Cloud backup solutions poised for increased adoption

An MSP explosion signals potential increase in adoption of cloud backup solutions to replace on-site backup or assist with backup of remote offices and disconnected laptops.

Perhaps the most prominent trend this year in outsourced backup was the explosion in the number of managed service providers (MSPs) promoting cloud backup solutions or online backup services.

Lauren Whitehouse, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, recalled tracking approximately 250 MSPs two years ago. Today, cloud backup MSPs number in the thousands, from major vendors to regional providers, she noted.

"There's a lot more evangelism going on," Whitehouse said. "People are demonstrating cost models that show benefits for certain profiles of companies. People are feeling more secure in sending data out into the cloud. So, all the things are lining up for it to become more adopted in the coming years."

In the meantime, cloud backup adoption has been mixed, although it is still a relatively new technology. A Storage magazine Storage Purchasing Intentions survey done this fall showed that 66% of the 244 storage professionals involved in the purchase of backup and disaster recovery products weren't using cloud backup solutions or outsourced backup. Those who did used them for email, database applications, user files and at remote sites.

TheInfoPro Inc.'s second-quarter survey of 147 IT pros from Fortune 1000 companies showed that 1% use external cloud storage of any type, 5% are in the pilot/evaluation stage or have cloud storage in their near-term plans, and a mere 6% have cloud storage in their long-term plans.

But industry analysts predict that adoption will pick up during the coming year, both among small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that might replace their on-premise data backup technology and with enterprises that might consider the cloud to back up data in remote offices or in laptops and PCs.


>> Cloud backup as a solution for laptop backup
>> Some users wary of cloud backup solutions
>> New improvements from cloud backup vendors
>> Cloud backup and smaller businesses



Bill Wheeler, a Libertyville, Ill.-based Windows operations manager at VW Credit Inc. (VCI), a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America Inc., said he's evaluating a combination of Microsoft Corp.'s System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2010 and Iron Mountain Inc.'s online backup service for laptops that are frequently disconnected from the network and miss out on the nightly backup cycle.

"Cloud would help because we don't have to worry about [users] authenticating to the corporate network, and they can go straight to the Internet" for their backups, he said.

But, Wheeler added that the laptop backup problem is the only one he can envision addressing through a cloud backup service. "We're a financial organization, so any time you say financial and cloud in the same breath, people get nervous," he said.

Another trend that could gain more traction among mid- to large-sized enterprises is a "disk-to-disk-to-cloud" model that could help them to avoid the expense and potential security exposure of transporting physical tapes off-site, said Dave Russell, a research vice president at Gartner Inc.

"If I'm doing disk-to-disk-to-tape, backing up to disk first and then writing the physical tape, maybe I stop that physical tape, and that's what I outsource," Russell said.

The disk-to-disk-to-cloud approach already is proving more popular with enterprise IT shops than the classic Sofware-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, in which a user has no on-premise software and all of the data goes directly to the cloud, noted Rachel Dines, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.


Still, many enterprise users remain skittish about cloud backup solutions. Jason Leong, vice president of network operations at AMB Property Corp. in San Francisco, said he has yet to find the right fit for it.

"The challenge comes when you have to restore the data," Leong said. "Your cloud storage provider needs to be able to coordinate a means to restore your data at another site and deliver that data quickly. But, with the SLAs [service-level agreements] that we have to commit to for our recovery times, it's prohibitive to just push your data off-site and expect it to be available for recovery in as short a time as necessary."

Greg Wade, a network engineer with the Jackson County, Mich., Intermediate School District, said the school system has too much data to try to depend on the cloud. "In my opinion, cloud backup is for smaller companies or individuals. I'm not ruling it out, but I can't imagine trying to restore a 2.3 GB file over the Internet," Wade said.


Dines said that cloud backup vendors are putting more effort into improving the speed and the level of granularity with which customers can recover data, by optimizing bandwidth and taking advantage of technologies such as data deduplication. Some are even offering the capability to do recovery in the cloud, she added.

