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NAS backups to cloud: Tips, tricks and market options

Cloud providers now offer NAS compatibility, which gives another option for NAS backup. Know what to expect when exploring NAS backup for cloud options.

NAS systems are designed to provide reliable, redundant backup capabilities. As a result, simultaneous storage and backup failures are rare.

However, it is not impossible. When a crisis strikes, such as a fire, natural disaster, ransomware attack, or any other potentially adverse event, system administrators must have rapid access to a complete and current NAS data backup.

In past years, a NAS data backup would most likely have been to a tape that was shipped off-site, often to a tape storage service provider. The rise of cloud backup has changed that. "More often, these days, that off-site copy resides on cloud storage," said Fred Chagnon, principal research director at Info-Tech Research Group.

Benefits of NAS backup for cloud

With the cloud as a backup destination, valuable and sensitive data gain an additional layer of protection against hazards that could lead to permanent loss. Cloud backups usually safeguard uploaded data via encryption and two-factor authentication.

"Cloud backups are, and have long been, a key component in proactive cybersecurity, 3-2-1 backup strategies and watertight disaster recovery plans," said Matt Donahue, a compliance and risk analyst at Entrust Solutions. "Moreover, selective syncing technology optimizes both cost and storage capacities."

Chagnon agreed. "Cloud storage is cheaper than tape, and while the restore time can be significantly long, depending on network speeds, it's generally faster than rolling a truck from your tape storage service provider," he said.

Watch out for these drawbacks

While the cloud is generally an excellent NAS backup method, some enterprises will need to proceed with caution, particularly those that must comply with data residency mandates. Many organizations have restrictions about the regions their data can be stored. "When they can't be certain that a cloud service provider won't store [their data] within those areas, they mitigate that risk by controlling the storage themselves," Chagnon said. That often means going back to tape or establishing their own off-site hosted cloud.

Another potential cloud storage drawback is the data egress costs a cloud provider may charge. "It's like a toll highway for your data; it's free on the way in, but you pay on the way out," Chagnon said. "While some organizations see this 'restore cost' as a convenient way to see the cost of downtime, others prefer to prebuy their infrastructure and enjoy more predictable runtime costs."

Getting started

There are two basic ways to deploy a cloud backup target. In some cases, the cloud backup target is supplied by the NAS provider. In other instances, the customer must procure the storage and integrate the NAS backup software into it. "Put simply, it's a choice between 'use our cloud,' or 'bring your own,'" Chagnon said.

The "use-our-cloud" approach describes a more complete cloud backup-as-a-service offering provided by the vendor that is also providing the NAS, Chagnon noted. "This approach is typically brought to the table by managed service providers and systems integrators and is generally enjoyed by customers who prefer to deal with a single vendor for the complete stack," he said.

Because storage plans are typically priced on an annual scale, users should choose a cloud provider based on several key factors: how much storage capacity is required for data backups, resident encryption protocols, upload speeds, supported photo resolutions and third-party integrations, as well as whether or not separate subscriptions are required for each NAS device. "Once a provider is chosen, specific backup procedures are relatively straightforward," Donahue said.

More cloud providers have pivoted in the direction of NAS compatibility in recent years. Some options include Backblaze B2, Google Drive, Dropbox, MEGA, OpenStack Swift and Amazon Glacier.

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