Highly Reliable Systems: Removable Disk Backup & Recovery


Removable Drives or Cloud?

By Darren McBride

Removable drives or cloud for backup? We’d really recommend both!  One of the promises of cloud based applications is 99.xxxx uptime.  With the possible exception of salesforce.com and outsourced e-mail, no cloud application is more popular than backup.  But the appeal of having mission critical data automatically protected by sending it to a big data center needs to be weighed against the advantages of having it on-site. Every week it seems another high profile cloud provider has an outage, some of them resulting in data loss.  A recent outage (Feb 2012) was Microsoft Azure.  Throughout 2011 we saw outages from big players such as Google, VMWare Foundry, Yahoo Mail, Microsoft, and many others.   Going back to 2009 800lb backup gorilla Carbonite suffered such serious data loss they even sued their hardware providers.

Probably the biggest concern with pure cloud backup applications is the length of time it takes to recover when data sets are large (say over 100GB).   Recovering this much data over even fast links can take days, if not weeks.  That’s why most small and mid size businesses supplement their cloud backup with a local appliance like our NetSwap (Linux based NAS) or WBA (Windows based NAS).  Something like 90% of restore’s are done from   local storage.  In our view, only after storing the data locally to a removable drive product (like our 2 bay mini-tower) should you consider spending the extra money to off-site the data to the cloud.  The cloud is great for small amounts of data, and it should be used for mission critical data that must be moved automatically to a secure location.  But let’s lay out a list of the downsides of cloud backup so that it can be evaluated fully:

  • Restore Speed.  As noted above, local restores can happen in hours, or even, if using virtualization technology, minutes.  Cloud services can’t keep up.
  • Reliability. Cloud providers aren’t perfect.  Outages do occur.  Equipment problems, flood, power failures, terrorist attacks etc can affect even the most well prepared.
  • Legal. In early 2012, provider Megaupload was raided and shut down by authorities for hosting illegal content.  What if your business data was there?  Could the Government access your data in the cloud? Some worry the U.S. Patriot act could provide the means.  Microsoft has admitted it.
  • Finance. Cloud providers go out of business.  Many are venture funded and are running at a loss.  For example Carbonite, one of the most heavily advertised services, is still losing money (as of early 2012) after several years of operation.
  • Cost. The cost of storage (and additional bandwidth) can become prohibitive for data sets over 100GB
  • Billing Disputes. Your data may be held hostage to your provider if a snafu in billing occurs.
  • Privacy. You don’t always know where your data exists in the world.  Once it’s in the cloud, are you sure copies aren’t made?
  • Security. You must trust that the encryption system used by your provider and software is secure.  Is there a brute force hacking approach that could expose your data to competitors in the future? Recently, multiple instances of hacks and data breaches have exposed the passwords of users of well-known websites and companies. These attacks also shed light on what a lousy job most of us do in using strong, unique passwords.

We hope this post has provided some food for thought in comparing cloud and removable drive backup strategies.  We honestly think a combination approach is the best of all worlds.

Darren McBride

About Darren McBride

CEO, Highly Reliable Systems, Inc. View all posts by Darren McBride →


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