Within the last days I tested several solutions for backup and storage in the so called "cloud", e.g. by service providers in the Internet. I learned some interesting things:

  • Backup in the cloud is amongst the most mature cloud services
  • At least in some cases
  • There are still some weaknesses, including performance, platform support, and costs
  • And few vendors provide a strong ITIL and SLA support
  • And, like with all other cloud services, backup in the cloud requires a clear "cloud strategy"
If tested solutions of different vendors, as well local players in Germany and Switzerland as international vendors like Mozy. The best one I've tested was a local supplier in Switzerland, with a very detailed description of its service, comprehensive forms for SLAs and so on. And with a strong technical foundation, supporting virtually any type of operating system.

But, in general, most service providers I've tested delivered a reasonable solution for backup and restore, with easy to use software and very simple setups. These were sufficient for the home user and may be for small business. But at the level of medium-sized businesses, many of these solutions aren't sufficient. No support for a central management of multiple servers is one of the typical shortcomings.

One of the issues is performance. With ADSL, backup always is relatively slow - at least compared with disk-to-disk backups. Compared with tapes, it isn't that bad... A bigger issue was, in many cases, the platform support. Some solutions were Windows only, other didn't support 64-bit versions of Windows Server. That is one of the aspects which always should be evaluated. Another aspect is the pricing. Some solutions started very low but backing up a few 100 GB - not uncommon today - was pretty expensive. Thus, prices should be calculated for expected amounts of backup data to compare different license models.

The documentation of services was often pretty weak - which is an issue if backup in the cloud becomes a vital part of the business continuity concept of IT. It is worth to talk with the vendors about this. For sure you can argue that you could just use two different providers for "failover" - but even then you should ensure that both provide a high quality of service.

Finally, backup in the cloud requires trust to the vendor. You should think about that. Whom do you really trust?

Besides this, backup is only one element of cloud strategies. The more services you use from the cloud, the less you have to care about backup, because that should be part of what the service provider delivers. Thus, long-term contracts might be a lock-in when more services are sourced from the cloud. In general, I strongly recommend to first define a cloud and virtualization strategy and than to start even with basic services like backup in the cloud. Even while backup is easy to implement, you should have a defined list of requirements for your cloud service providers.