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Cloud data backup is not cloud disaster recovery

Biff Myre discusses the limitations of cloud disaster recovery, and outlines a more effective use case for cloud storage.

Is cloud disaster recovery different from cloud backup?

Cloud data backup is not cloud disaster recovery. Unfortunately, vendor misrepresentation is driving misunderstanding of when and how cloud backup should be used. Many organizations are considering cloud backup because it eliminates tape-based backup technology, automates backups, removes the human capital component and other services like off-site tape storage fees. However, there is a misconception that cloud backups can improve an organization's recovery time simply because it is a disk-based backup. In reality, it may take you longer than tape to restore.

So, when you have a catastrophic disaster and have to perform a full restore, some questions to ask include:

  • Where is your data?
  • Where do you need the data restored to?
  • How long will it take to get your data back?
  • What data transport methods are available to you?
  • Is there a charge for restoring and returning your data? Are you clear on what that is?

I have seen estimates of six-plus weeks for online data rehydration and the transfer of a few terabytes given to clients whom have opted for public cloud online data backups.

These same clients had thought they were improving their disaster recovery capabilities with cloud backup -- they were focused on the process of backups, but not on the net effect on their ability to recover quickly following a disaster. They could have restored from tape in hours.

There are three easy questions to ask to determine if a cloud backup service can work as part of your disaster recovery strategy:

  1. Can you get your data from where it is in the cloud to where it needs to be for restoration and recovery and still meet your recovery time objective (RTO) requirements?
  2. Can you perform your disaster recovery using additional cloud services from the same provider -- thus the data is where it needs to be for restoration and recovery of your critical systems in the cloud?
  3. Can you regularly test either of these two scenarios (or both) as a part of your contract (or better yet as an initial proof of concept before locking in a long-term contract) with the cloud backup provider you are considering?

Where does cloud data backup play best?

If you're a very small business and this is the best you can afford, by all means do something to get your data backed up -- cloud or otherwise -- just don't kid yourself as to how long you may be out of business if you have a disaster. However, if you're a larger organization, the cloud is much more viable for long-term archive and compliance requirements than for disaster recovery.

Progressive backup software vendors are embracing a more holistic view that enables deduplicated backups to be performed to multiple targets (to tape, to local vault, to remote vault, to the cloud) for multiple purposes -- all driven by business rationale and managed by policy. In these cases, the cloud backup software agents are not even needed. It's really just access to cloud storage that can be used as an additional storage tier, but not for the purpose of restoration at time of disaster.

This was last published in September 2010

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