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Cloud backup vs. local (traditional) backup: advantages, disadvantages

Cloud backup vs. traditional backup is an important discussion. While the cloud backup market is soaring, traditional backup players may also have much to offer your organization.

Cloud backup has made it possible for organizations of any size to improve their data protection. At the same time, local backup still has its place in the storage world.

In the cloud backup vs. local backup debate, both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Often, the decision of using one or the other -- or both -- comes down to an organization's specific needs.

What is cloud backup?

Cloud backup involves copying data over a network to an off-site server, typically hosted by a service provider. The cloud backup vendor charges the customer based on elements such as capacity, bandwidth, number of users and egress.

The 3-2-1 rule of backup advises organizations to have three copies of data, on two different media, with one of the storage locations off-site. Cloud backup can play a helpful role in meeting those requirements, as the data is off site and counts as another storage medium beyond traditional disk-based hardware.

Cloud data backup options include backing up directly to a public cloud, such as AWS or Microsoft Azure, or backing up to a service provider's private cloud. The newer cloud-to-cloud backup involves backing up data that originates in the cloud -- in SaaS applications such as Salesforce and Office 365 -- to another cloud. Using multiple clouds is another recent cloud computing trend, and organizations need backup for that type of platform as well.

An organization can move to a cloud backup approach by choosing cloud seeding. This traditional-cloud crossover is a process by which the organization uploads a full backup to a local storage device that is then sent to the cloud provider for uploading. An organization can instead choose to start backing up directly to the cloud. But depending on the amount of data, this process could take a long time over a network.

Image of 3-2-1 backup strategy
The 3-2-1 backup strategy helps to provide more comprehensive data protection.

Hybrid cloud backup marks another crossover between the use of traditional backup and the cloud. As an example, a NAS appliance at the primary site acts as a local backup target and syncs backed up files to the cloud. In this case, the organization could use the NAS appliance for a quick restore when needed, or use the cloud backup in the event that the primary data center is down.

What is local/traditional backup?

Local backup, sometimes referred to as traditional backup, is a longstanding form of backing up data at an organization's primary site. Organizations typically use disk-based hardware for this backup. Backup software manages the copying of data to the hardware. Sometimes that software is integrated with the hardware, or it runs separately. Data reduction features, such as deduplication, decrease the amount of data backed up on the disk.

Tape was the more common traditional backup medium before disk took over in the early 2000s. In the tape backup process, an organization moves data to a tape cartridge that resides in a library. Organizations still use tape today, typically for immutable, offline protection against ransomware and other cyberattacks, or for long-term archiving. The latest version of LTO-8 offers 30 TB compressed capacity per cartridge. Tape is another storage device option that helps fulfill that 3-2-1 rule of data backup.

Many organizations, especially enterprises, have a mix of cloud and local backup.

Another option for local backup is the external hard drive or thumb drive. These devices are typically used by smaller businesses because they are a more basic form of backup that involves simply moving data to the drive. Ideally, this local backup would be just one piece of an organization's backup strategy.

A new twist to the cloud backup vs. local backup story involves backing up SaaS data to a local device. In this case, data originating in the cloud -- such as Office 365 emails -- is backed up to local storage.

A comparison of cloud backup and local backup

Cloud-based workloads have seen a huge surge in popularity. Not only are established vendors adding more cloud capabilities, but new cloud storage and backup vendors are appearing. The simplicity and scale of cloud computing can provide a backup solution for organizations that need protection.

However, local backup providers are not sitting still. Disk speeds continue to get faster and tape storage capacities are growing. In addition, if an organization has used local backup for a long time, it may be a burden to move to the cloud. IT and executives should ask several questions about such a move, including whether the move makes sense operationally and financially, and whether they should consider a partial migration and keep some local backup.

Many organizations, especially enterprises, have a mix of cloud and local backup. Both have pros and cons. For example, local backup of files may be quicker for recovery purposes, but the cloud provides that off-site location in the event of a primary data center disaster. Local backup typically requires more in-house management and staff time.

Chart of cloud backup and local backup considerations
It's important to consider the many elements of cloud backup vs. local backup for your organization's data protection.

Advantages and disadvantages of cloud backup

Overall, cloud backup provides an additional layer of protection without much of a burden on staff. While cloud backup is a popular mode of data protection with many advantages, pay attention to the disadvantages to make sure your organization is covered. Some areas of advantage can be considered disadvantageous in different situations.

