Cloud data protection: Archiving to reduce backup data increasingly important

Considering cloud data protection? Using archiving and backup together can offer cost and operational benefits.

Cloud backup, Storage-as-a-Service (SaaS), electronic vaulting, data vaulting -- there is no shortage of terms in the market associated with online backup. And there's no shortage of confusion about what role these products should play in a company's data protection plan. Finally, these terms are not used uniformly from vendor to vendor, so Vendor A's "cloud backup" product is likely to be quite different than Vendor B's.

"Theoretically you'd think 'vaulting' might imply an archiving product. Something searchable, definitely persistent, ideally would have multiple copies -- possibly on disk or maybe even tape," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst with the StorageIO Group.

However, that's not necessarily the case. "Terms evolve over time," said Jonathan Meltzer, senior project manager for server protection products at Iron Mountain Inc.. "If you look back maybe 10 or 15 years, vaulting meant you were shipping hardware offsite, either an appliance or disk or more likely tapes. The term electronic vaulting came along when they started sending data over the wire. "I'm not sure exactly when the term 'cloud' emerged, maybe the in the last five to ten years or less," he said. "But I think the same thing is happening there -- the same thing, but it's taken a different name."

"Being that our products are called EVault, I don't know that we ever try to specifically define what [e-vaulting] means," said David Allen, CTO of i365. "Our product can be deployed as software, as a cloud backup solution, or as a hybrid solution with recent data for fast RTO [recovery time objective] at the customer's site and data for longer retention stored in the cloud."

Allen also noted that data archiving to this point, has not been the main focus of the EVault product line. "We do have archiving products now," he said. "But, they are products that we will be evolving away from. Our intention is to offer email and file archiving, which will in time be integrated with our backup products, managed in the same way, but used for different purposes." He also said that users could expect to see new archiving products from i365 in the third quarter of 2010 that would ensure the immutability of archived data for compliance and offer search capability.

The fundamental difference between products comes down to whether they are designed for backup or archiving, regardless of what they are called. "Do you want to park data someplace?" said Schulz. "Or, are you parking data someplace for disaster recovery and you need quick restore?"

"Many Iron Mountain customers want to do both," said Meltzer. "They have their active data that they are using today and then data that's been sitting pretty much idle but [they] need to keep [it] for business or compliance reasons. We have products designed for backup and archiving, but I've noticed that many use backup products for both backup and archive."

He went on to note that isn't really ideal because of the different ways that data is stored in Virtual File Store, Iron Mountain's cloud archiving product and CloudRecovery, its cloud backup product. "For example, backup data is encrypted so it can't be searched. The only time you'd decrypt the data is when you were doing a restore," said Meltzer. "In an archive the data is searchable, so if you have to do e-discovery or something of that nature it's considerably easier." He also noted that Virtual File Store also ensures persistence of data for compliance reasons.

Cloud data protection considerations

When considering a cloud data protection service it is important to ask vendors a few key questions, according to Schulz. "Is there a cost difference [between the backup and archiving services]? If there is no cost difference, is there a service-level agreement [SLA] difference? Are there additional fees? Fees for partial restore, a full restore, encryption, search, etc."

"We have different SLAs for different services," said Allen. "For a pure cloud backup service, we can't really guarantee RTOs. There are too many factors out of our control. We can guarantee RTO with our disaster recovery service -- the speed that we can restore data via the shipment of a device. There is no standard SLA across the board. Our disaster recovery service, for example, has an inherent SLA and other services are negotiable." He also noted that pricing is per gigabyte and that there was a fee associated with shipping a device out to a customer for restores.

Using archiving as a part of a data backup strategy is often cited as a way to increase in-house backup efficiency, but given the challenges and potential costs associated with restores from the cloud, it is an even greater consideration. Meltzer said that Iron Mountain encourages its customers to figure out how much inactive data they have that can be archived. "In general, you'll find that cloud backup products are more expensive than archiving products," he said. "If you use archiving to reduce the amount of data you have to backup, there's going to be a smaller backup window and it will improve restore times."

Since separating backups and archives can have potential cost savings as well as operational benefits, services that offer integrated backup and archiving products are certainly worth considering if you are in the market for cloud backup. However, it's important to remember that the name of the product alone might not be enough to determine what kind of services they offer.

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