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Cloudy with a Chance of Virtualization Backup

Doug Hazelman is traveling on business this week and asked if I would write a post and provide some advice on using a cloud service provider as a backup option for your virtualization backups.  My name is David Siles and I am the Director of Worldwide Technical Operations for Veeam Software.  I am also a VMware vExpert and VMware Certified Professional.

In my job, I am continually asked by customers, partners, and service providers who purchase our backup and replication product the best way to utilize our solution to interact with the cloud.  While this sounds ominous, dealing with backing up data into remote hosted storage or cloud storage has been around for some time.  You may be familiar with services such as Dropbox, Amazon Simple Storage Services (S3), Rackspace CloudFiles, and the like already.  They are great for protecting your personal documents and sharing items with colleagues for collaboration.  However when it comes to backing up virtual machines for remote data protection and business continuity additional questions arise.

The 4 C's
Cryptography, Compression, Compatibility, and Cost are the four "C's" to consider when dealing with cloud storage for backup of your virtual machines.  Everyone wants their data to be secure as it leaves their premise so encryption is always a concern.   Almost any cloud storage provider you choose to host your backups  is going to provide some access utilizing network transport encryption.  The further question is always around the backup archive itself.  The decision to encrypt the backup archive needs to be balanced with the purpose of the archive, business regulations, and corporate policy.  Just be aware that encryption is always a time trade-off.  Software encryption of the archive versus hardware encryption at the storage layer should be evaluated to best meet your needs.

The next consideration is compression, which feeds into the cost angle as well.  The moment backup data leaves your internal network, you are paying a bandwidth cost to both your Internet service provider and cloud storage provider.  The ability of your backup solution of choice to compress and deduplicate your backup archive is going to help reduce bandwidth and storage cost.  It is a must-have when looking at cloud storage.

When speaking to compatibility, you need to ensure that the chosen cloud solution presents a storage point that is compatible with your backup vendor.  Many providers will give you the ability to mount and present the cloud storage location as locally mapped target drive.  The other aspect of compatibility to consider is does this cloud storage provider offer a way to utilize my backups to extract and run my virtual machines in the cloud?  Many managed service providers are aware that in a true disaster situation, the ability to provide you cloud based storage for backup is key, but  the ability to restore and run the virtual machines in the cloud is just as important.  You may wish to consider providers that have a compute cloud that is compatible with your virtual machine format and hypervisor of choice.  Some service providers also offer the ability to host replicated virtual machines in native virtual disk format in a standby state that can be brought online if needed quickly.

The last aspect is always the one people focus on first—cost.  You typically pay for backup storage on a GB-per-month basis.  Additional fees include inbound and outbound bandwidth from the provider’s network along with additional services such as geographic distribution of content and guaranteed level of protection.  When doing your research, always consider the service level agreements and guarantees your provider offers.  Review the terms and conditions on the reimbursement of fees and damages for not meeting the SLAs.  Sometimes the most cost effective provider ends up costing you more in your time of need if they can't deliver when you need them most.

Take an Educated Chance
I always recommend that our customers start with low hanging fruit and test our solutions with their new cloud storage provider of choice.  As a place to start, reach out to your current backup solution provider and see if they have a recommendation for a provider.  Of course, since every situation is unique, you should still conduct a test for your environment.  Since you can typically pay as you use, test your backups into the cloud, test conducting recovery, and monitor your bandwidth utilization in a pilot program. Then make the decision that is right for your business needs.

Posted by Doug Hazelman on 07/15/2010 at 12:49 PM


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