How Suitable Is The Public Cloud For Backup And Disaster Recovery?

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    Your business has changed. The demand for agility, scalability and availability means we now do everything at a faster pace than ever before. The growing ability to process huge amounts of real-time information and the vast and continuous trail of data and alterations it generates has fueled the need to develop new processes of data storage, backup and recovery options.

    Traditional backup solutions struggle to address the needs of distributed data, or keep pace with the digital ‘speed of business’. Work is no longer tied to the office, and just as your business processes and applications have had to accommodate BYOD and off-site employees, so too do your disaster recovery options. What you need are solutions that are distributed and can scale. Without point-in-time backups, your organisation runs a significant risk of losing vital data in the event of a failure. However, you also require near-immediate failback/failover capabilities to avoid the high costs of missing a single step in the fast-paced digital world of modern business. The advent of the public Cloud, with its promise of infinite capacity and a reduction in cost, has introduced an answer that supports that ability to scale, while making savings and meeting the offsite requirements that now surround backup and disaster recovery plans. It appears to offer both reliability and agility on a budget. But, is it all it’s cracked up to be? Hidden fees, security threats, recovery time and access speeds have all called into question the ability of the public Cloud revolution to truly offer progress in this sensitive area of business operations. This article explores the potential shortcomings of the public Cloud as a platform for backup and disaster recovery and provides answers to how businesses can reliably secure their information in the event of a system failure.

    Backup and Disaster Recovery Priorities

    Costs. The Danger Of Hidden Fees

    In theory, public Cloud server and storage costs are falling. The reality is that while it’s true that pricing continues to become more modular and aligned to usage, this doesn’t necessarily translate to cheaper costs. These seemingly initial small costs can spiral out of control. It is essential that your in-house IT team learns about Cloud pricing models and takes steps to mitigate price gouging for essential services. Your first payment will seem minuscule compared to the upfront costs of building on-site infrastructure for backup purposes—this will seem much less the case when making the 100th payment. Other factors, like adequate bandwidth required to access the public Cloud from both your premises and at the server level, can also have a serious impact on costs. Many public Cloud providers charge per GB for communication between servers and levy a second fee per GB when data is sent online. For example, AWS will charge you for the use of a public IP address and then level an additional fee for every IP address involved in a data transfer. Many of these charges seem insignificant and do not always apply, but like the continual cost of renting the service, they can add up dramatically over time. In the event that you experience a critical failure, things can get even more expensive. A poorly constructed solution may require full copies of your data to be replicated back to your primary servers before failback can occur. This will not only be slow, it will be expensive. Data transfer out to the internet can cost five times that of the ingest charge—sometimes more. From a cost perspective, it can require your company to invest in an even larger bandwidth package to support the use of external applications and incur additional fees to make applications Cloud compliant. This can not only compound general latency issues—particularly for midsized firms with a single connection—it also requires the purchase of redundancy measures to protect that single point of failure and increases general internet costs.

    Speed of Failback—Speed of Business

    Recovery Time Objectives are a critical part of any backup and disaster recovery plan. Without them, all the time, costs and resources invested are useless because you have set no guarantees regarding how your business will recover in a disaster scenario.
    “attempting to restore only 1TB of data from a public Cloud server that is limited to a 20Mb connection will take over 5 days”
    The use of the public Cloud makes it fundamentally difficult to ensure any of these Recovery Time Objectives because of the limited bandwidth provided to public Cloud servers and competition for bandwidth across the wider internet. Prioritisation of particular traffic sets can only go so far. For services operating via the internet or leased infrastructure such as AWS, it is impossible to make meaningful Operational Level and Service Level Agreements regarding restore times. Without these, public Cloud disaster recovery is not capable of preventing catastrophic delays in restarting business processes after a failure. For example, attempting to restore only 1TB of data from a public Cloud server that is limited to a 20Mb connection will take over 5 days. Fundamentally, using a local backup system can mean your restore time is upwards of 300x faster, and a backup procedure operating at literally 1000x the speed. It is simply prudent to keep that in mind when placing your critical business applications in the hands of public network speeds. The bandwidth bottleneck ultimately draws concerns for the longevity and spread of the public Cloud as a replacement service for anything and everything as it is often proffered to be. Public Cloud based disaster recovery is simply one area of concern.

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    Failures of Security and Compliance

    Use of the public Cloud, in general, relies on entrusting the Cloud provider with your businesses data. It’s a trust that many of the big providers like AWS, Azure and Google have already won over. Less though remains known about where your businesses data actually resides and exactly who has access to it. Against a backdrop of GDPR and other ever emerging compliance regulations, as well as the ever-present threat of cybersecurity, this continues to cause IT & Security leaders a major headache. Although Cloud providers have invested in security protocols, and will become legally liable for the data they hold, that does not lessen the primary responsibility of your business to protect the data you collect—no matter where it is stored. Recent assessments indicate that only 2% of enterprise Cloud applications are currently GDPR compliant. There is also a fundamental lack of control and encryption across Cloud services. Only 1.2% of Cloud providers give users encryption keys, only 2.9% have password policies compliant with GDPR and a barely better 7.2% have proper SAML integration. If a Cloud service includes APIs, the security of that service then hinges on the security of the APIfurther escalating risk and decentralisation of security. The Cloud Security Alliance [CSA] is currently demanding security-focused ‘code reviews’ to bring the entire industry up to a higher standard. According to a survey conducted by the CSA, 73% of questioned IT professionals view security concerns as a top challenge holding back Cloud adoption.

    Are Public Cloud Services a Dead End for Recovery and Backup?

    Nothey simply aren’t perfect. Businesses are still faced with the reality that has driven the public Cloud as a strong candidate to support off-site backup and disaster recovery strategies. The key is not to consider public Cloud an easy catch-all solution to every aspect of your backup and disaster recovery plans. Everything depends on the specifics. If your business doesn’t handle particularly sensitive data, and where it’s acceptable to wait several days to restore operations, operating solely within a public Cloud offering might be a viable solution. Where operating in this state is not an option, alternative approaches, such as hybrid and private Cloud solutions close the gap. Although these options require more planning and expertise to manage, they benefit from being instantly compliant with your existing in-house policies, have greater security potential, and provide significantly more certainty around restore times and access speeds—often at a surprising degree of affordability.

    So. How Suitable Is The Public Cloud For Backup And Disaster Recovery?

    Public Cloud as a platform for backup and disaster recovery is an extremely valid way to improve backup and recovery flexibility while managing costs and coming to terms with a business environment no longer tethered to the office. It is simply necessary to plan and invest with open eyes and scrutinise the SLAs and particularities of your own business before placing your disaster recovery options in the hands of a third party. Identify the necessary Recovery Point Objective [RPO] and Recovery Time Objective [RTO], never underestimate costs and investigate the specifics of the pricing scheme. Most importantly, never take security or data locations for granted. Through comparing options and investigating hybrid and private Cloud solutions, many businesses will likely be able to improve their backup and disaster recovery capabilities using cloud disaster recovery software, making cost savings and improving business continuity. 
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    Troy Platts

    Troy has spent over 20 years helping organisations solve their data, storage and compute conundrums. He is a regular speaker at vendor events and spends any free time he has keeping abreast of advances in data platform technologies. He also makes a mean curry.

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