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Hybrid cloud backup and recovery solutions are emerging as a key solution to enable business continuity 24x7x365

Examining Six Hybrid Cloud Trends in Disaster Recovery and Backup for 2016

In the ESG Research Report, "2015 IT Spending Intentions Survey," IT professionals list improving backup and recovery, managing data growth and using cloud infrastructure services as top IT priorities over the next 12 months. So it is no surprise that cloud-based disaster recovery (DR), business continuity and backup initiatives solutions are under close examination by many companies.

Hybrid cloud backup and continuity solutions, in particular, have a variety of benefits that can greatly enhance the depth and breadth of protection for businesses that need to stay up and running through all sorts of downtime challenges. It's now possible for a single backup and recovery solution to protect data locally and have multiple backup copies stored in various cloud locations. Local protection allows firms to have backups cached near IT for rapid recovery of minor issues, such as an accidentally deleted email. Storing multiple copies in the cloud provides geo-redundant disaster protection and failsafe long-term retention. While this was possible previously, the most powerful cloud recovery solutions today do this automatically and at a cost far cheaper than most companies can do it themselves.

Yet, as with all emerging technologies, sorting out the real trends from the marketing noise is a significant challenge. What are the trends in hybrid cloud DR and backup and what should IT professionals be asking of their teams and potential vendors as they consider a cloud-based backup and continuity solutions? Here are six main themes to keep in mind:

1. Low-cost cloud storage enables organizations of any size to easily get true offsite DR
New cloud-based backup and DR solutions utilize cloud's inexpensive and flexible storage and compute. Cold storage in the cloud can now be acquired at prices below one cent per gigabyte per month from hyperscale cloud providers like Google and Amazon. Several backup software and appliance vendors also have their clouds specifically built for data protection. No longer is DR or offsite storage a challenge to small, single site businesses. It is now possible for any company to quickly and cost effectively have an offsite location for backup copies and DR of critical systems without having to build and manage a secondary site.

2. Wide variations in cloud backup and recovery solutions
There are wide variations in cloud options so IT leaders must do their homework before deciding which solutions are the best fit for their company's environment. At first glance, it may appear that the obvious solution is to simply move copies of backups to a hyperscale cloud vendor. With the cloud storage cost per GB as low as one cent per month with some hyper-scale cloud providers, that may seem like the most affordable option. For some companies, it's the right choice. But IT leaders must look at the total cost of each solution including those slightly hidden charges. For example, there may be network egress fees, data retrieval costs and the compounding storage of data for long-term retention. IT professionals may be shocked by the total costs for these low-cost options over a period of a few years. Additional factors such as the ability to get the data back quickly may not be so obvious but can be just as costly. There are also wide variations in the service level agreements (SLAs) that the various solutions provide for uptime, guaranteed recovery times, etc.

There is also varied functionality between vendors. Many cloud recovery solutions have simply taken existing backup techniques and bolted on a cloud extension. They are simply creating a mechanism to move copies of backups to offsite cloud storage that previously would have been stored locally or put on tapes and shipped to a vault. While this solves some problems by automating formerly manual processes of moving data offsite for basic DR, those solutions have not had the transformative impact that cloud potentially offers. Therefore, due diligence is required when comparing options.

3. WAN bandwidth concerns persist
Storage growth continues unabated. There is more data than ever to back up. However, while wide area network (WAN) bandwidth continues to grow, it remains a tremendous challenge moving data in hybrid cloud continuity architectures.

As a result, it's extremely important to use granular continuity approaches that can mix local archiving with advanced WAN acceleration techniques. More than ever the backup and data retention strategy and vendor's ability to efficiently dedupe, compress and otherwise optimize the amount of backup data that needs to be sent over the WAN is important.

There is an alternative method to get the initial set of data into the cloud without having to wait days or weeks to transfer many TBs over a WAN called seeding. Physical seeding uses physical disks and overnight shipping to quickly create the first dataset in the cloud. Media, typically physical disks, is sent to the cloud provider to "seed" the initial full set of data and avoid the WAN challenge. However, not all vendors offer a seeding option and almost all charge a nominal fee for it.

Seeding can also be done in "reverse" and can be even more important than the initial seeding your data to get started. "Reverse Seeding," a.k.a. a Data Shipment Service Level Agreement allows companies to get data back within 24 hours in the event of a disaster. If the customer has a disaster and loses all or a large amount of their data, the cloud vendor places their data onto disks or a new backup appliance and ships it to the customer. A data shipment SLA can be the difference in having a recovery time objective (RTO) of hours vs. weeks for large amounts of data.

4. Understanding of cloud security is maturing
Consistently, security is the top concern of IT regarding the use of cloud technologies, and this trends is likely to continue. Despite the fact that most cloud facilities operate with far more extensive security measures that most enterprise data centers; there is natural concern amongst some IT and business leaders in moving data to anywhere outside of their control. In some cases, there may even be a regulatory requirement against it.

However, just as consumers became more comfortable with Internet banking, many IT leaders are becoming more comfortable with cloud security. To get greater confidence, IT professionals must ask cloud vendors about SSAE 16 and SOC compliance certifications. SSAE 16 effectively replaced SAS 70 in 2011 and is useful in validating security and other financial reporting requirements.

5. Moving beyond data protection to system and workload availability
Once copies of backup data are in the cloud, numerous other possibilities open up. IT leaders can begin to think differently about data protection and start thinking about data and system availability. The dynamic nature of cloud resource provisioning and the mobility of data and resources within the cloud opens up possibilities that would have been far beyond the reach of most companies just a few years ago. Data stored in the cloud can be used to rapidly spin-up critical workloads. System availability and true DR can be done with a single click of button or phone call to declare a disaster. DR as a Service (DRaaS) is emerging as the next logical step for many companies once they jump into a hybrid cloud model for backup.

6. Automating the testing and validation of cloud backup and DR
Backup and DR environments are important. However, what matters is whether the company can recover data and spin up critical systems when needed. Unfortunately, for too many companies, there are frequent doubts about the ability to recover. For example, DR environments are typically only tested every few months or once a year. Those manual tests can be expensive and highly disruptive.

However, true recovery assurance solution are now available that can solve these challenges. With recovery assurance, IT no longer has to wonder if the backups are good and the applications will work properly in the DR environment when required. Recovery assurance ends the DR testing hell that many enterprises face. Infrequent, manually intensive DR tests are expensive and do little to reduce concerns about recoverability. Recovery assurance solutions automate the testing of backup and applications in the DR environment. By automating testing, IT professionals can test and certify, at the application level, that critical systems are functioning properly, providing IT with absolute confidence in the environments.

Hybrid cloud backup and recovery solutions are emerging as a key solution to enable business continuity 24x7x365. The mix of local backup solutions, combined with copies of backups in the cloud, plus DRaaS and recovery assurance can empower a company with absolute confidence to withstand almost any downtime event or disaster.

About Dave LeClair
Dave LeClair is vice president of product marketing at Unitrends, the leader in enterprise-level cloud recovery. He has 25 years of engineering and marketing experience working for both technology startups and established technology companies, including Stratus Technologies, Avaya, Vibren, National Semiconductor and NEC Computers.

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