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Tuesday, 27 March 2012 15:34

What are the risks of backing up your business data in the cloud?

Written by  Casper Manes

Accidents happen. Users delete files, change files and then want an old version, software crashes and corrupts open files, and occasionally malware gets in and destroys data. To mitigate these risks, companies must back up data. There’s really no choice there. Where they back up that data has a new choice; the cloud. Cloud backup services offer companies new ways to perform their backups quickly, efficiently, and in a very cost effective fashion, and in many cases, companies need nothing more than an Internet connection to start using these services. There’s no more need to invest in costly tape drives, off-site storage couriers, and there no more worrying about tapes going missing. It sounds like a brilliant technology, and it is, but it is not without its risks.

Wikipedia defines risk as the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). Companies accept risk every day, but the idea there is that they understand the risk. If you are going to use a cloud service for backups, there are certain risks involved, and this article should help you with understanding those risks.

Backups windows are too large

Backups performed onsite typically move data from servers to the backup system at LAN speeds and are only limited by the throughput of the tape drive itself. When you perform backups to the cloud, your Internet pipe will probably be the limiting factor. And since you are dependent upon your Internet connection, your backups are also subject to congestion and latency on the Internet. Look for services that can support continuous backups to reduce the chance that bandwidth constraints could cause issues, and monitor your bandwidth usage in case you need to order a bigger pipe.

Restore windows are too small

In the event of disaster, you need to get your services up and running as fast as you can. All that data you backed up to the cloud over the days, weeks, and months that you have been using the service all needs to come back down from the cloud as fast as it can, and that may or may not be as fast as you could get tapes brought to your DR site and then restore all that data. Evaluate your recovery time objectives and SLAs and then make sure you test your restores so you can say just how long it should take to recover.

Unauthorized access to your data

This risk exists now with your on-premise backup and your off-site storage to be sure, but when you store your data in the cloud, you are relying upon your service provider’s security. Reputable companies can suffer security breaches too, so consider backing up your data in encrypted format so that if your service provider does experience a breach, your data won’t be usable by anyone else.

Key management

If you do encrypt your data before backing it up to the cloud, make sure you have sound key management and escrow your keys offsite, but not to the same place you backup your data. Otherwise, if you lose your keys you won’t be able to access your data.

Loss of data

With tape based backups, you can take additional point in time backups to maintain data on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annual basis. You can use these older tapes to recover data from a point in time. Cloud based backups typically perform continuous replication of data, and changes overwrite previous versions of files. This is a good thing when it saves time and bandwidth, but can be a bad thing when you need an older version of a file. Consult your service provider to determine if they maintain previous versions of files, and to see just how far back those go, and then make sure you know in advance whether or not you bring back last quarter’s TPS reports from the virtual grave.

None of these risks are show stoppers, or reasons to not use cloud backup services, but they are risks that you need to carefully consider, and ensure you are prepared to accept and can mitigate.

This article was written by Casper Manes on behalf of IT Channel Insight, a site for MSPs and Channel partners where you can find other backup related articles such as how to setup a disaster recovery plan.