Embracing Cloud Storage Services for Data Durability and Availability

Legacy storage architectures are notoriously expensive and complex. Factor in the blazing pace at which data growth is accelerating, alongside rising pressure from the business for ubiquitous and always-on data availability, and a new nightmare is brewing for IT – at the center of which is backup and disaster recovery.

The 3-2-1 rule is the unofficial but generally accepted standard by which organizations gauge the viability of their backup strategies. This rule of thumb prescribes for three copies of data to live on two different storage media, one of which is off-site and ideally offline. To date, it has been effective in helping organizations to ensure that their data can be restored.

However, the 3-2-1 rule requires heavy investment in cumbersome storage infrastructure – a pain point that is exacerbated by exponential data growth. Additionally, storing and accessing data offline is becoming more challenging, and new malware that targets offline copies is emerging. Compounding these trends is the fact that lines between primary and secondary storage are blurring due to the advent of analytics and artificial intelligence. As a result, a new precedent for primary storage to fulfill core backup functionality is being set (for additional discussion, read Storage Switzerland’s recent blog, Making Primary Storage Fulfill the 3-2-1 Rule).

Rethinking how IT uses capabilities such as snapshots and replication brings primary storage closer to fulfilling key backup storage requirements, but a number of disadvantages to utilizing on-premises storage remain. Naturally, continuing to rely on on-premises infrastructure will not make a dent in continually escalating capex costs (including for real estate and software licenses in addition to the hardware itself) and storage management pains. Additionally, relying on the same storage infrastructure for primary and backup data does not fulfill the 3-2-1 rule (there is one as opposed to two different types of storage media being used for backups).

It is precisely the historically costly and unwieldy nature of storage infrastructure (and particularly of backup infrastructure) that has made it one of the most appealing targets for migration to cloud services. Many IT shops have hesitated, however, due to unfamiliar cost structures, and to concerns around meeting requirements around performance/latency, data availability, and security/compliance.

Quantifying the true business value of integrating cloud storage services instead of on-premises arrays as a core component of the storage architecture is indeed murky, but can be distilled into a number of key components to consider.

The most obvious upside to using cloud services is, naturally, the ability to avoid upfront capex investment. These costs are significant, especially as primary and backup storage infrastructures become increasingly redundant. Using cloud storage services enables IT to exceed 3-2-1 designations for multiple copies and storage media, as well as off-site requirements, without heavy investment in backup-dedicated software, servers and storage arrays. These are major budgetary line items. Additionally, copies stored in the cloud can be set to read-only access, or to have updates be limited, for additional security.

There is also the matter of simplicity – which extends beyond the fact that IT has to worry less about infrastructure planning, management and maintenance when working with a cloud service provider. Data is already natively stored in the cloud, in a cloud-accessible format. This stands to dramatically simplify cloud migration, as there are no additional data transfers needed. Additionally, when a restore is needed, IT doesn’t have to worry about data being stored in a backup format.

StorageSwiss Take

Today’s data availability requirements create urgency for a centralized data copy to exist, which is protected comprehensively and can be access in minutes (or less) from anywhere, with minimal upfront investment. An approach that utilizes primary storage to fulfill core backup functionality, and specifically relies on cloud storage services to do so, is a viable solution to meeting these demands. IT should consider an architecture that keeps compute and applications on premises, tapping all-flash storage technologies to minimize latency, and that blends a mixture of regional and large-scale cloud storage service providers for fully durable but also more cost effective backup and disaster recovery.

For additional detail and discussion, watch Storage Switzerland’s on demand webinar in collaboration with ClearSky, “Eliminate Backups and Simplify DR with Hybrid Cloud Storage.”

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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