Networking and Hardware Blog

Should You Use a Hosted (Cloud) Backup Solution?

Cloud storage, backup, and recovery solutions seem to have cropped up overnight in massive quantities. While these solutions were relatively unheard of just a few years back, there's about a dozen of them now out there, many of them sending me eager press releases about how cloud backup is the next big thing. But I have to wonder—are these cloud backup solutions much ado about nothing?

To answer this question, I first wanted to see if I could scrounge up any adoption statistics on these solutions. I came up pretty short, and even gleaning any sort of adoption statistics on cloud computing is difficult. Just about every organization uses some form of cloud computing, assuming you define cloud computing as a hosted (off premises) solution. To further complicate the mess, many IT and business managers disagree on what cloud computing is and isn't.

Anyway, these solutions (which range from big-time players such as IBM and EMC to about a dozen companies I've never heard of) promise to offer scalable, no hassle, cost-effective backup for anywhere from a few gigabytes to many terabytes. And in many ways, these solutions do seem to deliver on these promises. However, they may not be desirable for larger enterprises, due to the delay in moving data to and from the hosted solution as well as greater security concerns.

A Viable Solution for Small Business
For small to medium-sized businesses, cloud-based backup really makes sense in many cases. These solutions provide a much more robust solution than most home-grown backup strategies, which can range anywhere from more organized tape-based backups to simply using some form of external hard drive for the job. (Or using a solution such as Rebit's hard drive backup, which automatically copies all your files onto a hard drive.) 

In contrast to tape-based backup, cloud backup can occur almost immediately. No need to wait to acquire the tape and load it up—simply contact your backup vendor and have them stream the needed data over pronto. (Of course, the larger the amount of data, the slower the delivery, hence the reason that these solutions work best for smaller organizations.) And since most of these vendors have robust web servers for the data, there is less risk of the data somehow being compromised or tarnished from a coffee spill, power outage, or other unforseen circumstance.

Which Vendor to Choose?
Even if you do decide you'd like to look into cloud-based backup, one very difficult decision can be deciding where to start. I was able to find about a dozen vendors pretty quickly, which seems to suggest that even more than that are available. And of course, each will come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Like with any cloud computing solution, you have to ask the usual questions about cloud backup. Can I trust this vendor with my data? Do I know that the data is secure? And finally, what happens if the vendor goes out of business?

Regarding the latter question, you might choose to stick with a company that has been doing this awhile, such as Asigra, or one of the vendors that is a longstanding corporation, such as IBM, EMC, or Symantec. Even still, upcoming vendors such as Zmanda and Vembu Technologies may offer differing functionality or lower cost, which might compel you toward one of these vendors.

As a final point, note that some cloud backup vendors offer backup and recovery through a combination of on premises and cloud-based means. As a result, getting the data back to you in the event of a recovery can be quicker, as the data will not immediately need to be pulled from the cloud. This may help speed recovery times of large quantities of data, a plus for enterprises, though these solutions would face the same security concerns as any hosted solution because you still have (1) your data being stored over the Internet and (2) housed by another organization.

The bottom line is this: if backup and recovery is a time-consuming and painstaking venture for your company, and you feel you could really benefit from a set-and-forget solution, cloud-based backup could be just the thing. While implementing a solution might still require too much of a leap of faith for organizations with highly-sensitive data, it's a viable solution for many organizations and could make one job on the IT to-do list a little easier. 

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