Definition

cloud backup (online backup)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Cloud-based backup: Best strategies and practices

Cloud backup, also known as online backup, is a strategy for backing up data that involves sending a copy of the data over a proprietary or public network to an off-site server. The server is usually hosted by a third-party service provider, who charges the backup customer a fee based on capacity, bandwidth or number of users. In the enterprise, the off-site server might be owned by the company, but the chargeback method would be similar.

Implementing cloud data backup can help bolster an organization's data protection strategy without increasing the workload on information technology staff.

How data is restored

Online backup systems are typically built around a client software application that runs on a schedule determined by the purchased level of service. If the customer has contracted for daily backups, for instance, the application collects, compresses, encrypts and transfers data to the service provider's servers every 24 hours. To reduce the amount of bandwidth consumed and the time it takes to transfer files, the service provider might only provide incremental backups after the initial full backup.

Brien Posey discusses how cloud backup recovery works and where it works best.

Cloud backups often include the software and hardware necessary to protect an organization's data, including applications for Exchange and SQL Server.

Most subscriptions run on a monthly or yearly basis. While initially used mainly by consumers and home offices, online backup is now used by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and larger enterprises to back up some forms of data. For larger companies, cloud data backup may serve as a supplementary form of backup.

Cloud backup features

Cloud backup vs. tape or disk

In the enterprise, cloud data backup services are primarily used for non-critical data. Traditional backup is a better offering for critical data that requires a short recovery time objective because there are physical limits as to how much data can be moved in a given amount of time over a network. When a large amount of data needs to be recovered, it may need to be shipped on tape or some other portable storage media. (See: AWS import-export).

Russ Fellows, a senior Analyst with Evaluator Group, has put together the following chart to illustrate when cloud data backups should be considered as a viable option.

Using cloud backup

With a proper retention policy, cloud backups can reduce or even replace the need for off-site tape storage, so organizations are making the switch from disk-to-disk-to-tape strategies to disk-to-disk-to-cloud. Recalling large quantities of data from the cloud can be time-consuming, but so is reading a large number of tapes to find and retrieve data.

Flexibility is another benefit of the cloud because no additional hardware is needed.

Cost of cloud data backup

Third-party cloud backup has gained popularity with SMBs and home users because of its convenience. The technology has an initial upfront cost and then lower monthly or yearly payment plans that appeal to many smaller operations. Capital expenditures for additional hardware are not required and backups can be run dark. However, the cost of keeping data in the cloud for years adds up. In addition, costs rise as the amount of data to be backed up to the cloud increases.

Ben Woo, managing director of Neuralytix, explains how to evaluate cloud backup costs.

In terms of return on investment (ROI), it is important for an organization to consider the long-term costs of backing up to the cloud. A five-year projection is recommended to properly estimate future expenses and decide whether using the cloud will help the organization break even after initial costs. After these costs are offset, ROI on cloud-based backups can be determined.

Pricing models vary by vendor, but it's important to be on the lookout for hidden costs. While most products for backing up to the cloud are sold using a price-per-gigabyte-per-month payment model, providers can also use a sliding scale model, set usage minimums and add transaction costs.

Cloud backup products

Approaches to online backups vary, so an organization may consider taking a close look at service-level agreements, price plans and long-term costs. Examples of cloud data backup vendor options include the following:

  • Acronis offers Backup to Cloud, a cloud subscription add-on to its other backup plans to create a hybrid cloud and local backup service. Acronis Backup to Cloud protects and can recover files, folders, applications or a complete system. Data and metadata are encrypted prior to being sent to Acronis data centers. Acronis Backup to Cloud supports PC to Cloud and VMware to Cloud. It also has an AnyServer option for SMBs that supports one to three servers of any type, and a Volume option for more than four servers for an entire infrastructure.
  • Carbonite sells to consumers, small businesses, SMBs and small enterprises. The company's offerings back up documents, emails, music, photos and settings, and are available for Windows and Mac users. The vendor has two cloud data backup plans: Carbonite Personal for individuals, households and home offices; and Carbonite for Business, which offers cloud and software-based backup plans for the enterprise.
  • Unitrends allows customers to back up indefinitely to its private cloud with Forever Cloud. It retains the most recent successful backups from the previous four weeks, 12 months and a comprehensive backup for the year. Customers must have Unitrends' Recovery-Series backup hardware or Enterprise Backup Software running to use Forever Cloud. Forever Cloud supports VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V and virtualized images of physical Windows servers. Pricing for Unitrends is based on half-terabytes protected per month.
This was first published in May 2016

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