Hyperscale Cloud Vendors vs. Cloud-Enabled Data Protection Vendors

Friday Nov 6th 2015 by Guest Author
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Cost alone should not be the deciding factor when deciding between a hyperscale cloud vendor or a cloud-enabled data protection provider.

This guest post is by Jim Whalen, Senior Analyst and Consultant, The Taneja Group

Cloud storage has proven to be extremely popular, with multiple Exabytes of data already stored there and the total growing by double digit percentages every year.  And why not – with a cost as low as $0.01/GB/month from hyperscale cloud vendors such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, it’s affordable and readily accessible. 

But the big players are not the only game in town.  Since backup/bulk data storage is still the largest use of cloud storage, many traditional backup appliance vendors have decided to provide their own cloud storage solutions.  These smaller players, while certainly price competitive when considering the entire solution, have wisely chosen to focus on service and added-value functionality instead of competing on cost alone.

So you have two decisions to make: first, is the hyperscale cloud right for your data protection needs and second, if it is not, then how should you go about selecting the right cloud-enabled data protection vendor. Let’s focus initially on the first question.

Question # 1: Hyperscale Cloud Vendors vs. Cloud-Enabled Data Protection Vendors

When using a hyperscale cloud storage vendor, you’ll pay the aforementioned $0.01/GB/month for the data you keep there.  In addition to this ongoing cost of storage, you’ll also pay network egress fees as high as $0.23/GB and data retrieval fees which vary widely, but tend to average out around $0.01/GB.  These costs apply to simple data storage and access, meaning that they escalate as you store and use more data.  So it’s important to understand your data usage patterns when trying to determine whether or not it’s more beneficial to go with one of the major players.  Also of note – these basic data costs are for storage only, you get no significant data management services for them.

Many business entities, whether due to caution or regulatory and compliance requirements, want to keep multiple copies of their backups in separate locations.  The hyperscale cloud vendors with their large, geographically distributed cloud data centers, make this easy to do.  You simply decide how many copies you want to maintain in how many locations and are charged for that usage.  Some of the larger cloud vendors will also allow you to specify a faster-than-standard access time to your cloud data and upcharge you accordingly.

Some Data Protection Alternatives

The data protection vendors have generally chosen a different business model than this.  They may not actually own and operate their own cloud – some have chosen to partner instead of setting up their own data centers – but they all compete by offering a data protection centered service model that’s a natural extension of their basic business.  Pricing varies among the   vendors, but tends to run between roughly $0.10 and $0.15/GB/month.  They typically do not charge egress or data retrieval fees, so your bill is usually more predictable than one from a hyperscale vendor.

A key advantage in using a data protection vendor’s cloud for your data protection needs is that it was built specifically for that purpose.  The hyperscale cloud vendors have enormous economies of scale, which allow them to offer very competitive prices, but their clouds are also designed for general purpose uses – storage, compute, Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, etc.  The data protection clouds are set up specifically for backup and recovery and related services and are going to provide a deeper, more complete solution.

Barracuda

There are a variety of interesting vendors to look at in order to understand the DP cloud business model.  Barracuda is one popular SMB supplier that operates their own cloud and offers a range of data protection services to their customers.  Their main offering, Barracuda Backup, is a complete software/appliance solution that is cloud integrated.  It protects both physical and virtual environments and supports replication to the Barracuda Cloud. 

Barracuda allows users to select from two cloud storage options.  They can choose a monthly subscription service where storage is purchased in 200 GB chunks, which allows them to grow or shrink the amount of cloud storage they pay for to match their real-time storage space needs.  Or, they can select Unlimited Cloud Storage, which is capped at the maximum storage capacity of the mirrored appliance at their live site.  By selecting this option, they can be assured that they have enough cloud storage space to store all of their data without having to manage the cap, as they do with a monthly subscription.  Barracuda also offers an offsite vaulting option which allows customers to offload 12 monthly and 7 yearly backups from their site to the cloud for long term retention.

