Entry-level cloud backup solutions and advanced options for SMBs

Cloud backup offers cost-effective backup without in-house support hassles, but what are its limitations for SMBs and how can you gain more advanced management control?

Cloud backup solutions offer easy-to-use backup services for SMBs that want to both avoid capital costs and the management headaches that come with in-house backup and ensure service guarantees about retention of their vital data. But what are the limitations of cloud backup solutions, and what types of advanced options exist for businesses that want more control over backups to the cloud?

In this interview, SearchStorage.co.UK Bureau Chief Antony Adshead speaks with Chris Evans, independent consultant with Langton Blue, about entry-level and more advanced cloud backup solutions as well as security, bandwidth and developing APIs to link to cloud infrastructure providers.

You can read the transcript below or listen to the podcast on cloud backup

SearchStorage.co.UK: What are the simplest methods of backing up to the cloud? How do they work, and what are their limitations?

Evans: Let’s start by defining what we mean by cloud. What we’re talking about here is a service provider who operates a data centre on the Internet. You going to back up your data to that data centre, and [the provider] looks after it for you.

We call it cloud because you don’t have to understand the technology in [the] site that’s being used to back up your data. You just have to be aware that the service that’s being provided is scalable and that you’re being charged a monthly fee.

So, now [that] we understand what we mean by cloud, let’s talk about how we use the cloud to do our backups. of all, we could quite simply take a product from one of the cloud backup providers, such as Mozy, Jungle Disk, Rackspace or Carbonite; these are all good examples of vendors who provide this sort of functionality. What they give you is a downloadable client [that] sits on your laptop or PC, and as long as you have an Internet connection, those products will back up your data into the cloud. If you want to run that against more than one client at a time, you’d install that software onto multiple clients.

Let’s quickly talk about the features that you need to look out for with these types of service because this is pretty important when working out what your limitations are.

of all, security: This is a key feature that you need to be looking at. You need to ensure that as you write your data across the Internet to the cloud provider, they provide encryption on that connection. That would normally be an SSL connection. You need to ensure that the cloud provider site encrypts your data as it’s sitting on disk, and you’ll need to ask what level of encryption that is, for example, AES 256.

Depending on the level of complexity you want to work with, you may want to also … control the security on that data -- for instance, if multiple users are sharing the same backup .

Let’s talk [about] one or two other things around the limitations. Now, clearly, what you’re doing here is moving data across a network, and typically backups are done almost in a trickle fashion. You do a full backup, and then you do incrementals. One of the problems you do have, therefore, is bandwidth, and you need to have adequate bandwidth to write that data into the cloud.

The same thing applies when you do a restore. You need to make sure you have adequate bandwidth to do a restore, and if you’re restoring an entire computer, you’ll find that could take some time.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What cloud backup solutions exist for the more advanced user? What’s involved in setting them up, and what are their benefits and limitations?

Evans: We touched briefly on the sort of services that, for instance, one or two PCs could use. … But perhaps you’re looking to do something more advanced, something more scalable, or you’re looking to have centralised management of your backup. We need to point out one thing before we go on here, and that is to differentiate between the service providers and the infrastructure provider.

We talked briefly about companies like Mozy and Jungle Disk; they are service providers. They provide a backup service. They don’t necessarily run the infrastructure that sits on. There are also companies like Amazon and Nirvanix, [which] are good examples of infrastructure providers. They have the actual hardware sitting in their data centre.

If you want to do something more advanced, then you have the option of talking to those infrastructure providers directly, and there are a number of ways to do that. You could use the APIs that those companies offer -- EMC via Atmos and Nirvanix, for example -- and you can write your own software to those APIs.

That might seem arduous and time-consuming, so what you could do is place a physical or virtual appliance on your site, and that would effectively manage the backup process. You would back up locally to the appliance, and it would off-site the backups on your behalf. The benefit is that you get a centralised service [that] you can manage better and get a performance boost from having an appliance.

Examples of such appliances are Barracuda Networks, [which supplies] a physical appliance that sits on your site. … Jungle Disk has a piece of software you can run on a virtual machine that would work like an appliance. There is also software form Nirvanix called hNode and also a company called Zmanda. They all give you a software package that allows that process to happen.

So, advanced users may want to look at those sorts of features because [they] give you more flexibility, more control and certainly more performance and scalability.

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