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4 long-term data backup options

Data backups ensure copies of critical data are available in the event of a crisis or failure. When backing up long-term data, cost and capacity are vital considerations.

When it comes to backups, IT teams have several data storage options to choose from. Administrators must know what features to prioritize when storing long-term data backups.

There are several types of data an organization might back up on long-term storage. If the organization is in the business of historical archiving, such as a library, low-cost long-term backups are critical. If the organization is in a business such as healthcare, where data retention is under strict compliance regulations, reliable long-term backups are paramount in a disaster. Tape, disk, flash and cloud are four top options for backing up and storing data long-term. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks.

Security is a key factor for all storage, but organizations working with long-term data backups should also pay particular attention to access, cost and capacity. Since long-term data isn't accessed as often as mission-critical files, performance and retrieval times for these backups can be lower than for high-priority data. This can vary if the organization is subject to service-level agreements (SLAs) that require rapid recovery times.

Organizations that store backups of long-term data must retain many files indefinitely, so high capacity and low cost are vital elements of the chosen storage method. If the company has a larger budget, it might be able to prioritize access over cost. However, with long-term data backups, lower prices are often chosen over high performance.

Security is a key factor for all storage, but organizations working with long-term data backups should also pay particular attention to access, cost and capacity.

Below are four options to consider when selecting a long-term data backup option.

1. Tape

Tape storage has long been a staple for backup data. While newer technologies have come along, many organizations still use tape for long-term backup and data archiving.

The biggest advantage of tape is the price. Tape offers the lowest cost for storage when considering cost per gigabyte. This makes it well suited for large capacities with long retention periods, as is the case with long-term data backup.

Another key attribute for tape is its ability to create a physical air gap, which has become a crucial security element for protecting against ransomware and other attacks. Because of these attributes, backup teams should consider tape for long-term backup in which there is little expectation for quick restore time, or when additional security is required.

The clear downside of tape is slow data access. If a business must restore backup data quickly and often, tape might not be the correct choice. This is particularly an issue for organizations that must meet compliance regulations or SLAs that require a fast restore.

2. Disk

Disk storage has become a popular option as a backup method due to its improved performance over tape, while still offering attractive economics. Disk provides much faster access than tape, with a lower price tag than higher-performance flash devices. This makes disk well suited for backup environments by providing low-cost storage for large capacities of long-term backup data, while providing sufficient performance when a restoration is necessary.

3. Flash

Flash storage is well suited to high-performance workloads, and organizations typically use flash for primary workloads rather than backup. High-performance SSDs might be needed in certain backup environments that require the fastest restore times possible, but this is not often the case for long-term backup.

In recent years, the economics of flash devices are changing, and SSDs might become a more practical choice even for long-term applications. Quad-level cell devices offer denser, lower-cost storage comparable to disk. Along with a performance advantage, flash might be able to edge out disk for long-term backup due to its lower energy consumption, higher reliability and increasing life span.

4. Public cloud

Public cloud is another option that is popular for long-term data backup. Both the performance and economic characteristics depend not only on the selected service provider, but on the storage tier selected. For long-term data, the most appropriate choice might be a cool or cold tier, such as S3 Infrequent Access or Glacier from AWS, or Azure's cool storage tier and offline Blob Storage.

These options offer low-cost storage with the advantage of moving the infrastructure and management responsibility off premises. However, restores from one of these tiers can incur large costs. Colder storage tiers might have a long recovery time, even more so than on-premises tape. Quicker retrieval times might be available depending on the provider, but likely at a higher price point. With this in mind, organizations with an expectation for frequent access to backups can consider a more expensive warmer cloud tier or an alternative on-premises option.

Mitch Lewis is a research associate at Evaluator Group. He provides insight into the IT landscape for enterprises, IT pros and technology enthusiasts alike.

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