In the event of a disaster, Barracuda offers three methods of recovery via their cloud.  First of all, customers can pull down their data over the Internet from the Barracuda Cloud to a replacement appliance that Barracuda ships to them.  Secondly, they can choose to have Barracuda pre-load their data onto a replacement appliance and ship the pre-loaded appliance to them.  Finally, they can use Cloud LiveBoot Recovery, to boot up a VMware VM (or VMs) in the Barracuda Cloud and use it to access their data in the cloud to run production workloads while restarting their local site.

An important feature of a good DR plan is knowing that it works by testing it.  Cloud LiveBoot Recovery can be used to manually test VMs prior to a disaster to make sure that they’ll be usable if the time ever comes when they’re needed.  Doing this on an occasional basis allows the customer to make sure that the VM is bootable and that the stored backups can be restored and run.  This capability can also be used for sandbox testing, where the customer tests software changes in an isolated environment before rolling them into production.

Datto

Datto is another popular SMB backup appliance supplier with their own cloud.  Their backup offering is the Total Data Protection Platform, which they refer to as hybrid cloud backup.  It’s comprised of two families of appliances, SIRIS and ALTO, which run an agent-based software package that works with the Datto Cloud. This means that a backup is done to a local Datto appliance at the customer’s site, then automatically copied to the Datto Cloud for DR purposes (assuming you purchased cloud storage).

Datto’s standard cloud storage services come in two flavors – basic storage that’s sized for the appliance it’s associated with (use more than that allotment and there’s an extra charge) and 1, 3 or 7 year Cloud Retention that saves daily, weekly and monthly backups according to a set retention schedule.  Datto also allows the customer to pre-seed the cloud by shipping them a disk drive with the initial data set on it to avoid having to do it over the WAN.

Their DR capabilities consist of what they call Instant Virtualization, which is enabled by their hybrid cloud backup model.  Basically, if a VM or server goes down, they first try to spin up a backup on the local appliance to get the customer back online.  If that doesn’t work or if the whole site goes down, they will spin up the customer’s entire network in the Datto Cloud and make a VPN link available to the customer enabling them to maintain operations remotely until the site is restored.  They will also send ship the customer a free seeded replacement appliance, if needed, to resume operations.   Datto allows up to 30 days of virtualization time in their cloud per server per year, to allow ample time to get a failed site back up and running.

The mechanism that Datto uses to make sure that a backup will be usable in case it’s needed for DR is called Screenshot Backup Verification.  They automatically do a mock recovery of a VM by spinning up a recent snapshot every 24 hours and then taking a screenshot of the booted machine to show that it’s up and running.  Users can choose to receive an alert that the process has completed, along with the screenshot, if desired.

Unitrends

Unitrends is another data protection software/appliance vendor that operates their own cloud and has one of the more full-featured offerings.  Their Unitrends Enterprise Backup and Recovery Series products, targeted at the mid-market and Enterprise, protect both virtual and physical environments and are seamlessly integrated with a variety of cloud providers.  Customers can choose the Unitrends cloud for the highest level of service or a variety of public cloud vendors for simple, low cost storage.  Also, via Unitrends CloudHook capability, smaller customers who want to use very inexpensive storage for just a few TB of data can perform simple backups and restores to/from any of Unitrends’ hyperscale cloud partners.

The Unitrends Cloud comes in two forms – the Forever Cloud and the No Limits Cloud.  The Forever Cloud offers infinite retention for customer data in 500GB increments ‘Infinite’ means that Unitrends will use a set GFS policy to keep 7 recent daily backups, 4 weekly backups, 12 monthly backups and infinite yearly backups stored in the cloud.  Unitrends recommends using the Forever Cloud in a hybrid model, where the customer would only keep the most recent backups locally for quick recovery, with older backups being stored in the cloud for long term retention.  The Forever Cloud allows customers to pay for only the amount of data protected, not the amount of cloud storage actually consumed, helping to cap costs over the long term. Unitrends No Limits Cloud dynamically scales to the capacity of the appliance that’s running at the customer site, with any data on the appliance being automatically copied to the cloud.  Additionally, Unitrends offers a physical cloud seeding option to avoid having to move the initial data set to the cloud over the WAN from the customer’s site.

