When CIOs saw the cloud and its possibilities of data storage, their eyes lit up at the idea of using the cloud for their backup data. Low marginal cost, reliability and no practical limit on storage resources made the cloud look like it was heaven sent. After the initial euphoria however, one or two questions remained. While the cloud is a good place to store backup data, retrieval may be another matter. You need ground rules to ensure that backups happen in a way that is reliable, flexible, and reversible. Where should you start? At the beginning, of course.
Think Out What You Want From Cloud Backups
In its simplest manifestation, a backup is a copy of your data made in case the original gets lost, damaged or corrupted. A cloud backup has the same purpose. It is a safe deposit of your data in a remote location. It represents the “truth,” or how your data looked at a particular time. Like any truth, that backup must also be the complete truth and nothing but the truth. That means:
- Defining your recovery point objective (RPO) so that your cloud backup truth is “complete enough.”
- Synchronizing the backups made to your cloud storage space from your on-premises systems or other cloud resources.
- Remembering to back up not only data files, but also system configuration files, often indispensable for recovering working systems in the case of a system crash.
- Listing all the systems to be included in your backup routines. For instance, popular cloud-based applications requiring cloud backup (and not necessarily having any solution of their own) might include Salesforce, Dynamics CRM, SugarCRM, Zoho CRM, QuickBooks, FreshBooks, MailChimp, ExactTarget, and Bigcommerce. Complete your list with all the on-premises systems, including any servers located in branch offices as well as those in your main data center.
The Biggest Priority is an Operational Enterprise
You’ll also want to configure in the right speed of cloud data backup recovery. This in turn will define your recovery time objective (RTO.) If that means pulling data back to your own on-premises systems or to any other non-neighboring resource with respect to your cloud storage, there are two factors to deal with:
- Speed of transfer
- Quantity of transfer
The speed of transfer is less a function of your backup solution, and more a characteristic of your network and file transfer capabilities. Bigger network pipes let you send more data. Smart file transfer protocols that bypass the conventional TCP flow-control braking factor then accelerate the transfer further.
However, how much of the backup “truth” do you need at a given time? Recovering on-premises systems after a crash for example is a natural objective. On the other hand, if there is a choice to be made, being able to do business again must take priority. The difference is the following. You may only need a few vital files in the first instance. Having to wait for an entire backup to make its way back to your on-premises systems could take significantly longer, meaning time during which your business is unable to operate. A good backup solution should therefore let you do both:
- View and search your cloud backups with search functionality that lets you use any field and filter, to recover any individual record, record field or object. If you can do this using standard browser access, this is also highly preferable, especially if a PC or portable is all that is left working after a server disaster.
- Restore whole backups if you need them, but also restore only changes from a previous version for accelerated whole backup restore if that previous version is already available.
Smart Things to Do When Your Systems Are Running Properly
Here is a hint: drinking coffee is not one of them. No, what you need to do is test those backups you made. A good cloud backup solution will let you efficiently and reliably restore the data you entrusted to it, but it cannot read your mind. It’s up to you to check that a restore really can let you start working with your primary systems again, while respecting the RPO and RTO that you need for your business.
Note that this is not the same as automating or monitoring your backup operations. That said, your backup solution should let you do both easily and conveniently, preferably with the following functionality:
- Backup data change comparisons. This lets you compare your backups and see the changes in data between different backups. For the best control, you should be able to drill down to see, which records were deleted, inserted and updated, and which fields were changed in an updated record.
- Selection of specific records that were updated incorrectly, and actions on separate fields in those records to restore or undo data changes as appropriate.
- Statistics on the total numbers of records backed up, restored or changed.
Having capabilities like these gives you ample forward and reverse gears. That in turn means high speed and high flexibility in your cloud backup operations.
Finally, Two Things to Do for Real Cloud Disaster Recovery
Cloud pay-as-you-go services and systems do not just make the cloud an attractive option for backup. They also provide a platform that can be made available immediately to run critical applications if an enterprise’s own data center fails. However, just as too many organizations only do half the necessary backup actions (they omit the restore tests afterwards), cloud disaster recovery gets short shrift too. There are two crucial parts to cloud disaster recovery:
- Preparing for a fail-over to backup systems in the cloud, using the data backups that have been made and synchronized beforehand (many companies get this right)
- Moving data from those failover systems back to the now restored primary systems after the IT disaster has been cleaned up (many companies do not think about this.)
The right cloud backup solution will help you to plan the second part of effective IT disaster recovery. It will include or link to suitable data import and import functions. Together with the other features described above, you will be able to manage and move around in your data backups with the speed, flexibility, and reliability needed to keep your business in operation at all times.