Backing up via the cloud

Many IT administrators have been asking what cloud backup and recovery (BUR) actually is. At its most basic level, cloud BUR involves backing up data offsite to a service provider’s data centre, over a Wide Area Network (WAN), using standard internet protocols. The main premise of cloud backup is that the hardware infrastructure is shared by the provider’s customers, thereby increasing efficiencies and reducing costs. Cloud backup is an inexpensive way of having an unlimited amount of storage that’s highly available and secure.

A cloud BUR strategy
In order to deploy a cloud BUR strategy, organisations must either move their IT infrastructures to the public cloud or outsource their data backup to a Managed Service Provider (MSP).
    
The advantages of both these approaches are that organisations save money, enjoy a highly agile data protection environment, and reduce administrative headaches. By moving the datacentre to the cloud, capital costs are reduced and turned into operating expenses. This on-demand delivery model is here now and it is the new economic reality that the old asset-based business model is giving way to OPEX-based approaches that simplify the procurement process, provide high-availability, and enable rapid recovery all alongside offering a variable-cost pricing model, which is often more palatable to the budget holders.
    
Most infrastructure-on-demand services that form the basis of cloud BUR offerings are characterised by the following attributes:
•    They support on-demand scaling
•    They offer a service-based model with ubiquitous access
•    They are scalable and elastic
•    They are metered by use
•    They are shared and secure

Information Security
Data protection has become a mandatory requirement to stay in business. It is a requirement for corporate, legal, or regulatory compliance. Data protection (backup, snapshots, replication, CDP, etc.) generally tends to increase the number of data copies. More storage means more storage systems, more storage network ports, switches, adapters, cables, racks, floor space, power, cooling, and a lot more manually-intensive administrative management. All of this costs more time (a non-recoverable resource) and money (both CapEx and OpEx.).
    
A data protection strategy includes Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity (BC) planning, which provides the ability to restore, recover, and access data that is lost because of human or machine errors, malware, or natural disasters. In spite of the fact that restores and recoveries are always urgent, most organisations don’t conduct DR drills or test their ability to restore and recover lost data often enough.
    
Cloud BUR answers DR and BC issues by significantly reducing organisational risk, exposure and storage infrastructure costs. It also offers an incredibly broad range of granularity that goes from very fine grain with continuous data protection (captures every write), to very coarse grain daily backups.             Restore/recoverability is also quite simple and is prioritised based on Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs). If data has to be restored or recovered very quickly, then a fixed number of versions (determined by the customer’s policy) are available from the local backup (physical or virtual) server. This eliminates any throughput or latency issues of recovering over the WAN and provides the fastest possible restore/recovery. And the customer can define the backup set restore/recovery order courtesy of file/message/e-mail-level backup/restore.
   
As protected data ages, its value declines, causing a misalignment of value between data and storage. The industry norm is to backup data on a storage target (disk, deduped disk, VTL, ATL, or tape) and leave it there until it is destroyed or, more often, forever. Pragmatically, it is much more painful to migrate devalued protected data to lower-valued storage media than it is to just leave them where they are, which could be costly disks for example. But this means that either too expensive or too inexpensive storage media are utilised causing a mismatch of value.
    
If the user deems some data as not valuable enough to justify protecting it via the cloud, its backup data sets and versions can reside onsite. This allows them to be recovered locally, saving time and money in the case of a major disaster requiring data recovery from the offsite location.
    
Pragmatic organisations tend to allocate less frequently-accessed data to less expensive storage (e.g. SATA rather than Fibre Channel disks), including (potentially) the cloud. This approach avoids the capital expenses associated with higher-cost tier 1 storage systems, which use expensive media and minimises operating costs associated with file management. This model also allows organisations to reduce planned downtime.
    
Storage tiering, i.e. the use of different classes of media depending on the value and frequency of access of the data, is, however, pragmatic only if automated. Cloud BUR tiering is automated based on user-set policies. When data has a high mission criticality, backup data sets and versions are kept both onsite and offsite. As that set ages, its value declines and the cloud BUR migrates it off the local site and into the cloud. As it ages further, the cloud BUR moves those aged backup data sets from online to near-line (e.g. VTL) or even offline (e.g. vaulted tapes). At a user determined point-in-time in the lifecycle of that backup data set, the data is destroyed and a digital certificate of that destruction is issued to comply with the relevant regulations.
    
