Andres Rodriguez is the CEO and Co-Founder of Nasuni, a unified storage company that serves the needs of distributed enterprises. Previously he was a CTO at Hitachi Data Systems and CTO of the New York Times.
Backup and disaster recovery are currently two of the most popular uses of cloud software in the enterprise. Providers of such software have experienced boom times, with a few even going public. While they’ve enjoyed tremendous success over the past few years, they would be advised to branch into a wider array of services soon. A rising group of cloud-integrated storage vendors have integrated backup and disaster recovery into the very fabric of their complete storage offering, at no additional cost to the customer.
It’s not surprising that backup and disaster recovery would be among the first applications for cloud storage – tape backup is difficult to manage and costly to maintain, and cloud backup/DR represented a low-risk way to experiment with cloud services. Every dollar saved on moving backup to the cloud represented a dollar IT could spend on innovative technologies and business transformation, a very appealing tradeoff for any CIO. Additionally, the time spent managing physical backup systems could be redeployed into more useful tasks.
But while cloud backup and DR has been an improvement over the tape-based status quo, it’s not an unqualified success. Costs may be lower, but the cost of storing backups in the cloud is still too great an expense. Managing backups in the cloud is simpler than managing tape, but these systems are still too complex and unreliable, and if IT needs to recover a great deal of data from the cloud, downloading all that data will likely be a very slow process. Despite all the copies upon copies of data, despite all the spending both in time and money, most IT personnel, when surveyed, still have little confidence in their cloud backup or disaster recovery systems.
A New Model for Data Protection
It’s time to give up on incrementally improving a broken backup system, and instead move forward toward a new model for data protection. The cloud holds much more potential than a cheap dumping ground for backup and archive data. In truth, it can provide the foundation for an integrated storage system that will revolutionize the data center. This storage system is made possible by the commodification of cloud storage – led by Amazon and Microsoft. The cloud is the next generation hard drive, forming the back-end of cloud-integrated storage controllers, which look and feel like the traditional storage controllers that IT already knows, but with incredible capabilities like unlimited capacity and access from anywhere made possible by the cloud. With cloud-integrated storage, IT can scale the system as large as they like, all without ever having to back it up. That last part sounds like a trick, but it’s not. Through the use of snapshots and cloud mirroring, IT never has to run another backup.
In an integrated storage system, cloud storage forms the back end of an on-premises storage controller, which can be deployed in the form of a hardware appliance or a virtual machine. That storage controller has a local cache of the most frequently accessed data, with the gold copy of the fileshare stored in the cloud. At frequent intervals a snapshot – defined as a complete picture of an office’s data at that moment – is taken. Any changes to files are then uploaded to the cloud after being encrypted and compressed, all behind the scenes without the involvement of IT, with updated data propagated throughout the system. The snapshots themselves can be stored forever, offering an unlimited history that can be restored from any point. This redundancy can be further augmented by the capabilities of cloud storage. Data stored in the cloud is replicated into as many as six copies around the world, and if that protection isn’t enough, the entire data set can be mirrored to a secondary cloud, without any disruption of end user performance.
Supporting Disaster Recovery: Quickly and Easily
Both snapshots and the redundant nature of cloud storage create simple and attractive options for disaster recovery. Files, folders or entire directories from any point in the snapshot history can be restored in just a few mouse clicks through a process that is as simple to use as Apple’s "Time Machine."
In the end, cloud backup and disaster recovery does not offer IT a great deal of value. No one likes buying life insurance, and no one likes paying for or managing backup. It’s a budget item that CIOs would love to eliminate, and a huge annoyance for IT. Thankfully, for the same price as a distributed enterprise backup solution, an integrated cloud storage service provides not only backup and DR, but also block and file storage, file synchronization and access to the global fileshare from any location.
Organizations demanding more of their backup and disaster recovery systems need to look beyond the minor improvements and minimal cost savings offered by the latest generation of vendors. CIOs should start to reconsider what a storage system is and instead of fearing this future, they should embrace it and the opportunity to put a big red line through “backup” in their budget.
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