Online back-up or cloud recovery?

Backing up files and data online has been around for quite a while, but it has never really taken off in a big way for business customers. Now new solutions...

Backing up files and data online has been around for quite a while, but it has never really taken off in a big way for business customers. Now new solutions are coming to market that use "the cloud" for the backup and recovery of company data, but how do these differ to online backup and what can they offer? writes Ian Masters, UK sales and marketing director at Double-Take Software.

"Cloud recovery" can be a nebulous term, so I would define it based on the solution having the following features:

1. The ability to recover workloads in the cloud

2. Effectively unlimited scalability with little or no up-front provisioning

3. Pay-per-use billing model

4. An infrastructure that is more secure and more reliable than the one you would build yourself

5. Complete protection - ie, non-expert users should be able to recover everything they need, by default.

If a solution does not meet these five criteria, then it should be called an online backup product.

There is an old saying in the data protection business that the whole point of backing up is preparing to restore. Having a backup copy of your data is important, but it takes more than a pile of tapes (or an online account) to restore. You might need a replacement server, new storage, and maybe even a new data centre, depending on what went wrong.

With a cloud recovery solution, you don't want just your data in the cloud, you want the ability to actually start up applications and use them, no matter what went wrong in your own environment. So an area where cloud recovery can provide a better level of protection is around provisioning. The whole point of recovering to the cloud is that the service providers already have plenty of servers and additional capacity on tap.

The ideal cloud recovery solution partner won't charge you for those servers up front, but is sure to have as much capacity as you need, when you need it. Under this model, your costs are much lower than building it yourself, because you get the benefit of duplicating your environment without the cost.

Removing the up-front price and long-term commitment shifts the risk away from the customer, and onto the vendor. The vendor just has to keep the quality up to keep customers loyal, which requires great service and efficient handling of customer accounts. The cloud recovery provider takes on all the management effort and constant improvement of infrastructure that is required.

Another area where cloud recovery can deliver better results is through usability and protecting everything that a business needs. While some businesses know exactly what files should be protected, most either don't have this degree of control, or have got users into the habit of following standard formats or saving documents into specific places.

Business users want to click "start" and know that at any time they can click "recover", and there won't be any "please insert your original disk" issues. Complete protection means that the business can be protected without requiring an expert in your systems and every application to be at hand when recovery is needed.

Cloud means different things to different people. If you are going to depend on it to protect your data, it had better mean something specific. The five points I've mentioned may not cover every possible protection goal, but they set a good minimum standard.

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