AWS Designs New Backup Service to Play Nice With Third-Party Tools

The service offers an API for easy integration with partners, simplified management, and “compliance-ready” backups.

Mary Branscombe

January 29, 2019

5 Min Read
AWS cloud pavilion cebit 2016
AWS cloud pavilion at the 2016 CeBIT digital technology trade fair in HanoverSean Gallup/Getty Images

As you may have already heard, Amazon Web Services has a new cloud backup service. How is it different from the backup options it’s offered before? Among other things, it was designed to play nice with others – something AWS users have been calling for – since companies rely on specialist vendors for a lot of functionality they need that’s tied to backup.

Enterprises are comfortable storing backups in the cloud, for applications running in the cloud and on premises, but many of them have been calling for more backup controls, better integration between AWS and third-party backup tools, and a single pane of glass for managing the whole thing. AWS Backup is a new managed service that aims to deliver those things for key AWS storage services.

Cloud backup has to handle on-premises and hybrid cloud applications, which often use a mix of databases and a mix of storage types (file, block, and object), and integrating it into workflows needs to be done centrally, not individually for different applications and services using manual processes and custom scripts.

“Enterprise customers have a lot of compliance and backup requirements, and they’re looking for something that’s integrated with all the backup services our partners offer and that has one place for them to set up compliance-ready backups and control,” Bill Vass, VP for storage and automation at AWS, told Data Center Knowledge in an interview. “The point was to really simplify and automate the backup of stateful information from on-premise, through the cloud, integrated with partners and within the cloud itself.”

AWS Backup is now available in AWS US East, US West, and Europe availability regions. Currently, it only supports single-region backup, but Amazon is promising to eventually add cross-region support. Initially, the service covers Amazon’s EBS, RDS, DynamoDB, EFS, and Storage Gateway services, with backups based on snapshots (with on-going incremental backups) that are encrypted and stored in S3 but can be tiered to Amazon Glacier as they age.

“We launched with the top list of backup requirements, and then we’ll slowly roll out to all the stateful storage in AWS,” Vass said.

Early customer references include financial services firm State Street and dental services company Smile Brands, he said; that matters because they’re in regulated industries, with mandated requirements around data lifecycle and retention policies.

Policy and Control

Tools in the centralized console are for things like backup scheduling and lifecycle rules, among others. Backup plans let you set backup frequency and limit backups to certain time windows. You can specify policies for how a backup should move from warm storage in S3 to cold storage in Glacier to erasure and apply those policies to AWS and on-premises volumes, through Storage Gateway.

All the options in the console are also available through the AWS command line interface and the partner API, so enterprises can use whatever tools administrators are most comfortable with.

Policies and auditing features were designed to support regulated industries, but also for the general developer audience. While the cloud is durable, it “doesn’t mean you can't have a programming error accidentally delete data or that you can meet some of the point-in-time compliance requirements,” Vass said. “AWS Backup gives you a central place to manage all of that, a central place to see it and to validate those backups.”

AWS Backup will work with AWS Tags so you can use tags to set backup policies for specific data. It will also be integrated with the AWS Control Tower central account management service as that becomes available, so backup and restore can come under a compliance management regime. AWS Backup doesn’t currently provide policy templates or pre-defined policies.

Will It Hurt Third-Party Cloud Backup Vendors?

Through a single API, AWS Backup will make it easier for backup and disaster recovery vendors, such as Druva and Veritas, to integrate AWS storage into their software tools.

Amazon’s cloud rivals Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform offer similar backup services, both for cloud and on-premises apps, but in addition to competing with them, AWS Backup will compete with some third-party backup offerings made for its own users. There’s a wide selection of backup services and tools in AWS’s own marketplace, including tools from familiar on-premises vendors like Veeam and Acronis.

There’s a risk that Backup can cannibalise this third-party market. At the same time, the API-based approach should benefit the ecosystem, providing an easy way to add the new functionality to existing tools and services.

Partners are a key piece of AWS’s approach to on-premises and hybrid backup scenarios that use Storage Gateway or Snowball Edge. Druva, for example, has a Snowball Edge appliance that comes pre-loaded with the software to collect your on-premises backups and ship them to the cloud. AWS Outposts, Amazon’s recently announced on-premises cloud hardware, will also integrate with Backup and support partner backup options that can run inside VMs.

Generally, Backup enables partners to offer the same backup and disaster recovery features in the cloud that they’ve offered on premises, Vass suggested. AWS, it appears, will steer customers to Backup-integrated partner solutions for more complicated scenarios than simple volume backup, such as application-aware backup or deduplication.

W. Curtis Preston, chief technologist at Druva, described AWS Backup as an introductory set of features rather than an alternative to full-featured enterprise tools. “Enterprises have recovery requirements and challenges that go beyond AWS Backup’s basic set of features; for example, legal hold and compliance, file-level search and access, cross-region disaster recovery, and the need to support hybrid environments that exist today,” he told Data Center Knowledge. “Businesses shouldn’t think about this as an all-in-one solution to their current backup needs.”

That fits with how Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moore Insights & Strategy, assessed the service. “I view AWS Backup as a valuable service for those who want an easier way to perform and manage backups but don't need every bell and whistle,” he told us.

“Some enterprises would like to get out of the scripting and manual process business and move those resources to other high-value projects,” Moorhead continued. “AWS backup is going to be a good way for those cloud-aware customers to simplify and automate backups. But for enterprises who already have sophisticated backup workflows, the appeal is going to be the cheap cloud storage, and they'll prefer to get that through backup vendors they're familiar with.”

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