be restored, irrespective of who did what or when.

This allows organisations to manage critical business data while having the scalability, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of SaaS solutions. It also removes the need for backup software because the appliance works directly with the application, server or virtual machine.

Backup appliances are good for general backup use cases, such as short-term and long-term backups, depending on service-level requirements.

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The disadvantage of appliances is that they may not be suitable for every use case. There could, for example, be a lack of support for many platforms, such as mainframes, legacy equipment or bare metal. Lock-in can also be troublesome if deduplicated data is saved in a proprietary manner. Such backups need to be fully restored before migrating to a new platform.

The trend towards hyper-converged infrastructure has seen the advent of hyper-converged backup products. These combine backup storage and software into a scale-out architecture that includes all the qualities of a backup platform. These can then be implemented as a cluster of servers or nodes, across which the roles of metadata management, data storage and scheduling are applied.

As these can scale out, backups can be thought of as virtual machines, linking the hyper-converged backup platform to a hypervisor and operating as a backup image.

Virtual backup appliances

This delivers the benefits of a traditional backup appliance, but running on a hypervisor on virtual infrastructure. This means no hardware has to be shipped, making it cheaper to buy.

Using a virtual backup appliance in remote or branch offices can be faster to deploy and easier to support and configure than traditional backup products. These can be centrally managed,with backup data replicated to the head office.

At the cutting edge of this type of backup is application-aware backup on virtual servers, which ensures that backup can be restored to any platform, regardless of when and how it is taken.

One of the main disadvantages of a virtual backup appliance is that it can hog hypervisor resources and so may require an upgrade of physical hardware to cope with the extra workload.

Backup supporting all sources

It is not just servers that need backup nowadays – it can be just about everything that contains essential data.

This is because the workplace has gone mobile and staff are not limited to a desktop computer. Now they have laptops and mobile devices, too.

But backup here is more than just in case of data loss or accidental deletion. Hackers can attacking endpoint devices with malware and, more recently, ransomware.

It would have been a monumental task for traditional on-premise infrastructure to back up various endpoints, but that can now be easily achieved via the cloud. The cloud means that as long as a device can access the internet, it can back up data.

There are a number of suppliers, such as Acronis, Druva, Nakivo and Zerto, that offer backup services to protect data no matter what device it is on.

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