"The major innovation that we saw this past year was a few of the vendors starting to come out with the ability to actually run backups in the cloud," Dines said. "So, you can not only back up your data to the cloud, but also if you have a full-site failure and you can't recover to your local site, you can actually run your infrastructure in the cloud from your backup."

Increasing numbers of service providers also offer on-premise appliances or servers, which can replicate to the cloud. Such cloud gateway or "cloud on-ramp devices" can simplify administration and help to ease resistance to cloud backup, said Randy Kerns, a senior strategist at the Evaluator Group.

"Almost every one of the backup software providers is providing a mechanism for their systems to have a cloud aspect," Kerns added.

For instance, cloud backup service provider CoreVault Inc. installed backup software from Asigra Inc. on a dedicated server located at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The museum's on-site Asigra server provides a local backup copy not only for an added layer of redundancy but also for potentially faster restores via the local network, rather than an Internet-based restore from CoreVault.

Data collection, deduplication, compression and encryption all take place on the local server. After the local backup completes, the Asigra software transmits the data to both of CoreVault's private data centers over a T1 line. The software backs up only changes to files, reducing the demands on the network bandwidth.

"It runs so smoothly, I don't ever think about it," said Susan Adams, the assistant director of development at the museum, which safeguards important historical records and images. The museum began using the CoreVault service in 2007, and in 2009, became one of its first customers to try a tiered storage offering, which featured different pricing for online, near-line or offline storage.

Adams said the museum decided to outsource backup because it had grown weary of backups aborting or encountering errors overnight, forcing its limited IT staff to spend time addressing the problem during the day. Plus, the redundancy afforded by the CoreVault-Asigra setup was a major improvement over the IT manager rotating tapes out of her home, Adams added.


Cloud backup solutions can prove ideal for small companies with limited IT resources. Shining Tree Inc., a Rochester, N.Y.-based loan servicing company has 12 employees and just one in-house IT staffer, Judy Bayer. The company had done its own backups, using Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec and tapes purchased from Dell Inc.

But, as capacity needs increased, so did the company's desire for greater reliability and ease of use. Shining Tree recently entered into a contract with Iron Mountain's LiveVault cloud backup service at $130 per month, Bayer said.

The greatest benefit has been the ease and speed with which Bayer can restore a file in the event that one of her colleagues loses one. In the past, the company had to bring in an IT person to do the restoration. With Iron Mountain, Bayer said she's able to recall a file in less than a minute through a Web interface.

Bayer acknowledged that security is always concern with cloud backup, but she said, "There's so much that goes over the Internet now anyway that we felt comfortable with Iron Mountain's capabilities to protect our data."

Shining Tree continues to use Backup Exec for a secondary backup and sends nightly backup tapes and a final weekly backup tape off-site to a local data storage company. But, Bayer said the company expects to discontinue that practice because the tapes can no longer hold all of the company's data.

Hurricane Katrina instilled the need for off-site backup at the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, S.C. The private school first considered shipping tapes off campus but instead opted to send 100 GB of its most critical data to EMC Corp.'s MozyPro online backup service. DuBose Egleston, the head of the school, said he was satisfied with the encryption and user access controls, and Mozy was far cheaper, at 50 cents per gig per month, than other options he evaluated.

"It has given us quite a bit of piece of mind for very little cost," said Egleston. "In the few instances we've had to use it to recover things, it's been very effortless."

Porter-Gaud continues to do local backups using Symantec software and independent disk-based hardware. But, Egleston said the school may consider using only the online backup service at some point in the future because of the costs for software licenses and the time required for system maintenance.

"As we get more and more comfortable with it, we'll probably move more and more over to the remote backup mainly because of cost and ease of use," Egleston said. "As the remote backup solutions become cheaper and faster, I think there will be less of a need, at least in our school industry, for elaborate local backup solutions."

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