Unitrends also offers a very full suite of DR capabilities for use with the Forever Cloud and the No Limits Cloud.  First off, they will also ship a fully seeded appliance back or physical media to the customer site with a guaranteed 24 hour turnaround time, allowing a customer to begin the site restoration process without having to pull everything down over the WAN.  In addition, they offer the ability to spin up VMs and physical servers in the cloud via their Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) capability, allowing operations to continue from the Unitrends cloud if something fails on-site. 

Unitrends DRaaS, with its “White Glove Service,” eliminates the need for customers to manage their own DR operations.  Instead, Unitrends personnel will take care of everything from the point of disaster, spinning up the entire customer environment in their cloud and providing a VPN link to enable a customer to continue operating until their site is physically recovered.  As part of this service, Unitrends also provides a custom DR plan, guarantees a 1-hour SLA from the time a disaster is declared and will provide up to 4 weeks of scheduled DR testing in any 12 month period.

In addition to all of this, to guarantee that restored backups and DR workloads are going to work properly, Unitrends offers ReliableDR Recovery Assurance as a Service, which fully automates the testing and validation of workloads at the application level.  ReliableDR recovers and tests backups in a sandbox area to verify that everything, including all application components, will function properly even for N-tier applications that consume multiple VMs.  One of the key capabilities that ReliableDR provides is the creation of Certified Recovery Points.  These are tested configurations that are guaranteed to boot up and operate properly.  This allows very quick recovery via pushbutton failover or failback to a known-good point.

In summary, hyperscale cloud vendors offer convenient access and low cost of entry, while data protection cloud vendors offer specialized services and more complete data protection solutions at what initially looks like higher prices.  However, because they’re pricing on a different model, over time their cloud solutions for backup are often lower cost than the hyperscale vendors; you can’t just look at $$/GB/month, you must run the numbers.  It’s a big market out there and there’s room for many players with different business models.  When choosing a cloud solution, realize that there are specific tools for specific jobs.  Don’t just go with the easy option, be sure to look carefully at the entire menu of choices and make a conscious decision about which one truly meets your needs.

Question # 2: How to Select the Right Cloud-Based Data Protection Solution

Assuming you have decided that the hyperscale cloud vendor storage is not right for you then you can focus on specialty data protection cloud vendors. Here too there are many choices and selecting the right solution is not as easy as it may seem. On the surface many offerings look alike but under the cover there are vast differences. To begin with, you need to ask what applications are being protected. What operating systems are involved? Are any applications running on physical servers or are they all virtual? Which hypervisors are involved? How extensive is the support matrix? Then there are questions about size. Is the solution primarily designed for SMBs? Mid-size customers? Large enterprises? What is the solution’s sweet spot? What size appliances are available for on-premise protection? How do you scale them? What is the local performance for backup and recovery? How easy is local recovery? What RTOs/RPOs are supported? Are they guaranteed? How effective is the transfer of data to the vendor’s cloud? Is there support for public cloud? Maybe you want to keep some workloads in a public cloud, in addition to keeping them in the vendor’s cloud, perhaps for geographical or regulatory considerations?

On paper and on a PowerPoint a lot of solutions look similar. All vendors use the same buzzwords—easy to use, simple, cloud-enable, scalable, hybrid cloud—but the true meaning varies all over the place.

Based on the breadth of operating environments and applications supported (physical and virtual), range of physical and virtual appliances for on-premise use, the support for both a vendor’s cloud and several public clouds, availability of a white glove service for DR, and many other considerations, Unitrends offerings bubble to the top, in our view. But that doesn’t mean that for your specific situation, another solution may not be the right one. So look under the covers and go past buzzwords, check out references, and then decide what is right for you. The good news is that for the first time ever there is a wide variety of offerings in the market at very reasonable prices. We suggest you look at the complete data protection picture rather than simply looking at the DR aspects. We think DR can now be viewed in the overall context of data protection, rather than standalone. We also believe that unlike in the past where you could only afford to DR-protect say 5% of all your applications (due to cost and complexity), today you can DR-protect perhaps 90% of your applications at reasonable prices. But you have to choose well since there is a plethora of half-baked solutions in the market that do a partial job, rather than deliver end-to-end protection.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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