Cloud backup versus cloud storage comparison

Cloud hype has blurred the cloud storage and cloud backup, recovery and restore line. This tip will offer a cloud BURR versus cloud storage comparison.

Cloud hype has blurred the lines between cloud storage and cloud backup, recovery, and restore (cloud BURR). It's even blurred the lines between cloud storage and storage in the cloud, as well as "sync and share." Many providers like it that way because it gives them a broader appeal in capturing potential customers. But clouding up cloud definitions confuses the market, slows down adoption, and ultimately taints the market for everyone.

This tip will offer a cloud BURR versus cloud storage comparison.

Defining cloud storage

Cloud storage is often, and in many cases deliberately, confused with storage in the cloud. The differences, though, are stark.

Storage in the cloud is when users and/or applications access a cloud application across the public Internet or VPN. The cloud application is co-located with local storage, which can be any kind of storage -- DAS, SAN, NAS, or object. The cloud application masks that storage from the user.

Cloud storage, on the other hand, is when users and/or applications access the cloud storage directly across the Internet or VPN via Web services APIs. Web services APIs are variations of the REST or SOAP interface that will soon be standardized as CDMI (Cloud Data Management Interface). Although some will trivialize the differences between cloud storage and storage in the cloud, they are far from trivial. Cloud storage is a different kind of storage than traditional SAN or file storage. Cloud storage delivers functionality and capabilities specifically designed to solve highly demanding storage problems as passive data rapidly scales such as:

  • Managing massive amounts of data (up to multiple exabytes) and millions or billions of files or objects in a single storage container.
  • Scaling access and performance that grows linearly with capacity.
  • Making stored data on-demand mobile to geographically distributed locations.
  • Ensuring stored data is highly resilient and self-healing, with enduring persistence for years.
  • Enabling multiple tenants privately and securely.
  • Empowering user self-service and policy based capacity/performance on-demand.
  • Changing the way storage is bought and paid for by charging only for the actual storage utilized in arrears vs. charging upfront for all of the storage system's unused raw storage.
  • Ending disruptive tech refresh and data migration.

Traditional storage systems can solve some of these problems if the amount of data is within its usable capacity, performance and object limits, but few can do even that much. It doesn't take many customers to quickly consume dozens of PBs, billions of objects, and double-digit GBps throughput. Cloud storage capabilities make it an excellent choice for data archiving and as a target for backups. This is why confusion exists in cloud backup versus cloud storage comparisons.

Defining cloud backup recovery and restore -- aka Cloud BURR

Cloud storage is a cloud-based target storage service from a managed service provider (MSP). It is used in lieu of customers implementing, operating, managing, housing, powering and cooling their own target storage for passive data. This can sometimes be confusing because some backup software can write or backup directly to cloud storage. It can also be recovered and restored from that cloud storage. But the cloud storage service provider is not a cloud BURR service provider. Their expertise is different, and will not provide backup, recovery or restore services. They will not be much help in the recovery of data or disaster recovery. They will not provide consultations on the best ways to stay in backup compliance. These are two distinct and separate types of services.

Cloud BURR is a cloud-based application. Data is backed up and kept both locally and in the cloud, where the cloud is one or more private data centers or virtual data centers (IaaS vendors). The local backups store the most recent backup data. The cloud backups store all the data. Local backups are for recovering data from the most recent backups quickly and efficiently. The backups stored in the cloud are for recovering data from less recent backups (or most recent for those sites without local backup storage), disaster recovery scenarios or for recovering data to a completely different site.

Cloud BURR stores data on storage in the cloud. Some cloud BURR service providers actually utilize true cloud storage as their backup storage repository. Most do not. Regardless, cloud BURR is the entire package of backup software, backup services, appliances, storage, offsite, recovery and restore services, and DR. Cloud BURR is essentially outsourced backup, recovery and restore services from an MSP.

As a result, the cost of cloud BURR (typically priced at X dollars per gigabyte per month) appears to be more expensive than cloud storage, priced typically an order of magnitude less per GB per mo. Unfortunately, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. To make the comparisons equivalent, cloud storage must add back in the cost of backup software, the cost of storage hardware, the cost of training personnel to manage the backup process, and the cost of the personnel themselves. In those circumstances, if backup is the primary and, in reality, only justifiable reason for putting data in the cloud, then cloud BURR will have a lower TCO, deliver better results and is the better choice.

When backup is just one of several reasons for storing data in the cloud (other reasons would include archiving, content distribution, workflow sharing, email archiving, distributed data access, sync and share, and the like) then cloud storage is the better choice. Or if outsourcing backup is not an option, then cloud storage is the better choice.

What is "sync and share"?

Sync and share is a cloud application that can use any kind of storage, including cloud storage. Even though many sync-and-share services purport themselves to be cloud storage and cloud BURR, they are neither. In fact, many of their terms and agreements (which most people don't bother to read) specifically state not to use the sync-and-share service for backup.

Essentially, sync-and-share services are a replacement service for FTP and NAS shares. It requires installation of client software on every device that will be syncing and sharing. The software allows files to be shared between multiple authorized devices, users, partners, clients and more, while maintaining versioning for a short period of time. But it only maintains a copy of data that the user manually puts into the shared folder. It is not a service that automatically performs all backups in addition to delivering recovery and restores assistance.

Sync and share is a useful cloud application that is neither cloud storage nor cloud BURR.

About the author: Marc Staimer is the founder, senior analyst and CDS of Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, Ore, a consulting practice of 14 years that focuses on strategic planning, product development and market development. With over 32 years of marketing, sales and business experience in infrastructure, storage, server, software and virtualization, Marc is considered one of the industry's leading experts. He can be reached at

This was last published in August 2012

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