Tech Talk: W. Curtis Preston on data growth, cloud backups

As the amount of data generated by organizations grows, so too does the need for procedures and infrastructure robust enough to back it up. In this interview with SearchDataBackup news and features writer Todd Erickson, backup expert W. Curtis Preston, founder of Truth in IT and, discusses data growth, whether cloud backups are enterprise-ready, due-diligence steps you can take to be sure a cloud backup service is right for your organization, and more.

We hear a lot about exponential data growth these days, especially when it comes to unstructured data. What new technologies and techniques are administrators using to complete data backups, given that they have so much more data but the same backup windows?

Curtis Preston: There are environments where the amount of data has grown to the point where certainly anything that would fall into the traditional backup category just doesn't work. So people are starting to adopt things like CDP and near-CDP to a greater degree than they did. These aren't new anymore. They've been around for more than a decade, both of them. But people are starting to adopt them so the adoption of those is new. Then the other, I would say, is not really a backup technology, but more a storage technology. That is people that have gone to the point where they say, 'This is just too big.'

People are creating petabytes of data in a day -- it's now possible to do that. When we think about media and entertainment, say you've got 15 HD cameras rolling, you're going to generate a half a petabyte in a day.

Self-repairing object storage is dealing with that kind of data creation, as long as the storage system can handle both accidental file deletion and historical repair files. Too many of the object systems focus solely on the media failure and not on the accidental deletion or corruption because if you're not handling that, then you can't get rid of backup. But I think if you handle both of those, you can start having a potential discussion to potentially replace what we think of as backup with some intelligent storage device.

The cloud continues to be a big IT buzzword. Have cloud services matured to the point where organizations can trust them in production environments?

Preston: I'd say absolutely. Not unequivocally, but definitely, there are cloud services that both can be trusted and are being trusted in enterprise environments. It started in the consumer space that has expanded into the data center space. In terms of being trusted, I'd say absolutely. 'Trusted' in the backup world has a two-faceted definition. One being the trust ... can I trust this service to reliably restore my data in [in case data needs to be restored]? And the other is trust from the element of security. I think it's the latter where some of them still have room to grow. Most of them have a good answer for the first question.

People need to understand that over a T1, it takes a month to restore a terabyte. That's assuming you have entire control over that T1. So you've got to have a solution for that. You can't back up an enterprise that has 10 terabytes of data and be okay with a year-long restore of your important data. So you've got to have something like local; you can have local hardware and have a cloud service.

What are the key considerations administrators should consider before adding cloud services to their backup strategies?

Preston: I think the very first thing to look at is the company itself because of the old phrase on the Internet: 'No one knows if you're a dog.' On the Internet, no one knows if you're two guys on a computer in a garage. Some companies are better at the marketing and advertising. Other companies are better at the technology, and you've never heard of them.

So you want to find a company, not just a company that you've heard of. There are some companies that you've heard of because they advertise everywhere. There's other companies that maybe you haven't heard of as well. I think we as consumers tend to say, 'Well, I've heard of this one.' That's just because they've spent more on advertising. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're a better company. And it doesn't necessarily mean that they're making more money than the other guy. They're just investing more in advertising. You need to get beyond the ads, and you need to look at the financial viability of the company.

Use search engines to find any history that you can of that company -- complaints, Better Business Bureau filings, etc. Any information you can find out about the company, because the last thing you want to do is go through the effort of moving to a cloud service only to have that cloud service disappear. And there have been disappearing cloud services. Not a huge amount in the backup space, but I would say that's the number one thing you want to look at. Then the second would be to consult with a security-type person and ask them what they think of the setup. Then, of course, test backups and restores. And just remember to plan for that one big restore. Make sure you test and engineer for that. Make sure they have an answer for that.

Which environments can benefit the most from cloud backup services?

Preston: The easy answer is smaller companies. That's not to say that larger companies cannot, but the easy answer to that question is the smaller you are, the more you can benefit. I don't have a backup system. I pay someone else to do it and also use Time Machine. The smaller you are, the less likely you are to have the resources to manage it and report on it yourself.

It can be very expensive to create the infrastructure for a decent backup and recovery system. Also if you are a small company, most of your data is probably on laptops. So you might need a separate backup software platform to back those up. Whereas if it's a cloud service it can handle both any computers that you have and your data center as well as computers that are roaming around, going wherever. You just put on a piece of software and magic happens. The data can be protected.

I would caution people to make sure they differentiate between cloud managed or unmanaged cloud service provider. There are many, many services where you can install a piece of software, you can run the backups, and if the backups don't work, the system may or may not have some reporting to tell you that they're not working, but there's no one over there that's watching them for you. Then, there are managed services that obviously cost more, where you can literally say, 'This is your problem. If something is wrong, I want you to tell me.' And so the larger you get, the more data you have at risk and the more you might want to consider using a managed service provider to make sure that that stuff is being managed.

How has the increased use of solid-state flash storage impacted backups?

Preston: On one degree I'd say, hardly at all because solid-state, while it has come down so much in cost, I don't know anyone that is using solid-state as a backup target. And I don't see it happening any time soon ... I would say another thing to say that there's a sense of trusting solid-state maybe more than a spinning disc drive. If that has changed in any way, people's feelings about needing to back it up, I don't know if it has. But if it has, that needs to be undone. Solid-state is great. I love it. I've got it on my laptop. I'm never going back. But it fails just like everything else. So we've got to back it up just as much as we have backed up any other device that we have.

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