The advantages of cloud backup include the following:

  • Low entry costs. Backing up to the cloud, especially in the beginning, is a cheap form of data protection. While local backup storage devices could run in the thousands of dollars, the cost in money and time to set up a cloud backup account is minimal. Cloud backup is especially attractive to an organization that doesn't have the funds or resources for a separate disaster recovery site.
  • Wide-ranging accessibility. A cloud backup is accessible from any internet-connected device, which is especially handy when an organization's primary site is down. Accessing a small amount of data is a quick process.
  • An array of security features. Cloud backup products offer a range of features to keep data safe.
  • Easy scalability. Cloud storage is essentially unlimited. Organizations can add cloud backup capacity with just a couple of clicks. In contrast, local backup requires acquiring and setting up another physical piece of hardware.
  • Easy management. Cloud backup management generally takes less time and effort than local data backup, depending on the organizations' needs and requests. Organizations just need to make sure they are OK with leaving management in the hands of a service provider.
  • Simple disaster recovery. If there's a failure or data loss event at a primary site, organizations can easily fail over to cloud-based disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS).This option provides disaster recovery to businesses that couldn't previously afford it.

Cloud backup's potential downsides include:

  • Cost accumulations. While a small amount of data is cheap, a lot of data stored over a long period of time steadily increases costs. It's critical to keep a close eye on cloud backup expenses.
  • Latency. The cloud may have latency, especially if many users are trying to access the same data or cloud or if an organization is trying to get a large volume of data out of the cloud. This is where a retention policy becomes key -- when backed up data keeps growing, it can become hard to keep a handle on it all, which can delay recovery time.
  • Security issues. Some organizations are still worried about the safety of keeping data in the cloud. As a result, it's important to confirm that a cloud backup product has the necessary security elements, such as end-to-end encryption. In addition, just because a backup is in the cloud doesn't mean it's safe from cyberattacks, so be wary of a false sense of security.
  • Slow, costly restores. While DRaaS is fast and efficient, actually restoring data out of the cloud can be a time-consuming and costly process, especially when it involves large volumes.

Advantages and disadvantages of local backup/traditional backup

Organizations need to consider their data protection needs when comparing cloud and local backup options.The benefits of local backup include the following:

  • On-site accessibility. It doesn't get much more accessible than having the backup data at your primary site. Disk-based backups in particular are typically continuous, throughout the day, so a user can go back to a specific point in time.
  • Speed. On-site disk is fast for backup and recovery operations.
  • Security control. An organization has more control over local backup than data that's in the hands of a cloud provider.

The drawbacks of local backup are:

  • High initial cost. In comparing cloud backup vs. local backup, the expense of on-site hardware is generally far more than preparing for a cloud-based platform. Disks are expensive, so adding them can make a significant dent in the budget. In addition, the lifespan and durability of disk requires replacement from time to time.
  • Scalability difficulties. With local backup, the process of adding space is more labor-intensive because the organization needs to acquire the additional storage and install it. Physically storing more data backups is more of a burden than just adding storage space in the cloud.
  • High maintenance. Local backup requires dedicated staff to maintain and manage it. When an organization uses cloud computing, IT staff is freer to focus on other important tasks besides backup maintenance.
  • Cybersecurity issues. If a cyberattack hits the primary data center, an organization should use an off-site backup -- whether it be on tape or in the cloud -- to make sure the restore is clean.
  • Disaster recovery issues. If there's a disaster at the primary site, a local backup will not be helpful. However, if your organization has moved tapes off site, those backups are valuable for disaster recovery.

Cloud backup vs. local backup: Which should you choose?

When your organization analyzes cloud backup vs. traditional backup, it should take into account all these positives and negatives and address the specific needs of the business.

Cloud backup clearly continues to gain traction in the market, and there are many options for businesses of any size. There are numerous reported cases of businesses ditching their legacy data backup platforms for a cloud-based product.

Though not to the extent of cloud backup products, local backup options are evolving as well. If you need a certain size of hardware for your data center, you can probably find it.

In many cases, and if the budget and resources are adequate, a hybrid backup approach is appropriate. This combination of cloud and local backup provides strong data protection. Recalling the 3-2-1 rule of backup, you never want to rely on one set of backups for recovery. What if you're in a disaster situation or have experienced data loss and your one backup is compromised?

Make sure you carefully assess your organization's backup and recovery needs, talk to other users of potential products, and make a careful, informed decision about your backup platform. The survival of your business could depend on it.

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