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Analyst: Cloud Backup Services Should Be a Consideration

Organizations should strategically consider using public cloud services for backup and disaster recovery (DR) scenarios, according to a Tuesday Forrester Research webinar that was sponsored by Microsoft.

That view comes from Noel Yuhanna, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. As evidence, he cited customer anecdotes, along with a February survey of 209 database backup and operations professionals in North America, Asia and Europe. Forrester had conducted that survey on behalf of Microsoft.

Yuhanna estimated that 15 percent of companies are currently performing database backups in the cloud, a figure that has doubled in the last year. His talk, "Database Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery Gain Momentum: Are You Ready?," is available on demand here.

Public Cloud Drivers
Drivers toward using the public cloud for backup and DR support have to do with the growth of data, the need for applications to be available all of the time, cost savings enabled by cloud technologies and the need for organizational agility in the face of such pressures. Currently, more than 70 percent of enterprises have more than 2TB of data to deal with, but that number could turn into petabytes in a couple of years, Yuhanna said. He added that 90 percent of the world's data was created in the last two years and that 3.5ZB (zetabytes) of data resides on the public Net. The general trend is for data to double every year for most applications, he added, which affects backup plans.

The number of databases has increased over the years. Yuhanna said he knew of one organization that had 50,000 databases to manage. Just 2,000 were considered critical, though.

The top challenges to using the cloud for backup and DR purposes included "storage management" (41 percent), "securing backups" (40 percent) and "automating the backups and recovery" (34 percent), according to the survey respondents. Yuhanna explained that it can be complex to perform backups and encrypt them, citing an unnamed media company that had inadvertently corrupted their backups due to encryption. He touted the cloud, though, for automating the backup process and including encryption, while not requiring staff to manage the underlying servers and storage platform.

"Once you start using these [public cloud backup] solutions, it helps you to extend that framework," he added.

Other benefits of cloud storage include the ability to conduct more frequent backups, redundancy, no limits on storage and seamless management. The survey found the top reason for using the public cloud for backups among respondents was "saving money on storage costs" (61 percent), followed by more frequent backups (51 percent) and saving on administrative costs (50 percent).

Companies are starting to use the cloud for multiple tier-2 backups, Yuhanna contended. He said that multiple tier-2 backups were carried out by about 2 percent of companies a couple of years ago, but it's now up to around 10 percent (per the survey results). He defined tier-2 backups as not mission critical but still needed for operations. Tier-1 backups are for mission critical operations that affect organizational revenue, he explained.

The survey found that using the public cloud for backup and DR purposes actually helps organizations with their service level agreements (SLAs), with 57 percent of respondents agreeing to that notion. Yuhanna said the reason for that finding was automation and faster access to data. He said it's possible to bring back data in seconds or minutes from the public cloud.

Public Cloud Concerns
Most (78 percent) of the survey respondents worried about data security and privacy when using the cloud for backup purposes. Yuhanna commented that security has been less of a concern today compared with a few years ago, although he recommended that organizations have auditing capabilities in place, with the ability to set alerts on improper data access attempts. He didn't find database security practices to be that good, though, saying that only 40 percent of organizations use encryption and that data masking was done by just 25 percent.

Reliability was a concern in the survey for just 27 percent of respondents. Yuhanna cited faster fiber connections as one reason why reliability was seen as less of a concern. He suggested a few strategies, such as backing up larger databases on premises. He also said that organizations should stream their backup data so that it doesn't clog the network, adding that there are software solutions to address that issue.

Bandwidth wasn't cited as a top concern for using the public cloud for backup purposes. Yuhanna contended that organizations are backing up 20TB of data every day without any issues.

Yuhanna recommended that organizations should start out small, initially, when trying public cloud backup services. He suggested starting out with 5 percent or 10 percent in the cloud, and growing from there. Tier-2 and tier-3 apps are good candidates for public cloud or hybrid backup scenarios, he said. He recommended keeping an eye on network latencies, both internally and externally, and using streaming technologies.

Debbie Lyons, a senior product manager with Microsoft's SQL Server Group, added a few comments to the talk. She said that new versions of SQL Server enable direct backups, adding that "you only pay for the storage utilized and get automatic data georeplication," along with data encryption.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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