Cloud backup should put you in charge
Cloud backup services have proved their worth to organizations both small and large for well over a decade now. The pay-as-you-grow model, the ease of scaling up and down in capacity, and the elimination of heavy capital expenditures for hardware and infrastructure are powerful incentives to move backups to the cloud.
Not so fast.
In larger enterprise environments, many hidden costs and disadvantages lurk below the surface. When establishing a cloud backup strategy and choosing a provider, organizations must do ample due diligence to ensure the benefits of cloud backup aren't neutralized by factors like unforeseen administrative burdens, unplanned fees, or security snafus.
The state of cloud backup today
According to a recent forecast by Market Research Future, the cloud backup market is currently on track to maintain a compound annual growth rate of 21.2 percent through 2023, reaching $5.66 billion.
The enterprise market will drive much of that growth, as companies go full throttle with a shift to cloud-based backup. A recent report by IDC shows that the two most popular activities in the cloud are backup/archive/storage and disaster recovery. Some 42 percent of organizations are currently deployed or actively migrating to cloud-based backup and storage, with another 32 percent planning a migration over the next three years.
Yet, at the moment, a lot of enterprises' reliance on cloud backup remains incomplete and highly fragmented due to both technical and more fundamental organizational limitations. A study by Forrester Research and Disaster Recovery Journal found that only 57 percent of global organizations have a unified disaster recovery program that spans their entire organization. Many silos exist—by geography, business unit, or IT function.
The lack of comprehensive governance is further complicated by the ongoing difficulties many cloud backup providers have had in uniformly handling highly heterogenous data environments, including a range of different legacy software and on-premises mission-critical applications, as well as an increasingly diverse array of cloud services and platforms.
The COVID effect
Shifting market dynamics amid the COVID-19 pandemic is likely going to press IT teams to tighten up their backup and recovery practices and promote more comprehensive cloud backup strategies. Based on analyst figures and anecdotes in the field, it appears that cloud backup will likely be pushed forward along with a wave of broader cloud adoption accelerated by the world's sudden work-from-home status.
The Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report shows that almost 60 percent of organizations say they'll be increasing their cloud usage due to COVID-19, with nearly one in three organizations reporting significantly higher than planned spend. Analysts at Gartner say that while the IT market overall will be down 8 percent this year, public cloud services are expected to grow by 19 percent, with many cloud implementations getting fast-tracked.
Not only has the pandemic raised awareness about business continuity issues of all types, but it has challenged the perspective of traditionalist holdouts that mission-critical backup data must reside within the four walls of an organization's data center.
"What COVID taught us is that business continuity planning is really top of mind for CIOs these days," Tom Black, senior vice president and storage general manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told CRN earlier this month, reporting a marked uptick in demand for cloud backup services. "The idea that when people are locked at home you can't operate the physical plant just doesn't hold anymore."
This lines up with what analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) has uncovered about the pandemic's impact on the cloud backup and recovery market. The research firm reports that even in a declining IT market experiencing much economic uncertainty, more than three in four IT executives said they will be increasing their data protection budget or keeping it steady.
"Backup and recovery is hot," reported ESG analyst Christoph Bertrand in June. "Cloud technology and services fare very well across the board as one could have guessed in the current climate. Many new options for remote management now exist, and with many workloads migrating to the cloud, it may be time to revisit how you are protecting those data assets."
Enterprise cloud realities
Newly distributed workforces and economic uncertainty have certainly increased the enterprise's appetite for cloud backup's flexibility, remote management enhancements, and economic efficiency. But like many enterprise cloud services, cloud backup is often not as simple to deploy or as commoditized as it might seem at first blush.
While cloud backup is relatively easy in a cloud-native environment, complexity increases exponentially in a sprawling hybrid, multicloud environment. And this is exactly the kind of environment that most enterprises run today.
IDC's figures show that only 9 percent of enterprises run a completely cloud-based environment. Some 83 percent reported to IDC some level of a hybrid cloud situation, with more than half of organizations reporting that they're still mostly on premises with some cloud thrown in the mix. This jibes with the Flexera study, which shows that 93 percent of organizations operate in a multicloud environment, with 87 percent operating a hybrid cloud model. That report found that organizations on average operate more than seven major cloud platforms across public and private clouds in both live production and experimental applications.
