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Cloud-based backups aid overall data protection plan

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From cost to off-site protection, cloud backup offers many benefits. This podcast details the good, but also the bad and the ugly, when it comes to cloud.

With data protection so important these days for a variety of reasons, the cloud can be an important piece of IT's toolbox. Cloud backup is one way to get your data off-site, but there are many factors regarding vendors and best practices that businesses need to cover.

In our latest edition of the Back Up to Basics podcast, we speak with Doug Hazelman, vice president of technical marketing at CloudBerry Lab, about cloud-based backups and how his company stands out in a crowded market.

One area where CloudBerry is different is the vendor does not provide cloud storage; it only handles backup and recovery. The majority of customers use AWS, but CloudBerry supports more than 30 cloud storage vendors.

That element can keep costs down, but Hazelman says it does require a bit of a learning curve for some customers. He notes, however, that, even though cloud is in the company's name, cloud is not actually required.

"You can still back up locally and not have to go to the cloud," Hazelman says. "But once you kind of get in there and set it up and get it connected, it's really hands-off and very easy to manage."

Cloud-based backups are often highlighted as good bang for your buck, but costs can skyrocket if you're not careful. Hazelman recommends keeping a close eye on what you're sending off to the cloud and also tiering your cloud storage. CloudBerry, for example, has an autotiering feature with AWS.

In this podcast, Hazelman highlights other challenges to cloud backup and how users can effectively get around them. From ransomware to bandwidth to the new GDPR, there's a lot to track with cloud-based backups.

Is cloud backup the right investment for your organization? Listen to the podcast, and read the transcript below for guidance in this important data protection field.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and condensed.

The cloud is increasingly popular as a backup platform these days. What are some best practices for cloud-based backups that users may be overlooking?

Doug Hazelman: You don't want to just put all your backups in the cloud. You want to have a local and a cloud strategy because of the 3-2-1 rule of backup: three copies of your data, on two different media, one of them off-site. The cloud is perfect for off-site. And with prices that continually drive down cloud storage and bandwidth increasing, it makes it easier and easier to use cloud as a great off-site storage option.

It sounds like cloud-based backups work best combined with another type of backup. Is there one that you'd recommend over another to comply with that 3-2-1 rule?

Hazelman: Any backup software you look at should be able to back up locally to disk at bare minimum. Some of them also support tape; CloudBerry does not. But then there's also that backup to cloud. Now, sometimes, it's separate backups, one local and one in the cloud. Other times, like with CloudBerry, we call it 'hybrid,' and it goes to both locations at the same time. So, that way, you're covered, and you don't have to run multiple backups in order to get both local and cloud backups.

What about the cost of cloud-based backups? The price tag can be one of its selling points, but if users aren't careful, those costs can really escalate. How can customers keep costs down?

Hazelman: Something that you always want to keep tabs on is how much data you are sending up there. What typically happens is: You start out small and think, 'Oh, it's not that expensive.' And then you start adding more and more backups or more and more data, where you have longer retention periods, and now, all of a sudden, you get your cloud bill, and it's 10 times what it was a month before because it grew out of control. Have a report sent to you in terms of your cloud storage usage so you can make sure that it's going more in a straight line instead of a hockey stick-type scenario.

What a lot of people don't realize is: There's a lot of choice in cloud storage. So, there's not just one cloud storage provider out there or not even just three. There's a lot more than that. And a lot of cloud storage providers, if you're concerned about price, many of them are very price-competitive but yet offer a lot of the same types of features that some of the bigger cloud storage providers have.

You mentioned sometimes that bill escalating all of a sudden for customers. Is there something that a cloud backup customer can do upon reaching that high price range to cut it down?

Hazelman: It depends. There are a couple of different ways to do it. One is look at your retention periods. How many copies of your backups are you saving? If you're doing it for regulatory reasons and you have to save a year's worth of backups, then you're going to have to figure out how you do that.

Also, look at the different storage tiers available in cloud storage. Providers like Amazon, Azure and others have essentially what they call 'hot, warm and cold storage.' Hot storage is going to be your most expensive. That's where things go right away and you can retrieve data immediately. Warm storage is typically just as fast, but it may not be as georedundant as hot storage. And then, with cold storage, most people think of Amazon Glacier. And that typically is for longer-term retention. It's cheaper, but if you need to get the data back, it may take up to 24 hours, depending on how Amazon stores it.

Tier your cloud storage. Those things are there for a reason. One of the features that CloudBerry has with Amazon is that you can set up autotiering so it'll move data to hot to warm to cold over a period of time, and that can significantly reduce your bill. If it's going to be archived, put it in Glacier because you're probably not going to need it very often. And if you do, it's not like it was a backup from yesterday that you need immediately. It's probably a backup from four months ago, and you can wait 24 hours to get it back in most cases.

Let's shift to one of the big threats to data right now and that's ransomware. CloudBerry, for example, has added ransomware protection to a recent product update. How big of a risk is ransomware getting into cloud-based backups?

