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How to find the best cloud backup approach

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Who's got your back? Options for app backup in the cloud

Some IT teams choose to conduct their application backup in the cloud. Others go the on-premises route, and a few opt for a second cloud.

With public clouds hosting more and more applications, IT professionals need to determine the best option to back up the data associated with those apps. An administrator might choose to conduct application backup in the cloud, in an on-premises server or possibly in a different cloud. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, so there's no single best cloud backup strategy.

Backups within the same cloud

One option is to run a backup in the cloud within the same cloud that hosts the app. This technique is both inexpensive and easy to implement. Plus, with the backups in close proximity to your data, it'll be efficient to conduct your backing up and, if needed, to recover information in the event of some sort of major disruption. The biggest disadvantage to this method is that it provides only a limited degree of isolation, although backing data up to a different cloud region can provide more peace of mind.

The degree of protection involved here is similar to what's achieved when backing up the data on a PC to a separate hard drive within the same computer. This protects you against a disk failure, but it does nothing against PC-level failure, such as damage from a power surge. So while backing up your data within the same cloud provides a degree of protection, you might not be adequately shielded if your tenant account becomes corrupted or suffers a security breach.

The on-premises approach

You can also protect your cloud-based applications with an on-premises backup target. With this technique, your backups are completely isolated from the cloud provider and should therefore be unaffected by a cloud failure. Because your backups reside in your own data center, you are in direct possession of them. This enables full control over things such as backup retention, security and the storage of removable media.

While an on-premises backup target to protect your cloud applications can be an appealing option, consider the drawbacks. First, the change rate of the data can render this completely impractical. High-demand applications can accumulate data at a rate that exceeds the bandwidth available to back up that information.

Another potential disadvantage to this technique is that because the backups are physically separated from the data, restoration can take a long time to complete.

An alternate cloud option

A third option is to back up the data to a different public cloud. If you host your data on Amazon Web Services, for example, then you can handle backup in the cloud by using a target that's hosted on Microsoft Azure. This method, too, has pros and cons.

An alternate cloud offers the advantage of physically separating backups from the data source.

Like on-premises backups, an alternate cloud physically separates backups from the data source. Because large public cloud providers have nearly unlimited amounts of bandwidth available, bandwidth saturation will be less of an obstacle to the backup process.

Depending on how you implement a process for backup in the cloud, this approach can also enable cloud-based disaster recovery. Because your backups reside in a public cloud, it's possible to spin up workloads in that provider in the event the primary cloud fails.

There are advantages if you use a separate provider to handle your backup in the cloud, but consider the costs. The storage costs associated with using this type of architecture should be similar to that of backing up your data within the same cloud where you host the information. Cloud providers, however, almost always bill customers for the network bandwidth they consume. Backing up data across clouds creates network I/O in both locations, which will likely increase expenses.

Also consider that backing up your data to a different cloud can require you to deploy additional infrastructure components. For example, you might need to create an inter-cloud VPN. Because cloud providers bill their customers for the resources that they consume, any additional infrastructure components will come at a cost.

Be sure to check to see whether your backup system supports inter-cloud backups. After all, it is never advisable to use an unsupported configuration in a production environment.

Successful backup in the cloud

Since the scenarios to conduct application backup in the cloud involve a mix of advantages and disadvantages, carefully weigh your options. Find an approach that best suits your organization's particular needs.

There's no correct way to back up your applications. But if you work through the pros and cons, you should be able to settle on the best cloud backup approach for your situation. That way, you'll know exactly where you stand when it comes to application availability.

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This was last published in August 2017

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