Does Backing Up Data to Cloud Make Financial Sense?

Does Backing Up Data to Cloud Make Financial Sense?

Knowing whether it makes more financial sense to to backup data onsite or offsite in a cloud depends on the required amount of data needing to be stored and how much bandwidth it might take to move across the internet. Either way, it's complicated.

With over 28 years of IT data center infrastructure experience, Bill Andrews has proven success in technical sales and marketing and has impacted numerous high-growth companies, including ExaGrid, Pedestal Software, eDial, Adero, Live Vault, Microcom and Bitstream.

Over the past 30 years, data backup has been accomplished by using an application that makes a copy of the data on tape and, more recently, to disk. A copy of the tape is sent offsite or data is replicated over a WAN to have an offsite copy for disaster recovery.

Backup can be cumbersome because some data needs to be backed up on a daily basis and all data on a periodic basis. The dream for most IT professionals is to simply have someone else run the backups and to pay by the month.

The $1 million question is: Can you simply outsource your backups, pay a monthly subscription, and move on? The answer is as complicated as backup itself. The challenge of backup involves data that changes frequently. The goal is to ensure that you have all the most recent changes to databases, email, user files, and other data so that none must be recreated if it is deleted, overwritten, corrupted, or destroyed.

To that end, backups occur every night to make a full copy of all databases, a full copy of all email servers, and any file that has changed since the day before. If an organization has a small amount of data with a low change rate, then not much data needs to be backed up each day or night. However, if the amount of data is large, then the daily changed data will also be large, creating bigger challenges in order to back it up.

To back up to the cloud, data would have to leave the data center, traverse the internet, and land at the cloud storage provider, be it a specific cloud backup provider or a public cloud provider such as Amazon, Microsoft Azure, or Google. The challenge of getting the data to the cloud depends on the amount of data. Small data requires low bandwidth to move to the internet on the way to cloud storage. However, large data requires bandwidth that often becomes cost prohibitive. As a result, here's what typically occurs.

Consumers (low amounts of data and change rates), can use software that runs on a PC that captures the daily changes and sends them to the cloud for which they pay a flat yearly fee.

Small businesses (a few hundred gigabytes to a few terabytes), on the other hand, run software that backs up data to a disk appliance to keep a local set of backups onsite. Copies are then sent to the cloud provider as a second copy or for disaster recovery purposes. Sometimes short-term backups are kept onsite, and longer-term backups called “versions” or “history” are kept offsite. The organization pays by the data amount stored per month. Over three years, this is more expensive than running all backups in-house, but if you don’t have the staff, this can certainly get the backup monkey off your back.

Above a few terabytes, the math does not work due to the amount of bandwidth required from the organization’s data center to the internet. The cost of the bandwidth far exceeds running your own backups. This is true even if you use data deduplication and only move changed bytes or blocks. That's because backups occur every night and, therefore, you need enough bandwidth to complete the transfer into the cloud before the next backup begins.

Organizations with more than 5TB, with a few exceptions, either run their own backup application and back up to tape onsite and use tape for offsite; back up to disk onsite and use tape for offsite; or back up to disk onsite and replicate to disk offsite. For retention lower than four weeks, a straight disk is typically used. If it's weeks to months to years, then disk-based backup appliances with data deduplication are deployed. Data deduplication stores only the unique bytes or blocks from backup to backup in order to use the least amount of disk possible, greatly lowering the cost of using straight disk.

So, in summary, the answer to this highly debated topic is: it depends. If you are a consumer or a small business with a few terabytes of data or less, you can absolutely use the cloud if you don’t want to operate your own backups. In a three-year, side-by- side comparison, it will cost more to use the cloud. However, avoiding the aggravation of running your own backups may be worth it.

If your data is multiple terabytes to tens or even hundreds of terabytes of data, the cost to ramp up internet bandwidth over three years will far exceed the cost of running your backups. It's anyone's guess when the latter will make financial sense.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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