Backup as a Service: To BaaS or Not to BaaS

Monday Nov 10th 2014 by Christine Taylor
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Cloud-based Backup as a Service may or may not be a good choice for your business, depending on cost and management factors.

Backup as a Service (BaaS) provides backup and recovery operations from the cloud. The cloud-based BaaS provider maintains necessary backup equipment, applications, process and management in their data center. The customer will have some on-site installation – an appliance and backup agents are common – but there is no need to buy backup servers and software, run upgrades and patches, or purchase dedupe appliances.

Note that BaaS is not just a marketing term for online backup. Online backup is not a service: IT uses the cloud as a backup target, similar to disk or tape. In contrast, BaaS launches from the cloud service provider, who consults with the customer over needs and SLAs, and who manages the backup and recovery service.

Backup as a Service Alphabet Soup

Before we get into backup as a service, let’s clear up the cloudy terminology. BaaS is a relatively new term for backup and already exists for some very different cloud-based services. The below are a few of the acronyms bobbing around the cloud-based services world.

· BaaS. We’re discussing Backup as a Service but the acronym more commonly stands for Backend as a Service, which provides mobile application developers a way to link their applications to cloud storage and other tools like user management and social media. In yet another BaaS usage, Business as a Service rises out of the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Vendors host business applications and also help to manage the business and provide business products and services.

· STaaS. Storage as a Service is a big arena where data of all types is stored in the cloud. Usage is extensive, covering everything from active data to long term archival. Although STaaS can include backup data, it does not extend the backup process to the customer site as BaaS does.

· SaaS. Software as a Service is the leading offering in the computing cloud. Vendors host customer applications and data in the cloud for simplified application delivery, management, security and upgrades.

· DRaaS/RaaS. Disaster Recovery as a Service, or more simply Recovery as a Service, offers more recovery options than the backup recovery of BaaS. BaaS will recover your backed up files, and RaaS recovers your files and applications within contracted RTO and/or RPO periods. It is more costly than BaaS but can be a good option if you do not want to perform your own storage infrastructure recovery in case of disaster.

· PaaS. Platform as a Service provides cloud-based infrastructure for application developers. Developers can concentrate on developing, testing and rolling out their applications without equipping a local data center to support them.

· IaaS. Infrastructure as a Service provisions a full computing stack online including servers, networking, and storage.

Choosing BaaS?

backup as a service

Different Strokes for Different Folks

BaaS offerings will differ quite a bit depending on customer SLAs, environment, compliance requirements and management styles. There are three primary models: public cloud, private cloud and a hybrid approach.

· BaaS using a Public Cloud. This is the most straightforward of the BaaS environments: an MSP backs up customer data to a multi-tenant cloud. The MSP may provide their own cloud, such as Fujitsu’s Cloud S5 for its own Backup as a Service. Most often MSPs will take advantage of Amazon S3, Google Cloud, or MS Azure public clouds. All three providers offer business packages for MSPs. In the public cloud environment, the MSP will install agents at the customer’s site but launch backup and restore from the MSP’s infrastructure. Price differs dramatically depending on the amount of backup you generate and the level of SLAs you are paying for.

· BaaS using a Private Cloud. Not everyone agrees on a single definition for a private cloud. Some people refer to a corporate-owned and -managed cloud as a private cloud. Some cloud-based application vendors refer to their cloud as private since their cloud customers are strictly their application users. Still other MSPs define the private cloud as single-tenant co-location with dedicated physical web computing clusters. BaaS in the private cloud may be provided by an MSP to a security-conscious customer, or by the corporation itself as a cloud backup service to departments and workgroups. The corporation may hire an MSP to run its private cloud.

· BaaS as a Hybrid. Some BaaS providers will combine on-premise appliances with cloud-based backup services. The advantage to the customer is creating a local backup for fast recovery, and sending deduped files to the cloud for retention. The disadvantage is retaining and maintaining a backup appliance in a crowded data center.

Typical Backup Vendors Working with BaaS Providers

Theoretically any backup software can be used to provide backup functionality in BaaS. Practically, not all backup vendors provide BaaS services and not all MSPs support all backup vendors. If you are happy with your existing backup vendor then look for an MSP that supports them, which makes for an easier transition to BaaS.

Of the smaller backup vendors, Acronis has an active MSP program including turnkey backup service offerings aimed at VARs, hosting companies and cloud service providers. Barracuda launched a BaaS offering this early in 2014. Zetta.net specializes in online backup for 500GB+ datasets and works actively with BaaS providers. Vembu Technologies also works closely with MSPs for its BaaS offerings.

Of the larger backup vendors who got into the BaaS game, Symantec sells the NetBackup platform to MSPs as a backup service. EMC’s extensive BaaS offering supports public, private and hybrid cloud environments with combinations of EMC Avamar and Data Domain plus EMC data management tools.

The Money Savings You Want

Nearly every BaaS customer (perhaps all) turns to Backup as a Service to save money. The most common approach is at technology refresh time when companies decide to either buy new backup equipment, or turn over all or some of their backup to a service. By choosing BaaS, the immediate cost savings will be significant, as it foregoes an immediate CapEx expenditure to a lower ongoing OpEx spend. Of course, over time that low monthly payment can get higher and higher, and customers should project increasing costs in concert with their MSP.

On average, one-third of IT budgets are dedicated to legacy systems: existing servers, networks and storage. The remaining one-fourth is available for high priority strategic projects. By offloading backup and recovery operations from legacy systems to an MSP, IT can save money and time on buying and maintaining backup hardware, software and infrastructure. They will also save money by lowering the backup burden on their IT staff.

Having said that, never just look at BaaS cut-rate pricing. Look at reasonable pricing for basic monthly services with a menu of value-added options. Some qualities and options are nice-to-have and some of them are critical to have. Among the critical features are significant savings over CapEx spend and a reasonable OpEx spend, a highly secure service, SLA-driven, QoS, and the option of self service management portals.

Remember that BaaS is not an all-or-nothing deal. If your current backup works in some areas but not in others, then keep your current infrastructure where it is working and use BaaS for problem areas. For example, the continuous backup process for the Oracle financial database is working well and you have no intention of turning that over to a provider. But your Exchange server is over-running your backup windows, and might be an excellent candidate for BaaS. So are your file server and SharePoint backups. Even large enterprise might use BaaS for ROBO, and/or contract with a service provider to build a private cloud to self-deliver backup and recovery services.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to MSPs and start talking possibilities. There are many benefits to BaaS in the right environments and for the right needs. Chances are some or all of your current backup infrastructure would benefit by morphing into Backup as a Service.

Christine Taylor is a well-known technology industry watcher.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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