Once, backup was the most unpleasant job for the IT department. Good backup management never got you a pay rise, but data loss could easily get you the sack. Whenever there was a work experience student in the IT department, it was their job to change the backup tapes regularly and drive to the bank safe or other secure location. Backups were hard work and time-consuming, and are only ever important at the end of the process. However, in recent years, disk-based backups have made real changes and the cloud offers a whole range of new options and opportunities. What exactly is cloud backup, what are the challenges and can you completely rely on cloud backup only?

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Cloud backup not only covers backups in the cloud, but also backups from the cloud. More and more primary company data is now stored in the cloud. The best examples are Office 365, Exchange Online and OneDrive, plus a range of Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) services. As more and more companies are moving over to transferring data to these SaaS-based cloud environments, it is crucial that the same level of data security is provided and that the data is backed up. This is known as cloud-to-cloud backup.

Private cloud on premises or with service-provider

Anyone opting for a cloud backup does not necessarily need to use a public cloud as offered by some of the big backup providers. They can also use suitable appliances to either set up a private cloud themselves or use a closed cloud operated by an IT service-provider they trust. In both cases, multiple backup appliances are used to form a private cloud. Many companies choose local service-providers in German-speaking countries. They provide proximity and trust and often ensure better legal security.

Disaster-proof cloud backup management

Just like any other kind of off-site data replication, the most important function of a cloud backup is disaster recovery. If data is lost both on the primary source and the appliance, for example, following a natural disaster, a fire or an explosion, all the data can be restored from the cloud.

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Backup and disaster recovery in and from the cloud are exciting new trends, but the cloud also offers major benefits in a third area of data backups, specifically backup management. The physical separation of the appliance and the management system means the management system remains intact and can be accessed from other places. This is very valuable, and not only in a disaster scenario. A shared interface for monitoring backups across different sites also saves money on a day-to-day basis. Personnel are not required to deal with the backups on site, at the branches, or other offices. Even in large companies with lots of branches, just a few administrators can control all backups around the world, and manage recovery at any site if necessary.

Bandwidth usage is the biggest challenge in cloud backup

In nearly all companies, data volumes are increasing exponentially, which increases the costs of the Internet connection and network infrastructure. To ensure data transfer to the cloud does not impact on the network performance and Internet connectivity of business-critical applications, modern solutions use incremental data backups and inline deduplication.

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Incremental data backup means only data that is new or has been amended is backed up. A full backup is carried out once to start off with and after that it is ‘incremental forever’. Inline data verification ensures that all the data in the backup is complete and usable, so it is no longer required to carry out regular full backups and build on them again.

The concept of inline deduplication ensures less bandwidth and storage space is required from the outset

Deduplication is also a very effective tool to reduce the amount of backup data transferred. This reduces data volumes massively where identical operating systems are run on numerous devices which are backed up, for example. The concept of inline deduplication ensures less bandwidth and storage space is required from the outset. An agent on the data source, for example the server, calculates a one-off hash value for each data block. The agent then sends this to the local backup appliance which compares it with the existing and processed data. If the value is unique, the appliance requests the block, if it is a duplication, the appliance merely adds a pointer.

Complete rely on cloud backups

Because of the data volumes and recovery time, it would be unusual for companies to rely completely on cloud backups. Recovery from a local appliance is quicker, and this also forms the gateway necessary for efficient communication with the cloud instance. However, with the developments in cloud backup and bandwidth availability and speed, this will be less and less a problem.

Cloud computing is constantly growing and it is predicted that by 2018, 59% of the total cloud workloads will be SaaS workloads, up from 41% in 2013. Many benefits can be achieved by moving data towards the cloud and more organisations are beginning to realise its potential. Although a percentage of offline backups are still required at the moment, cloud backups are constantly evolving and will be on the landscape for a very long time.

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Stefan Schachinger, Consulting System Engineer – Data Protection, Barracuda Networks  Stefan Schachinger is a Consulting System Engineer in the Data Protection Team at Barracuda Networks. Based in Innsbruck, Austria, Stefan has spent the last two and a half years helping Barracuda customers implement effective backup and archiving solutions. Prior to joining Barracuda, Stefan spent four years at managed service provider Antares Netlogix as a Project Manager and IT Security Consultant. Stefan holds a BSc and MSc in Information Technology and Information Security from the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien in Vienna.