4 Ways to Cut Costs When Backing up VMs in The Cloud

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4 Ways to Cut Costs When Backing up VMs in The Cloud

Backing up VMs to the cloud isn't a no-maintenance solution if cost optimization is the goal.

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Data is a valuable asset for any organization. That’s the reason VMs (virtual machines) came to be. Users could perform tasks on a virtualized system that protects and secures data. But, VMs are expensive and that led to the rise of containers. However, VMs can’t be completely eradicated. Various enterprises depend on VMs in one way or another. Huge volumes of critical data are hosted on VMs, so it’s important to back them up because there’s an imminent threat of data loss. Traditionally, enterprises back up their VMs and store these backups in offsite data centers. This is done to have a copy of the data in case the primary data center is affected by a natural calamity or technical failure.

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When a VM backup is stored in more than one data center, and there are numerous VMs to backup, it can incur a huge cost. Maintaining physical data centers is extremely costly and therefore enterprises started to migrate to the cloud. Expensive hardware and their constant maintenance is an economic drain. Therefore, backing up your VMs to the cloud seems like the easiest alternative. Not to mention that different physical data centers are all prone to the same risks, which is why we need backups in the first place.

Backing Up To the Cloud

Copies of VM data can be taken from the production environment and stored in third-party cloud platforms. There are various solutions like Nakivo available in the market that offer VM backup and restore services. They help enterprises ensure seamless data recovery from VMs and facilitate uninterrupted services for applications that depend on this data.

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Backing up VMs to the cloud gives clients on-demand access to data. This data in the cloud isn’t affected by any physical variables. The backup process can be automated based on what files need to be backed up and at what frequency the backup job needs to run. With the cloud, there’s no physical limit. Enterprises can opt for subscriptions that suit their business needs best and get to work. Whereas, with physical data centers, if the data center reaches its limit, more servers need to be bought, leading to more expenses.

Let’s look at some ways enterprises can cut costs while backing up their VMs to the cloud.

1. Back Up Data Incrementally

An organization has to backup huge volumes of mission-critical data regularly. But, this data is bound to grow over time. So, how do you make sure that your backups don’t cost you a fortune for cloud storage and data transfer rates? This can be done by storing incremental backups.

With incremental backups, you just need to perform a full backup once, or once in a while depending on the backup strategy. Once the full backup is made, every consecutive backup contains only the changes made to the original backup. Since the backup isn’t done very often and only the new changes are backed up, organizations don’t have to pay for large cloud data transfers. These changes or increments can then be reflected on the previous full backup if the need for the backup arises. There are various kinds of incremental backup strategies to choose from depending on the size of backups and the speed of recovery.

2. Exclude Swap Files or Partitions

Sometimes, the RAM of a VM may not be enough to store the applications and OS data. In this case, the OS occupies some part of the hard disc to store additional data. This data is referred to as a swap file or swap partition in Windows and Linux, respectively.

The swap files are generally 1.5 times the size of the RAM. And, the data in these files change regularly. This means that every time a backup takes place, these files are backed up as well. However, this data is of no relevance to the backup. Therefore, these files should be excluded from the backup. These files can get really large as they keep changing after every backup job requiring even more space in the cloud. The point is to backup what you need, and leave out non-essentials like the swap memory of a VM.

3. Deduplicate and Compress the Backup

VM backups are large and can incur a high cost from cloud vendors. Hence, there is a need to ensure the backups take the least possible space in the cloud. Deduplicating is the way to go for large organizations. Deduplication is the process of copying only the changed data blocks and instead of copying the unchanged blocks, replacing them with a reference to the original blocks. Furthermore, various compression strategies can be used to compress the resulting backup to save even more storage. Look for ways to better manage data in these ways as they can greatly reduce costs.

4. Use the GFS (Grandfather-Father-Son) Retention Policy

Most enterprises backup data and forget it for months or years on end. This leads to unnecessary costs for data that is never used. The best way to deal with this is to use retention policies. These policies dictate how many backups can be held at a time in the cloud. The simplest backup retention policy or backup rotation scheme is First-in-First-out. With this policy, a specific number of backups are retained and once the limit is reached, the oldest one is removed to make way for the newest one. But, this strategy isn’t quite efficient as the goal is to have the most recovery points in the least storage space and be able to go back years in the past. This may even be required for compliance purposes.

Source: Pixabay

The solution is the Grandfather-Father-Son retention policy. Where the "son" is the most frequent backup made, say a daily backup, and "grandfather" is the least frequently made backup, say monthly. It may sound like we’re pushing the analogy too far, but every time a new daily backup is made, it becomes the son of the previous week’s weekly backup. This model gives enterprises more recovery points with the same limited storage space.


In order to cut cost for backing up your VMs to the cloud, you need a solution that ensures you don’t waste any storage. The VM backup solution should give you the power to automate your backups and let you set up the time and frequency of those backups so that you don’t have to do anything manually. It should include features like synthetic incremental backups, swap file exclusion, deduplication, and GFS retention to make sure you get the most out of backing up in the cloud by paying the minimum cost. It should also help you create secondary backup repositories that can be synchronized with the primary repository to make sure you have a backup for your backup.

In conclusion, backing up your data is likely the oldest tactic in the arsenal of the data professional. Backing up VMs in the cloud is a very convenient option, but it can be expensive too. By using the tactics mentioned here you can shave off a good chunk of your organization’s cloud spend each month.

cloud, cloud backup, cost efficiency, data management, virtual machine, vm backup

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