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Experts detail cloud backup market evolution, where it's headed

As part of TechTarget's 20th anniversary, we're taking a look at some of the top trends and technologies in IT over those years. Here, experts discuss the newer cloud backup trend.

The cloud backup market has changed significantly and grown dramatically in just the last five years.

With most enterprises now using the cloud for at least some backup, vendors have continued to add features to their products, such as security elements to help combat ransomware. The years ahead should also see change, as cloud backup vendors continue to invest in more security and data management features.

Another major trend in the last couple of years is the emergence of hybrid cloud and multi-cloud systems. As it's important not to have all your data eggs in one basket, organizations are using a combination of cloud and on-premises systems. They're also using more than one cloud for storage and backup.

Incorporating cloud backup into an overall data protection plan can improve recovery times -- a key factor as tolerance for downtime keeps dropping.

However, there are a few key holdups to going off premises, noted Krista Macomber, senior analyst at Evaluator Group. According to Evaluator Group's "Trends in Enterprise Data Protection" report published earlier this year, security of data in the cloud, regulatory restrictions and loss of control were the top inhibitors for respondents who do not use the public cloud in their data protection strategy. In addition, about 25% said that costs of using the cloud are too high and a similar number said that the cost is too unpredictable.

In the Q&A that follows, several experts in the field detail how the cloud backup market has developed and what businesses can expect in the years to come. And stay tuned for part two of this story, which will detail what some of the top cloud backup providers think about the past, present and future of the market.

How has cloud backup evolved in the last five years?

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG): ESG research shows that cloud data protection has hit the stratosphere: Cloud as a backup more than doubled between 2016 and 2019, and backup as a service and disaster recovery as a service have also seen significant increases in adoption.

ESG chart of cloud backup and DR use
The use of cloud for backup and disaster recovery has increased substantially in the last three years.

End users also report that cloud has had a positive impact on their data protection strategy.

Macomber, Evaluator Group: The big evolutions I've seen are the shift to a tiered multi-cloud strategy, and the beginnings of a shift away from traditional backup practices to limit downtime and data loss.

There's no doubt that the public cloud is here to stay as a component of disaster recovery, including backup. But one cloud storage service doesn't meet all needs, and it often makes more sense to keep data on premises. We really see this when we look at the need to cut costs, which has always been a critical priority in the backup space.

The cloud is also helping companies to meet requirements for recoverability that are emerging as data becomes more business-critical, and as we move into a period of heavy regulation around data availability and retention.

What are the top vendor features in the current cloud backup market?

Bertrand, ESG: It varies by type of topology that users select. Based on our research, top features for backup as a service are speed of recovery, ability to recover and fail over in the cloud, security and encryption, having flexible recovery options and the ability to do on-premises recovery prior to going to the cloud.

Headshot of analyst Christophe BertrandChristophe Bertrand

For backup target topologies, the focus is placed on functionalities that allow for cost-effectiveness and scalability, followed by the ability to fail over or recover in the cloud.

There is, however, a big disconnect for SaaS data protection. SaaS applications like Office 365 and Salesforce need to be backed up, yet we seem to see confusion for many end users who think it is automatic. It isn't. It's a huge exposure today.

ESG chart of SaaS backup position
One issue in the data protection market is that users don't fully understand the need for backup of SaaS data.
Headshot of expert Brien PoseyBrien Posey

Brien Posey, IT expert and Microsoft MVP: The big feature right now is location agnostics. Backup vendors are finally making products that do not care where your data is or where you want to back it up. The interface works the same way, regardless of location.

Virtual machine (VM) translations for disaster recovery (DR) are also big. An on-premises VMware VM, for example, might be automatically converted into an Azure VM by the backup and DR software.

Macomber, Evaluator Group: The ability to tier data on a policy-driven basis is important when we think about meeting requirements in areas like compliance and performance. As we move into the multi-cloud world that spans core and edge data centers and various cloud services, this can really move the needle because storage managers just can't keep up.