All of these flavors of on-premises and cloud systems are governed by a smorgasbord of different storage architectures and a rich tapestry of existing backup policies and procedures. This creates a situation ripe for unforeseen problems when migrating backup to a cloud-based service, including:
- Platform incompatibilities
- Long learning curves if the cloud backup is run with proprietary software or management consoles
- Issues of data gravity as data is transferred back and forth between on-premises systems and the cloud provider's storage infrastructure
- Risk management and security concerns for backup data that once resided solely on premises
Advanced cloud backup possibilities
Working in the cloud makes it easier for vendors to implement and improve advanced techniques, such as deduplication, in which blocks of data with specific values are identified and transmitted only once, to speed the process and minimize transit costs.
The best systems use deduplication in both directions, on backup and restore. In the latter operation, time is often of the essence, and a faster restoration process can mean a faster restoration of business.
Another characteristic of the most advanced cloud backup systems is support for restore operations for purposes other than simple recovery of lost data. Proper test and development for software depends on finding representative datasets, and actual company data can be the perfect solution to this need.
Enterprise cloud backup pitfalls
All of this means that, to take advantage of cloud backup's benefits without getting snared by potential pitfalls, organizations must tread carefully when choosing a cloud backup solution. As enterprises evaluate their cloud-based backup and recovery options, they should be on the lookout for the following issues that could negatively shift the economics of their cloud backup deployment:
Inflexible storage architecture
Cloud backup architectures that treat on-prem, public cloud, and private cloud environments differently, that limit the kinds of data sources used, that force a move to certain backup software, or that require a rip-and-replace of existing storage infrastructure add considerable friction to the process. Enterprises should seek out vendors that can back up any data source from any vendor, with flexible options to back up from and restore to the cloud or on premises.
One likely way to minimize the return on investment on enterprise cloud backup is picking a cloud backup service with complex proprietary software and unfamiliar management consoles. Organizations with a favored backup app shouldn't have to dump it or get rid of their existing backup sets, catalogs, or policies. If the cloud backup provider requires a new certification for admins to run, it's probably going to add significant overhead to the disaster recovery budget.
It's good to have the option to use whatever point solutions you wish, but clearly this adds complexity, which can lead to conflicts and problems. A unified solution is sure to be simpler to implement and more reliable.
The more inflexible the architecture, the more complex the administration. And the more the enterprise is forced to contort its backup workflow to conform to the cloud backup provider's standards, the higher the risk of cloud lock-in. Enterprises must consider the risk of cloud backup vendor lock-in to ensure flexibility over the long term as their backup needs change to accommodate dynamic business needs and market trends.
Egress fees and data transfer costs can add up to be some of the most expensive unexpected expenditures to hit a cloud backup budget. Organizations seeking to send on-premises system backups to the cloud must keep egress fees top of mind when doing their total cost of ownership analysis.
Sophisticated ransomware attackers are now going after insecure cloud backup infrastructure to more effectively hold enterprise data hostage. How a vendor encrypts and secures data can make all the difference for an enterprise's ability to recover from ransomware attacks.
Ultimately, ferreting out these pitfalls and others is all about seeking vendors that allow an enterprise to establish a healthier balance between the flexibility of where data resides and the enterprise's control over how and what data can be backed up.
One last characteristic of the best cloud backup solutions is that they are best at implementing what makes the cloud generally advantageous:
- They reduce or eliminate backup infrastructure, lowering management as well as capital costs.
- They allow you to ramp backup capacity up and down as your needs demand.
- They allow you to optimize bandwidth, using techniques like source-side deduplication to reduce the amount of data in transit.
HPE's Ashish Prakash, Ashwin Shetty, and Jenna Colleran contributed to this story and other coverage.
Enterprise cloud backup: Lessons for leaders
- The best backup solution lets you choose whatever options are best for you.
- The best backup policies are flexible: In some cases, backing up to public cloud is best, while in others, it's best to back up to an internal cloud service or to local hardware.
- The inflexibility of the wrong backup solutions will cause serious problems down the road.
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What COVID taught us is that business continuity planning is really top of mind for CIOs these days.
Tom Black Senior vice president and storage general manager at HPE
This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.