Backup in the cloud: Large enterprises wary, others climbing on board

More businesses now look to cloud backup services to store and protect their critical data – but issues of reliability and recovery time remain.

Backup in the cloud could be one of those technologies that eventually becomes popular with businesses due to offerings in the consumer space, such as cloud backup services provided by firms such as Carbonite Inc. and VMware Inc. Those users are familiar with backing up sensitive personal data to the cloud, and probably would be open toward doing the same thing with business data.

Cloud backup services easy to use, but questions of security remain

Cloud-based backup no longer has a cost or complexity barrier,” said StorageIO analyst Greg Schulz. “The tools are easy and integrated.”

For larger or more mature organizations that have always done backup, it can also make sense because it can be cost effective and scalable, he said. “I think for businesses the approach is going to be that [the] cloud will complement and coexist with traditional backup, depending on the exact needs of the organization,” Schulz added.

For example, Marco Ciappelli uses the file-sharing service offered by Dropbox Inc., as the defacto backup for his company, Arcanorum Labs. Ciappelli is the founder and creative director of the firm, which specializes in Web design, social media and company identity development.

“I work with four or five designers on coding and programming, and we are always sharing files, so it made sense to also use this for archiving and backup,” said Ciappelli. However, Ciappelli said he is considering another cloud service following a recent security breach at Dropbox.

Ciappelli said one alternative service—offered by the French company Ftopia SAS—records any changes made to files. According to the Ftopia, authorized users can upload, access and update files, plus manage multiple versions of documents. The company said that recording any changes to stored documents allows users to restore older versions at any time. The service also has an option to archive documents and block future changes, according to Ftopia.

University, health organization embrace backup in the cloud

Meanwhile, some larger organizations have turned to the cloud for backup. At the University of Texas, Director of Information Technology Bryan Harold said approximately 25 percent of the institution’s data is backed up by a version of Code 42 Software Inc.’s CrashPlanPro service.

“I will probably be running at least two or three 72 TB devices in the data center to support this,” he said.

According to Harold, CrashPlanPro is highly automated. He also said the version he uses has the option of setting up his own private cloud within his network infrastructure.

“We did evaluations of various backup vendors—the ease of use and ease of deployment were both very important to us. CrashPlan provides that and also provides data deduplication, allowing the private cloud to be very efficient. We handle a lot of federally protected data so any solution needed to offer good security controls,” he said.

Another organization that has embraced cloud backup is Insight Health Corp., a company which handles large medical radiological images. Don Hankus, EVP and CIO at Insight Health, said using cloud backup began with the introduction of VMware. For Hankus, as virtualization began to provide benefits of consolidation, efficiency and resiliency, he began to consider other ways to make the most of existing infrastructure. That is when he decided to try BroadbandOne Inc.’s Host.net cloud backup service, which is built in part around DataCore Software Corp.’s SANsymphony storage virtualization.

“We are in the early stage of this proof-of-concept project, it will take us a few more months to see if we want to move further into this,” explained Hankus. Along the way “we will be monitoring and measuring various metrics around performance, reliability and security,” he said.

Ian Sanderson, VP of technology at life insurance firm LOGiQ3 Corp., said his company has two years of experience backing up to the cloud.

“When we started with cloud backup, we didn’t have the capital to build our own infrastructure, so I went looking for a solution that would handle laptops, desktops and mobile devices,” he said. As a result, he settled on a service from E-ternity Business Continuity Consultants, built around Asigra Inc.'s cloud backup software.

Sanderson said they have conducted two data recoveries since they began using cloud backup in 2009. He said those recoveries revealed one of the limitations of backup in the cloud: Attempting to hurry a restore across the internet only resulted in an increase in the number of errors. “Those recoveries were a bit slow, so in one instance we actually paid for a courier service [for transporting media] to get it done faster,” he said. 

For Sanderson, the key thing is that data is now regularly backed up for just about every machine, making it possible to recover needed data.

Recovery still a major concern for cloud backup users

However, the tricky aspects of recovery bother Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help, a technology service company in New York City that specializes in IT security, backups and data recovery. Silverman said the restoration process is the weakest aspect of backup in the cloud.

“It is a great solution for the company with small amounts of data,” he said.

He said in one instance, a busy restaurant had their server crash from a lighting strike. “Luckily, their restaurant database, menus, payroll, and business information were all stored in the cloud. [Unfortunately] all of their information took over three days to recover,” he explained.

Silverman said many businesses don’t realize that recovery can be so time-consuming. “The optimal solution is to use a network-attached storage [NAS] device onsite within the business to save files to. Then, the files may be backed up in the cloud from the NAS device for disaster recovery purposes,” he said. 

Another issue with cloud backup has been the integrity of the file recoveries, according to Silverman.

“Some of our small business clients have received garbled Word documents. This is caused by cloud services encrypting the documents in the cloud for security, but then not completely unencrypting the files upon recovery,” he said.

Marcus Collins, a senior analyst with Gartner Inc.’s Burton Group, said he has found limited interest in cloud backup among the enterprise customers he is in contact with.

“While the concept of the cloud is appealing, with some exceptions, most larger organizations are choosing to build that capability internally,” he said.

“They want to be in control,” he added.

About this author: Alan Earls is a frequent contributor to SearchDataBackup.

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