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Top data backup plan tips of 2015 emphasize cloud, mobile

It was another big year in backup for the cloud, but tape held strong as well. The following tips featuring these elements and more will help your organization's data backup plan.

Mobile devices and the cloud continue to be increasingly strong players in the data market, and our top data backup plan tips for 2015 showcase these elements. But don't forget about tape -- while it's been written off before, tape is still an important piece of backup strategy.

The following tips from our experts can help your organization form a well-rounded data backup plan.

Back up your mobile device

While good products exist to protect data on mobile devices, our recent research shows that many organizations aren't using them. This approach can be dangerous. For example, if users copy files to their mobile device to work offline, that data is not being protected. And mobile devices are easily lost or stolen.

Today's data protection products offer security features such as remote lock or wipe. Some can perform actual backups of data on mobile devices, but most use file synchronization as a form of data protection. While this isn't the same as backup, it ensures that changes to data made on mobile devices are synchronized with on-premises servers, where they are then backed up using traditional methods.

According to IT consultant Brien Posey, there are three key factors in selecting the right product for your organization's mobile data backup plan.

  1. The mobile data backup product you choose needs to be designed for businesses, not consumers
  2. Compatibility
  3. Automatic data synchronization

When implementing a mobile backup product, focus on good design and control.

Be careful when backing up in the cloud

George Crump, president and founder of Storage Switzerland LLC, noted that backup was the first broad use case for cloud storage. Now, many cloud backup providers offer protection of physical and virtual servers. Cloud backup is a crowded market, with vendors constantly releasing new software and services.

Though there is a lot to like about cloud backup, Crump said, there are a few important downsides to consider. One is security -- it is important that the cloud backup product provides complete end-to-end encryption. Cost can also be an issue over time. While cloud-based backup products offer low upfront costs, when the monthly or quarterly costs are multiplied out over a period of years, the products can actually be more expensive than traditional backup.

Also be careful when backing up from the cloud

Posey advised caution when backing up data created in the cloud. Software as a service (SaaS) providers who create a secondary copy of data in the same cloud do not protect against cloud-level failure, he said.

In this case, Posey suggested on-premises backup to the local data center or cloud-to-cloud backup to a different cloud. But cost plays a big part in this decision. For example, backing up data to another cloud creates storage and bandwidth costs. And backing up to a local data center will cost an organization for storage, maintenance, power and cooling, and possibly for WAN bandwidth.

The approach to this data backup plan should also focus on an organization's needs. Organizations may like that the backup to a local data center is so accessible. Other organizations may prefer not to use any of their own WAN bandwidth, so cloud-to-cloud backup would serve them better.

Streamline your backup and DR

Today, disaster recovery is being integrated directly into the data backup plan process.

Today, disaster recovery (DR) is being integrated directly into the data backup plan process, according to Crump. Instead of being a separate function requiring separate management, DR is becoming a feature of the backup product, he said.

Some modern data backup software products can manage data replication. For example, these products can initiate a storage array-based snapshot, back up the snapshot locally and instruct the storage system's replication software to replicate that snapshot to the remote location, Crump said. Replication is critical because it allows you to establish a working dataset on a second array inside a primary datacenter or at a DR site.

Cloud backup is another option to ease data backup and DR integration, Crump said. A cloud backup fulfills the first basic step of DR -- getting data to a secondary site. Cloud backup is most appealing to businesses that don't have an "IT quality" secondary location -- for those organizations, Crump said, the cloud provider is that location.

The rise of Docker and how to back up containers

Docker container storage saw a surge in 2015, such as in EMC's introduction of software plug-ins to enable shared storage with portable Docker containers.

According to Posey, Docker container data backup varies from VM backup because it uses different architecture. Instead of depending on virtual hard disks, Docker uses a layered approach.

Posey advises that the best way to alleviate the challenges of backing up Docker container data is to use a Docker-aware backup application or to write a script.

Docker can be backed up without the need for any specialized software, Posey said. The company's website explains how to back up a Docker container.

Marc Staimer, founder and senior analyst at Dragon Slayer Consulting, said that Docker data container protection is not as mature or sophisticated today as hypervisor VM data protection. So, Docker container protection can be a bit tough, but there are several methods available to accomplish it: Docker built-in backup and recovery; traditional, file-based backup and recovery; storage snapshots; and agentless cloud-based backup and recovery.

Don't forget about tape

The rumors of the death of tape are greatly exaggerated, said Jason Buffington, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. A recent Enterprise Strategy Group research report found that tape is still in use in 56% of organizations. For truly long-term retention, Buffington said tape is still preferable and should continue to be moving forward.

IT teams should take a hybrid approach to on-site and off-site protection that uses disk, cloud and tape in almost every scenario of a data protection plan, Buffington said.

Nobody likes to do a backup, particularly a tape backup, or to spend time verifying the restorability of the data, said Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International. However, it is the only way to be certain that your data has durability and integrity, and that it's adequately protected, Toigo said.

To guarantee recovery from a disaster, you need a backup -- preferably on tape -- that has been tested and found to be restorable. With tape in your data backup plan, Toigo said, you always have the exit strategy.

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