Paul Evans with the questions you should be asking potential suppliers of your cloud backup technology.
Cloud backup has been around for more than a decade. It’s one of the most mature applications of cloud technology and has become a common feature of the business landscape due to its reliability, efficiency and automation capabilities.
Today, the cloud backup market is fairly saturated, giving organisations and consumers a wide range of services to choose between.
Consequently, there are a number of factors to take into consideration when choosing a backup services provider.
Asking the right questions will help you to differentiate between consumer-focused and business grade services and will ensure the service chosen meets your own specific needs.
1. Performance and Versatility
Contrary to popular belief, implementing an enterprise cloud backup service will enable an organisation to reduce its backup times by minimising the total volume of data being transferred to the backup platform on a daily basis.
Advances in file scanning, data compression and deduplication, driven by competition, means that today’s leading cloud backup service providers are able to offer businesses much faster backups and often more rapid restores than traditional methods such as tape.
Most cloud backup services are ‘incremental forever’ following the first backup.
This means that only files or blocks within files that have changed since the last backup are transferred offsite.
Many service providers advertise impressive statistics to outline how effective this process is in reducing the data that will be backed up daily.
In truth, these figures will vary from one environment to another. Therefore it’s important to request a proof of concept, focusing on the server or servers that are likely to be the most challenging.
It’s also important for the service to support all platforms (Windows, Linux, UNIX, Mac) and applications (Hyper-V, VMware, Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, Dynamics, SharePoint, Oracle) that your business uses or will likely use in the future.
This versatility will enable a business to continue using the service as it continues to grow and change long into the future.
No two businesses are alike, so it’s unlikely that any solution will be a perfect fit with a default off the shelf configuration.
Therefore, it’s important to choose a service that can be customised to exactly fit the needs of your business.
For example, your business may require a local backup for high speed restores of business critical data. In this instance, choosing a cloud backup service that can be deployed in a hybrid configuration is a must.
Questions to consider:
- Will I have to do a full backup again after the first backup?
- How does your deduplication work? Is it block-level or file-level?
- What operating systems/applications does the technology support?
- Can the service be customised to suit my needs?
- Does the service support a hybrid cloud configuration?
2. Security & Compliance
When storing and managing your customers’ confidential data, security and compliance is essential.
Most reputable providers will be able to provide you with assurance that your data is encrypted not only before it leaves your infrastructure but also at all times whilst in transit and on their platform.
In addition, reputable providers will give the customer complete control over the encryption key and will ensure that the encryption key is never accessible, even to the provider themselves.
An assuring indication that a provider takes its quality control, procedures and security seriously will be if they are ISO 27001 and 9001 certified.
There are a growing number of organisations who refuse to work with cloud service providers who are not ISO certified.
If nothing else, the ISO certifications are evidence of the provider’s attitudes towards the management and protection of their platform.
While many other certifications exist, including many put forward by cloud providers themselves, ISO certifications are externally verified and therefore, very reliable.
Some businesses are subject to legislation which prevents them from storing their data outside of Europe, others are legally obliged to store data within the UK’s borders and for others it doesn’t matter.
However, for any business looking to adopt cloud backup, it’s important to understand the location of the provider’s data centre and specifically whether or not they will ship you a drive or drives with your backup data on it should you lose connectivity or require a very large restore at short notice.
Questions to ask potential providers:
- Do you have any customers in the same industry you can reference?
- How is my data encrypted?
- Can you deduplicate data once it’s on your platform? If they can, how do they deduplicate encrypted data?
- Are you ISO 27001 and 9001 certified?
- Which data centres will my data be stored in?
For any business looking to implement cloud backup, pricing will be a key factor as all organisations need to balance service levels with service costs.
It’s also important for the business to consider what pricing structures work best for them. While shifting backup costs from CAPEX to OPEX is often a major selling point of migrating backup to the cloud, some prefer the CAPEX model for budgetary reasons.
Many backup providers are able to offer a high quality, high value service along with a flexible pricing structurethat can fit your business model.
The most common models for cloud backup billing are typically based on the amount of data being stored at the datacentre after deduplication and compression or the amount of data selected for backup by you in your environment.
Businesses need to be aware of whether their provider also includes fees for upload, download, couriered drive restores, setup fees or general maintenance as this can introduce cost unpredictability.
Questions that will help:
- Is it a cost per GB/licensing price?
- Do you charge for the upload/download of the data?
- Are there any additional charges for support?
- Can you bill me monthly or quarterly, in advance or in arrears, or annually in advance depending on my preference?
4. Availability & Service levels
Service availability levels are a function of a provider’s investments in its data centres and connectivity and a number of providers offer service credits for downtime within their service level agreement.
Another method of finding out whether the platform you are considering is reliable is to ask for references.
Although some believe you can often get an inaccurate opinion of a company from one of their customers, speaking to an existing customer in a similar industry or with a similar dataset or environment to yours can provide an indication of how well the service would work for you.
Questions to ask:
- What assurances do you provide in relation to uptime?
- How much downtime have you had in the last 24 months?
- What disk is my data stored on i.e. drive specification, RAID configuration, age etc.?
- How much resilience have you built in to your own network?
- Where is your support team based? Do they provide telephone and email support?
5. Vendor lock-in
When choosing a cloud backup provider, it’s important to consider your exit strategy.
It’s all too common to hear of businesses continuing to use a service despite it no longer meeting their needs.
This can often be due to the incumbent provider restricting or impeding the customer’s ability to transition to a competitor’s product or service.
Before signing a contract with a provider, it’s worth asking whether they can facilitate moving customer data out of their service platform easily, preferably providing it on encrypted, couriered disk or disks or assisting in migrating it to an alternate platform.
If they don’t, then additional fallback plans must be made to cater for this requirement in the future.
Questions to consider:
- What is the minimum contract period?
- What service levels does the provider agree?
- Are there any restrictions on cancelling the service?
Will you copy the data onto hardware and ship it to us if we cancel? Is there a cost associated with this?
No matter the size of an organisation, protecting critical and sensitive data is a familiar challenge.
In addition, the amount of information needing to be protected continues to rise.
Leveraging cloud backup can save businesses money, improve levels of data protection, scale with data growth, reduce management headaches and help comply with regulations.
However, not all cloud backup services are created equal and neither are all cloud backup providers.
It is essential to look very carefully at a prospective cloud backup provider as well as the service itself to ensure they are both a good fit for your business’ needs.
As cloud backup is delivered via the Internet, it can be difficult to get a good understanding of the service provider before signing up for the service.
Many cloud backup providers have a tendency to become faceless organisations that deliver support via complex ticketing systems as they seek to reduce service delivery costs.
When choosing a cloud backup provider, choose one that you can put a face to and that you can reach by phone with ease.
In addition, running a trial of the service on your most challenging hardware will quickly determine whether it will work for you.
Lastly, ask for references. A reputable and experienced provider will have reference sites similar to your environment that they will be eager to put you in touch with because no-one sells a service like a happy customers.
Paul Evans is managing director of Redstor, a UK provider of data protection and cloud services