Policy-driven backup data set destruction with a digital certificate of such destruction is built into the cloud BUR. This makes it simple to invoke a data protection lifecycle and carry it out without human intervention and errors.

Advantages for MSPS
Cloud BUR offers a number of advantages for MSPs:
•    Magnification of MSPs size and scope – cloud BUR eliminates geographic boundaries and allows MSPs to target and retain customers no matter what their locations are, magnifying their business expertise and facilitating business expansion.
•    Operational efficiencies – MSPs providing cloud backup and recovery have the expertise that allows them to provide services more  efficiently than in-house IT departments. Due to the economic downturn, customers         are now smarter about their IT strategies and are more open to entertaining ITaaS and take advantage of the cost savings it offers.
•    Forward-thinking MSPs – cloud computing elevates how MSPs think about their businesses. This new delivery model enables MSPs to acquire new cloud-based backup and recovery recurring revenue with little effort.
•    Low or few barriers to entry – Cloud Backup and Restore (BUR) lowers the overall cost of entry into the Cloud BUR market  for new MSPs. The reason for that is before public clouds an MSP had to use Capital Expenditures to purchase/build their storage vault to be able to provide backup and restore services. With the advent of public
    clouds, an MSP can store their customers backed up data in the public cloud and be up and running with minimal capital investment.

Benefits for end users
A number of significant benefits are also to be found for end users:
•    Peace of mind – SLAs offered by MSPs
    for data recovery provide assurance in the recoverability of backed up data
•    Ease-of-use, interoperability and flexibility of the data protection strategy
•    Security – multi-layered security is provided by the technology (encryption, password rotation, key escrow management, etc.) and by the public cloud providers
•    Reduced downtimes
•    Improved RTOs and RPOs
•    Cost savings
Cloud BUR can make a significant difference to an organisation’s IT strategy in terms of performance but also human, productivity and cost savings. The cloud delivery model is becoming more and more widely adopted also because of data compliance and disaster recovery requirements. Despite its criticality, data protection is still not awarded the in-house priority and resources it should have and therefore the cloud BUR model is seen by many end users as the solution to many headaches that they have been waiting for.
 
Cloud Storage Standards
Cloud storage standards address the accessibility, security, portability and cost issues associated with the relentlessly growing pools of data. Cloud storage standards can also help define roles and responsibilities for data ownership, archiving, discovery, retrieval and shredding/retirement.
    
The Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI), a SNIA Architecture standard, is the first industry-developed open standard for cloud computing and will allow for interoperable cloud storage implementations from cloud service providers and storage vendors. The standard is applicable to public, private and hybrid storage clouds and is expected to be implemented by service providers and cloud infrastructure vendors for all cloud deployment models.
    
CDMI includes the ability to manage service levels that data receives when it is stored in the cloud. The CDMI also includes a common interoperable data exchange format for securely moving data and its associated data requirements from cloud to cloud.
 
Why CDMI?
Today, if a customer wants to store their data in a public cloud, their vendor has to integrate their software by writing to that public cloud provider’s Application Programming Interface (API). Since there are dozens of public cloud providers the effort is CDMI will make it easier for spur cloud storage deployments based on the specification.
    
How does CDMI Help the market?
•    End Users: CDMI provides cloud storage subscribers with a simple, common interface. This standard interface allows users the choice to select the public cloud provider of their choice based on their own selection criteria         (price, geographic proximity, preference, etc.).
•    Service Providers: CDMI’s standard interface also enables broad market coverage for service providers. It helps service providers advertise their capabilities as required to match their targeted subscriber bases. CDMI also provides  unique, non-standard extensions for service providers that want to differentiate without sacrificing broad market addressability.
•    Cloud storage service developers: CDMI provides the only multi-vendor, industry-standard development interface for application developers that want to store data in the cloud. CDMI enables the broadest possible market of potential subscribers to cloud application developers.
     
For more information
To learn more about the activities of the SNIA Cloud Storage Initiative and the new Cloud Storage BUR special interest group, please visit: www.snia.org

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