Headshot of analyst Steven HillSteven Hill

Steven Hill, senior analyst, 451 Research: There are a number of features that are becoming table-stakes for cloud backup. In no particular order, I'd say that backup automation, unified data management, encryption in flight and at rest, and self-service recovery capabilities are usually key expectations.

There's also an increasingly critical need for the ability to protect against ransomware and other malicious activities; both internal and external. These types of attacks are becoming more common and destructive, and the solution requires a combination of security and data protection that can evolve along with future variants of this technological plague.

There's also a growing focus on protecting SaaS data from applications like Office 365, Google Docs, Salesforce and file-sharing platforms, so many of the leading data protection vendors are now looking to cover that market as well.

Where are we in the cloud backup story -- is it at the height of its popularity?

Cloud data protection has hit the stratosphere.
Christophe BertrandSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Bertrand, ESG: I believe that we are only at the beginning, and that there is still plenty of runway for vendors to develop capabilities akin to what is available on premises. This is where the infrastructure will be truly hybrid. This being said, if all that vendors do is great backup or business continuity and disaster recovery on premises and in the cloud, it will not be enough long term.

Posey: We may very well be at the height of its popularity. It could be that it becomes totally utilitarian after this.

Macomber, Evaluator Group: I think we'll see interest in cloud backup continue to grow. Although nearly every respondent in our study reported using backups as a component of their disaster recovery strategy, only 10% of respondents indicated that they are currently using backup as a service. Slightly more said they are using disaster recovery as a service at 11%, and substantially more said they are using cloud tiering or hybrid cloud strategy at 23%. You could argue that these are all interrelated, but we believe that customers view backup as a discrete function because few respondents selected more than one. We followed on to ask about respondents' plans to use "as a service" offerings over the next 24 months, and more than 40% said they have backup as a service in their plans, though -- so we should see increased adoption.

Beyond cost and control barriers, the market still needs further education on why data that lives in the cloud and SaaS apps need to be protected. We see a lingering assumption in the market that the service provider is responsible for protecting the customer's data, but the reality is that that responsibility still lies with the customer. Service providers are typically only responsible for the availability of their service.

Hill, 451 Research: When you think about it, the public cloud offers nearly every characteristic needed for the ideal backup target: nearline internet-based availability, geographical separation, highly resilient infrastructure, multiple tiering options and nearly limitless, on-demand scalability. That, in and of itself, makes cloud-based backup an excellent option for continued growth over traditional backup; and as multi-cloud adoption continues to grow, there will be an increasing need for protecting data and workloads between different cloud platforms.

The future of business IT is shaping up to be hybrid, and the need for multiple copies of critical business data in multiple locations will be best practice for the foreseeable future. The cloud is shaping up to be the ideal host for data protection for the long term.

What do you expect in the cloud backup market in the next five years?

Bertrand, ESG: The key will be to move to the next stage -- data intelligence or intelligent data management -- so that this backup data can be reused. It's starting to happen and I expect that this is the true evolution of backup and recovery, one in which cloud will play a predominant role. Automation will also play a significant role moving forward.

Macomber, Evaluator Group: I expect to see more usage of telemetry data analytics and artificial intelligence to make backup more self-driving and more predictive in a multi-cloud context. I also anticipate that we'll continue to see tools built out that provide better cost visibility and control over multi-cloud environments.

Hill, 451 Research: I think we're already seeing the hybrid cloud enabling the evolution of backup. In the past, backups were a relatively passive process. ... Today, more and more companies are looking to gain ongoing value from their legacy data, as well as the ability to understand and automate the governance of that data based on something more than the last time it was accessed.

The cloud offers multiple tiers of object storage that's ideally suited for longer-term data management. Now that unstructured data makes up the majority of business data, the initial backup step is often the best place to begin collecting the object metadata that can be used to identify and manage that data over time. The object storage that's ubiquitous in every cloud provides a target for backup data that cloud backup vendors are increasingly using as a host for data protection. It offers efficient scalability, granular management and the economy of multiple tiers of storage that offer continued access, while reducing the cost and management of longer-term data retention.

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