Q&A: How to Handle IT’s Cloud Backup Issues

Cloud storage is taking off, but when it comes to online backups, IT still has concerns.

Cloud storage is taking off, but when it comes to backing up data online for disaster recovery, it may not be a perfect solution. To learn about what’s concerning IT for using this technology for DR, we turned to Brian Findlay, director of global storage at Imation Scalable Storage; his group encompasses the company’s traditional as well as secure and scalable storage business.

Enterprise Strategies: How do increasing data demands impact IT departments?

Brian Findlay: IT teams face challenges when incorporating sophisticated methods to backup critical company data. This challenge is magnified by the influx of new content types such as rich digital media, social media, and machine-generated data.

Companies must develop a well-thought-out backup and data protection strategy to optimize storage costs, provide better data organization, and minimize business risks related to IT failure, corporate data loss, or a catastrophic onsite event. The availability of new turnkey storage solutions means that IT teams can deploy a very cost-effective, multi-tiered backup and data protection strategy by utilizing onsite, offsite, and cloud backup methods.

What new data protection solutions are available to companies?

Cloud backup, commonly referred to as online backup, is very hot, and many companies are utilizing the cloud for data protection. However, IT teams need to incorporate online backup carefully and only as part of an overall comprehensive backup and data protection program. Before moving data to the cloud for online backup, companies should carefully consider vendors and weigh opportunities versus risk to determine if the cloud could be a practical and safe storage tier.

Why is cloud storage taking off?

A few technological advancements have made cloud storage more accessible. First, deduplication has dramatically improved data transfer speed. Data deduplication reduces the bandwidth necessary to perform backups, and many traditional and cloud-based storage vendors incorporate deduplication technology into their storage offerings.

Second, the cost of online data storage has decreased, primarily because hosting providers’ data center and hardware costs have decreased, but also because IT has deployed data deduplication technologies and IT’s Internet bandwidth costs are lower.

Are there any barriers to using cloud backup?

Yes. There are many cloud storage options, and new technologies paired with more efficient pipes reduce data transfer costs, but IT teams have several important points to consider to make online backup through cloud storage practical. Two of the most important criteria for incorporating cloud storage into an overarching data protection strategy are determining the best process to initially “seed” the cloud and securing the data in the cloud.

Why is cloud seeding challenging, and how should a company address the issue?

Although deduplication and backup policies reduce the amount of data that needs to be backed up, the initial seed, which is the first full backup of all of a company’s data, is still cumbersome and often cost- and time-prohibitive to IT teams. To do so electronically, IT teams will require a significant amount of bandwidth and the process will take a significant amount of time. It is estimated that using a DSL/T1 Internet connection, it could take IT team’s weeks to seed one terabyte (TB) of data.

Not only does this seem like a large amount of time for an initial backup, these data transfer rates also apply to data recovery. If a catastrophic event happened at a company’s site -- for example, a Web or e-mail server crashed and all data was lost -- taking weeks to restore that data would be completely unacceptable for any small to midsize business and could cost the company its entire business.

Companies can offset data transfer lag time by using removable disk devices for the first initial backup to the cloud. Copying terabytes of data to onsite removal disk drives and securely shipping them to the online backup or cloud storage provider dramatically reduces the amount of time and bandwidth required to implement a cloud-based data protection solution. Taking full advantage of the data transfer speeds available for local copying can reduce the initial backup time, including shipping, to only one or two days.

In a major recovery scenario, removable disk technology can mean the difference between success and failure for a business in that critical, vulnerable position. Most online backup solution providers can restore the required data from the cloud architecture onto removable disk drives and can return those drives to an end user for quick reinstallation.

What do companies need to ask about the security of cloud backup solutions?

It is essential that an IT team review a cloud storage provider’s security policies thoroughly before selecting a vendor, and data encryption is of utmost importance. Ask about a vendor’s access to an encryption key. The encryption standards that cloud storage providers put in place are essentially ineffective if that provider can simply “reset” the key if a client loses or forgets it. A “back door” to encryption exposes the data to risk in the event that the cloud provider’s systems are hacked.

IT teams should also review a vendor’s data center standards. Recognizing the importance of security in the cloud, several federal organizations have developed compliance programs and other regulations. Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 70 and Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) No. 16 are both widely used and well regarded. Cloud storage providers invest heavily in their own data centers and should have certifications in place to prove security and compliance.

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