Data Backups in the Cloud: Sorting Illusions from Reality

Topics: Data Archive

Is a cloud-based solution the miracle cure for all your backup problems? Probably not. But you might find better security with a hybrid solution that brings reliable tape into the mix.

DID YOU KNOW? InformationWeek Analytics reports that only 29% of organizations using or planning to use cloud storage have evaluated its impact on their architectures. And 40% don’t even have a monitoring program in place.

FAST FACT: About 24% of IT professionals surveyed by InfoStor and Taneja Group say they have no plans to move to cloud-based backup—ever.

So just what is this cloud everyone’s talking about? Is it the safest place to back up your digital songs, your family photos…your company’s irreplaceable data? Before you decide where to store your vital corporate information, it’s a good idea to ask yourself: Do you really know the cloud?

Security is the top concern when talking cloud backup services, according to respondents in a 2012 IDG Enterprise survey. That doesn’t mean the cloud is inherently unsafe, only that it comes with challenges. Each third-party organization that handles your data represents potential vulnerability for confidential material, so you should think carefully about when it makes sense to choose this option.

The Cloud Is a Perfect Fit (Sometimes)

Despite their misgivings, 27 percent of respondents to the IDG survey expect the majority of their IT operations to be performed in the cloud within five years. And a 2011 Microsoft study predicts that 39 percent of small and medium-size businesses expect to be paying for one or more cloud services within three years.

Tape: Proven and Cost-Effective

To be sure, storing email, sales force automation and tasks that call for raw processing power in the cloud makes perfect sense. And to secure that data, cloud computer backup can be useful. However, it is not entirely proven under dire circumstances.

When it comes to backing up all that precious virtual cargo, your organization should consider laying it down on something less…ethereal. When you hand off your backup data services to a trusted third-party tape vaulting provider with proven resources, technology and experience, you should rest assured you can get up and running after a data-loss emergency.

Tape-based storage has been used for decades and remains a critical backup solution. Tape’s underlying technology has been continually perfected, and its track record is undeniable. In fact, nearly three out of four of the enterprises surveyed by Gartner Group in 2012 use tape as a key backup technology.

The cost per terabyte also tends to be lower for tape than for cloud storage. In fact, the newest tape technologies deliver lower cost of ownership, higher reliability, greater capacity and faster access than even disk-based storage systems.

Need more convincing? Consider this: Many cloud providers have had to rely on tape to restore data when their own systems suffered outages. That tells you something, doesn’t it?

A Hybrid Solution: Consider Both Sides

The good news is that your organization doesn’t need to pick only one method of data backup and recovery. Combining approaches can reduce costs, improve security, achieve data redundancy and speed up recovery times. Consider a mix of local disk and tape storage, cloud backup and traditional offsite tape vaulting for a well-rounded solution.

Evaluate your entire operation before implementing a hybrid backup model, and adopt a package that matches your business profile. Fine-tune your solution to achieve ideal cost, security, redundancy and access speed. Keep these factors in mind:

  • Security and compliance requirements favor tape. Cloud-based storage provides encryption, access controls and network security. Still, sensitive data—such as private customer information—is likely best left to tape. Tape-based backups offer excellent protection for records requiring the highest levels of security, auditing and controls.
  • For email archives, tape is the best choice. In 2012, businesses sent and received 89 billion emails a day—and that figure will grow an average of 13 percent annually over the next four years, according to the Radicati Group. That means you should plan on expanding your email storage, but consider the storage costs. If you keep email archives mainly for regulatory compliance, putting them offsite on tape is more cost-effective than using live cloud backups.
  • Fast recovery plays to the cloud’s strengths. With cloud storage, you can retrieve critical data instantaneously—no need to transport tapes from an offsite facility. To make this happen, your cloud storage provider must offer a service-level agreement (SLA) that includes redundant data-center services. Short of a full data center outage or catastrophe, onsite tape backup can meet routine data recovery needs.

Cloud-based storage may not be the answer to every data storage problem. But as a supplement to your current backup regimen, the cloud can deliver results that might just be a welcome silver lining.

Iron Mountain Suggests: Give the Cloud a Hard Study

Cloud storage is vast and flexible, but things can get lost in the mist. Your organization must have a clear plan: Solicit expert advice and seek a partner with a track record of offering secure cloud-based solutions. Follow these steps when evaluating a provider:

  • Put a pilot program in the air. Rank your data based on security needs, and test cloud-based backup for performance on the less sensitive information. Given the cloud’s low startup costs, a test should easily fit into your budget.
  • Conduct a cost analysis. Compare your current data backup and recovery scheme—plus hardware and maintenance costs—to a similar program from a cloud provider. Focus on the cost of labor; that’s where you’ll likely find the biggest savings.
  • Integrate cloud storage with disk and tape. Each method has advantages as well as challenges. A well-crafted strategy may include cloud storage as part of a complete data backup and recovery plan that incorporates all three methods.

Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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