The cloud optimizes backup TCO

By Jeff Boles, Taneja Group
-- More data, more data, more data.  That seems to be the persistent chant ringing in the ears of most storage managers, and chasing them in their dreams at night. 

And it is no wonder why: Data creation is increasing, and companies seemingly find more reasons to keep data, whether for purposes of compliance, IP, reuse, or many other reasons.  It is similarly no surprise to storage administrator that there are few clear-cut winners among the alternatives for serving up yet more storage, while making it more efficient and affordable. 

Archival storage – solutions seemingly focused on that long tail of data retention in the enterprise – have often introduced new realms of complexity and management overhead, and can in turn incur costs far beyond the simple purchase of more storage.  Yet in the midst of this, we're seeing an emerging trend that holds promise for the alleviation of some of the storage pain: cloud-based services for the storage of data

The value proposition is multi-dimensional.  Sure, offloading data to the cloud can reduce ownership costs in the sense of pure storage, but it can also reduce the overall ownership costs associated with managing that data.  The most obvious case in point: backup.

Changing environment for long-term storage
Exploding data growth, estimated at 50% to 60% per year over at least the next five years, is combined with an evolving business and regulatory environment that is driving much longer retention periods for corporate data.  Add in an increasingly litigious business environment, and you have the market drivers for a new class of secondary storage. 

Tape has historically been the secondary storage tier, but an expanding need for data accessibility, even for archived data, and the need to meet legal requirements such as e-discovery, establishing retention holds, and enforcing immutability (records preservation in a non-rewritable, non-erasable format) is pushing enterprises to deploy an additional online secondary storage tier.  The primary storage bloat that is common in enterprises today is driven in large part by historical assumptions that a secondary storage tier is by definition offline (i.e., tape-based) and therefore any data migrated to it is no longer easily accessible for recovery, search, or other management purposes.

Vendors have responded with new platforms designed around scale-out architectures that leverage new disk technologies such as SATA and storage capacity optimization (e.g., file-level single instancing, data deduplication, compression, etc.) to meet these new requirements in a cost-effective manner.   If we examine the enterprise's need to retain corporate data for long periods of time, five drivers for long-term storage become evident:

• Archiving
• Local data protection (backup)
• Remote data protection (disaster recovery)
• Compliance/litigation
• General long-term data preservation

Existing products and technologies do an excellent job of meeting the requirements, but they still require customers to install and manage storage infrastructure to do so.  In-house storage infrastructure also imposes power, cooling, and floor space requirements on data center managers, all of which need to be taken into account as a solution's total costs of ownership (TCO) are evaluated.

Enter cloud-based storage
Cloud-based storage, defined as a dynamically scalable, internet-based storage target accessible over the web through common and easy-to-use protocols and APIs, is an emerging technology that offers significant benefit to end users.  Cloud-based storage provides easy access to storage capacity without the need to buy, install, and manage any infrastructure.  This model opens up the opportunity for cloud providers to create a set of easily accessible storage services to cost-effectively deliver advanced functionality on-demand -- to even the smallest enterprises.  The cost and ease-of-use advantages of cloud-based storage are attractive to enterprises of all sizes, but they are particularly relevant for small and medium enterprises that could not even consider in-house options for online secondary storage tiering in the past.

The cloud changes the TCO of backup
Our assessment of early customer adoptions of cloud technology are pointing out that turning to cloud services can deliver rewards a lot bigger than just offsetting the need for storage.  While the case is clear for the value of cloud storage versus just buying and operating more storage in the data center, the story becomes more interesting as other layers of the TCO onion are peeled away – the total cost of storing data onsite is made up of many more components than just maintaining disk space.

As one example: It is often the case that organizations simply don't recognize how much of their total storage cost is accounted for by the costs of backup.  When organizations are scaling their storage onsite, backup infrastructure is often just as constrained and bottlenecked as primary storage.  In reality, this can be a brutal one-two punch to the company buying more storage – run out of storage, and it's bad enough you're forced to pay big bucks to add more, but when the new storage comes in, you likely no longer have the backup performance to protect it within your designated backup window.  Let the tape library upgrades, fabric upgrades, media server upgrades, backup software feature additions, re-licensing, and backup optimization efforts begin!

With the right provider – one that has a reputation built on safely storing and preserving data – turning to the cloud can yield tremendous savings for IT organizations by giving them the confidence to move data into a long-term repository that they know will be protected for the long run.  This in turn releases the business from having to back up this data on an on-going basis.  But choice of the right provider is critical. With the wrong provider, cloud storage services may be comparatively expensive if lack of confidence forces the customer to maintain local backup copies after storing data in the cloud.

The list of providers with the ability to provide deep protection is short today, so it pays to do due diligence.  A few stand out on our list, with vendors such as Iron Mountain and Nirvanix both having been proven by the test of time.  But there are more providers in the market than ever before, running the ranks from the trusted to new innovators that promise a much different range of functionality. One example is Zetta's NFS-based cloud store. As is clear with the details behind leveraging the cloud to optimize your cost of backup, choosing the right provider may be key in determining how well you're able to optimize the costs of ownership in many different areas of your storage operations.

JEFF BOLES is a senior analyst and director of validation services with the Taneja Group research and consulting firm.

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This article was originally published on March 31, 2010