Why Your Backups Should Be In the Cloud Micheal Goodwin February 12, 2018

Why Your Backups Should Be In the Cloud


Since the first computer, backups have been an essential part of protecting business data.  A business owners’ worst nightmare was the clicking noise of a crashed hard drive or finding a corrupt disk.  These fears prompted businesses to invest in expensive tape drives and the management of backup tapes.  An “off-site backup” was putting a tape into someone’s car and hoping they remembered to take it out of the vehicle before it baked in the glove compartment.  Backup retention was an office manager stacking those disks up in their home closet.  And while businesses hoped they would never need to recover from a disaster, their biggest inconvenience was the daily hassle of needing to restore an overwritten spreadsheet and having to wait a day for the office admin to bring the correct tape back to the office.

So whether a business needs data security to recover from a hurricane, a fire, a tornado, a crash, or simply a careless mistake, the need for a computer backup is not in dispute.  But even though nearly everyone reading this is in agreement that they need a backup, only 58% of small and medium sized businesses are prepared for a crash or a data disaster.

Though 78% of businesses will be storing their data in the cloud by 2020, many companies still store their backups on their local network.  For some companies, this makes sense because of poor Internet connections preventing them from storing data in the cloud.  These companies may also have budgetary hurdles such as the need for an expensive local backup appliance to run their backups.  Or the business may have a desire to run cloud backups but the complexity and uncertainty of setting it up themselves has prevented the move.

No matter the reason for a local or patch-work backup solution, a properly planned cloud backup solution is within reach.

Cloud Backup Internet Connections

A slow Internet connection for a cloud backup is the most significant technical problem to overcome when setting up a cloud backup.  As reported by KPLC News in Lake Charles, LA, Internet providers such as AT&T are increasingly delivering high speed Internet options to small towns and rural areas making cloud backups more effective.  Absent a high speed connection, most any connection can be used if you seed your cloud backup service.

“Seeding” data means getting a backup drive from the cloud solution provider to backup data locally.  The backup drive is encrypted and once the local backup is complete, it is shipped back to the cloud backup vendor to be uploaded into the cloud backup solution.  With a full copy of data in the cloud, only daily changes are backed up to the cloud to keep it updated.  This can be accomplished over slower connections overnight or during off-peak hours.

In the event of a significant server crash or local disaster, the same backup service can send a complete copy of data on an encrypted hard drive so it can be restored.  For smaller issues like the loss or accidental overwrite of a few files or folders, the cloud backup solution can immediately be used to restore files even over a slower connection. 

Local Backup Appliances

The easy alternative to expensive local backup appliances is that some backup scenarios do not need them.  Using software agents installed directly upon the devices being backed up, servers and computers may be backed up directly into the cloud backup solution and restores can be sent directly back to the local device.  This simple solution removes the up-front cost of a local backup appliance.  If the answer is so simple, why even bother with a local backup appliance?

Local backup appliances provide several advantages over direct cloud backups:

  1. Local copies of backup data
  2. Fast crash disaster recovery
  3. Faster cloud backup and restore speeds

Local Backup Data

One of the advantages of having a local backup is the data is on-site should it be needed.  While a cloud backup and restore can be started in minutes, the restore speed is based upon Internet download speeds and the other Internet traffic running at the time.  With a local backup appliance, restores happen at the speed of the local network and do not involve Internet connections.

Local backups are faster than direct to the cloud as well.  Backups create file locks or slow down servers during the backup job.  If the backups are going to a local appliance then the server and computer backups happen faster so the device can get back to regular operations quicker.  The backup to the local appliance is then synchronized to the cloud without further involving the local servers and computers.

Fast Disaster Recovery

Many local backup appliances have the ability to “spin up” crashed servers virtually within the appliance within seconds of a crash.  This is done with backup settings that create a “virtual server” backup of physical servers.  This virtual server copy of a server acts as a stand-in for the server during a crash so companies can continue working from the virtual copy while the physical server is being repaired.  This investment in a local backup appliance is a low cost way to have a local replacement server ready to go at a moments notice to help during a disaster.

Fast Cloud Backup and Restore Speeds

When Internet connections are heavily leveraged and the need to get backups and restores done quickly is a priority, the local backup appliance does an excellent job of compressing and synchronizing data with the cloud backup solution.  Backup appliances have special software and dedicated features to get data protected quickly with minimum disruption to the local network.

Cloud Backup Complexity

There are many cloud backup solutions on the market.  Even home users benefit from cloud backups of their personal computer.  In general, setting up a cloud backup solutions follows these steps:

  1. Creating a cloud backup account
  2. Installing cloud backup software
  3. Selecting which data to backup
  4. Verify cloud backups

These four steps do not seem so bad — especially when working with a single device with simple software requirements like a home laptop with personal photos.

But when deciding how to backup several computers, servers, and network storage along with more complex software like SQL, email, and line of business software, it can be enough for a SMB to throw up their hands, attach a local USB drive, and pray for the best.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  An IT Managed Service Provider can simplify the cloud backup experience and assist business with disaster recovery planning.  A qualified MSP can help deliver the previous four steps through experience and having dedicated team members to manage client backup solutions.

Creating a Cloud Backup Account

Technology management companies vet multiple backup solutions to find one that is reliable, fast, and cost-effective.  Once a backup solution has been identified, it should be the main tool used by the MSP to provide backup and recovery operations for clients.  This level of expertise benefits businesses by providing resources with advanced training and greater experience operating the backup solution.  The guess-work on which backup solution to use is taken care of by a trusted Managed Service Provider.

Installing Cloud Backup Software

Depending upon business needs, this can involve a local backup appliance for disaster recovery and business continuity, or installing backup software agents on servers and network devices needing backup.

Setting up a Business Disaster Recovery (BDR) unit requires a level of technical skill and time often beyond a SMB’s resources.  As discussed previously, the BDR gives a much greater degree of business up-time by providing virtual server capability in the event of a local server crash.

Selecting Which Data to Protect

Identifying what needs to be backed up is often less obvious than it seems.  Many line of business applications have special backup needs such as database backups, log files, and data directories that are not easy to find.  While it is possible to just “backup everything”, and in some cases this is required, this can also lead to unnecessary backup times and expenses by storing data that isn’t needed.  An IT consultant can help identify which systems and components need to be backed up.

Verify Cloud Backups

This last step is often overlooked until it is too late.  Just because a system is set to backup, it doesn’t mean this happened successfully.  A team should be in charge of verifying every backup and regular backup testing should be performed.  This includes performing restores of data and systems and then verifying the data restored is viable and able to be brought online.  Some systems, such as SQL databases and Windows Active Directory, require additional resources to be able to restore into test environments so live data will not be harmed during testing.

Cloud Backup Solutions That Work

Every business is a snowflake and requires a backup solution that fits them.  Working with an IT Managed Services Provider gives companies access to a team trained in deploying and managing backup solutions tailored to client needs.  While canned backup solutions such as Carbonite can work for do-it-yourself businesses with simple requirements, most SMB’s need more oversight and attention to their data protection and will benefit from consulting on their backup solution.