Hazelman: It's always a risk. CloudBerry's protection is more like ransomware detection. Essentially, what we do during a backup is: If, all of a sudden, there are a lot of files that have been changed outside of the norm, we might send an alert. You can then go and investigate.

The risk of ransomware with backups is not typically that you don't have a backup to recover from; it's that your backups are stored in such a way that the ransomware can get to your backup files. And that's especially true if you're storing them on disk. It's very easy for ransomware to go in there and infect your backup file.

One of the nice things about cloud is: As long as you don't have a direct connection to your cloud that you maintain open at all times, the cloud is disconnected from your production network. So, if your production network gets hit by ransomware, typically, what you have in the cloud is safe. So, you can still recover the data from the cloud-based backups and get back up and running without having to pay the ransom.

Are there other best practices that users should follow in terms of protecting cloud data from ransomware?

Hazelman: There are utilities in CloudBerry to map a drive up to your cloud storage. I do not necessarily recommend keeping that open all the time because that's one way for ransomware to get in and infect.

Ransomware protection is a multipronged approach. Backups are a great line of defense. But you also need to look at detection and prevention. Make sure that you have malware protection, that you've got antivirus -- those types of things to prevent the attacks from happening in the first place.

And the last and probably most important -- and it's not just with cloud data, it's any data in terms of ransomware -- is user education. Make sure that people don't click on those darn links that come in through those phishing attacks because that's probably the easiest way for the bad actors to get in. They send an email, it looks legitimate, it looks like it's from Microsoft, I click the link, and now, all of a sudden, they just downloaded ransomware onto the laptop, and it starts going out and affecting everything that they have access to.

What are other major challenges you're seeing in the cloud backup market right now?

Hazelman: Typically, with our customers, the biggest challenge is bandwidth just because, depending on how they're doing their backup, it can take a lot of bandwidth to get the data up to the cloud. Especially if you're talking to small businesses, a lot of times, they just have a cable modem connection to the internet, so it can take some time. So, you want to look at how you architect the backup because an image-based backup is typically going to take a lot more time and bandwidth to get up to the cloud than a file-based backup. If you can do image-based backup locally and file-based to the cloud, that way, your data is in the cloud and it's safe and your images are local.

What about the GDPR? Are you finding many customers have needs regarding that new law or other privacy and protection regulations?

Hazelman: Definitely -- we have customers around the globe. So, even though a lot of our customers are in North America, we still have them in Europe, and GDPR has been a big concern. We've written a number of blog posts about it to try to make sure that people are informed in terms of what we do because we don't actually provide the cloud storage. That is provided by the user or the managed service provider [MSP]. It kind of shifts some of the onus on to them versus us because all we are is we're a mechanism to back up and get data to the cloud. It's just we're not the ones that are actually responsible for that data once it gets there.

Cloud backup is a pretty crowded market at this point. How does CloudBerry stand out?

Hazelman: What you'll see from a lot of vendors that have cloud backup support is that they have their own cloud and their own storage. Typically, when you buy into their mechanism for backup and disaster recovery, you're buying their software or maybe a hardware appliance, but then you're also relying on them for storing the data up in the cloud. They may or may not have their own data centers, they may be leveraging others; that kind of becomes a gray area.

CloudBerry is different because we don't own data centers. We don't own cloud storage. We're providing essentially just the mechanism for you to connect the backup software to the cloud storage provider of your choice. And what that does is give customers choice. They may want the product that has the most features, but it's going to be a little bit more expensive. Or they may be able to say, 'I don't need georedundancy around the globe.' So, it gives you that choice of which cloud you're using and where to put those cloud-based backups. It's a lot different from what other vendors provide.

Looking ahead, is there anything big that CloudBerry is working on or that you'd like to see the company tackle in the next year or so?

Hazelman: One of the things we should have released very soon is an update for our backup for Mac and Linux and adding image-level support there. A lot of people have been asking about that, so that is coming somewhat soon.

And something else that we've been working on -- and it's currently in beta -- is remote access. Essentially, what we've done is we now provide a free way for you to connect to another PC. You can use it as much as you want, anywhere you want. If remote access is something that you're interested in, whether it's helping out a co-worker or helping out your mom at home, it's definitely something you want to check out because it's really easy to use. That's for Windows.

Is there anything else that you wanted to mention about cloud-based backups or CloudBerry in general that we hadn't touched on?

Hazelman: Managed service providers are kind of the lifeblood of CloudBerry. One of the things that we launched a couple of months ago is a podcast specifically targeted at the MSP audience. It's called MSP Voice. I'm the host. We publish the videos on YouTube, and it's on all the popular podcast platforms. If you're a managed service provider and you want to hear a podcast about managed service providers essentially from managed service providers, it's not a commercial for CloudBerry by any means. We want to make it a resource to the community.

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