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.
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 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 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.