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6 best practices for choosing a cloud backup provider

Learn six criteria for choosing the best cloud backup vendor for your organization. Key among these is knowing your unique needs.

Unless you have a specific need to keep backups on premises, you should be looking at cloud backup by now. However, choosing the right backup vendor for your organization is no easy matter.

To that end, this article will share best practices to help you evaluate cloud backup services. But before we can dive into what to look for, let's first level set what it means when you're thinking cloud backup.

The real-world definition of 'cloud backup'

There are so many variants of what's being offered as "cloud backup" that an important first step is understanding just what is meant by that term. Generally, cloud backup falls into four categories:

  • Cloud storage. Using the cloud as a remote hard drive and nothing else is cloud storage. This is widely available. You create backups of your on-premises data, applications and systems and store them in the cloud. In many cases, a hybrid cloud approach is used where backups are created on premises and replicated to the cloud. In either case, the cloud's only role is as the backup storage target.
  • Cloud backup. This refers to the backup of cloud-based systems and resources such as the backing up of AWS EC2 images. The backups are usually kept within the same environment to eliminate fees associated with pulling the data out of the environment. So, in this case, the cloud is both the backup source and the backup storage target.
  • Both backup and storage. Some backup software vendors provide both the software and their own private cloud for storage, with the idea that they can provide a superior management experience, lower costs and better security if they keep every aspect of backup and recovery under their control.
  • Managed backup. This takes the above option and adds tailored services to the mix. Cloud service providers (CSPs) that focus on backups offer a wide range of services -- from assessing and defining backup needs to handling the daily management of backup jobs to assisting with recovery.

The backup vendor landscape

Today, there are far too many backup vendors to choose from and certainly too many to list in this article. However, cloud vendors fit into these distinct buckets:

How to select a cloud backup provider
These six steps can help you choose the right cloud backup vendor.
  • Mega-cloud. These are the very large cloud vendors that dominate the market share: AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud. These vendors offer everything related to backups that you can imagine, including virtual infrastructure, multiple tiers of storage and more.
  • Larger cloud vendors. This is composed of vendors such as Alibaba, Oracle and Rackspace. They have a lot to offer, but just aren't a part of the mega-cloud pack just yet.
  • Backup vendors. These are the players in the backup market that connect to just about every cloud under the sun. These include vendors such as Arcserve, Commvault, Unitrends, Veeam Software and Zerto.
  • Everyone else. The percentages of market share dwindle after the above categories. This doesn't mean you should not be looking at these smaller players -- quite the contrary. Smaller vendors generally offer far more personalized hands-on service at a lower cost in an attempt to compete with larger vendors. CSPs like Asigra, KeepItSafe and OffsiteDataSync, for example, add value in customizing their systems in ways their larger competition can't. The same is true for smaller backup vendors.

Cloud backup best practices to guide vendor selection

There's a lot of overlap in backup vendor offerings, so it's important to be strategic about creating your list of vendors to research. To that end, here are six best practices that can help identify the right cloud backup vendor for you.

You may want your data stored in a part of the world that does not permit extradition of the data to another country.
  1. Understand the vendor's backup offerings. What exactly are you trying to back up? The list can include on-premises systems and data, cloud-based virtual machines, specific client operating systems, cloud application data and more. Be sure to inquire whether the vendor you're looking at supports the unique backup needs of your organization.
  2. Ask about seeding methods. Installing backup software and starting an initial backup -- the seed -- does nothing for you until there's a complete copy in your backup storage. Some vendors seed via your internet connection, some will ship you a physical drive, and others seed locally and replicate the copy to the cloud. Find out which methods your potential cloud vendors use, and research the pros, cons and speed of each.
  3. Research vendor's storage locations. A few issues are involved with this one. First, you don't want data stored in locations where a disaster, such as an earthquake, will affect both you and your off-site backup storage. Second, you don't want backups so far away that backups and recovery will be too slow. Third, you may want your data stored in a part of the world that does not permit extradition of the data to another country. You need to find the right mix based on the importance of each of these factors.
  4. Ask about data security methods. Every backup vendor encrypts data, but be sure to ask what encryption level is used. It should be a minimum of AES 256-bit. Also, ask who has access to the private decryption key. In some cases, both you and the backup vendor have it, and, in other cases, only you do. The latter offers more security, as you'll always be aware of a restore, but the former allows faster recovery time by a managed backup vendor.
  5. Ask about compliance support. Vendors should be compliant with standard privacy and security protections. However, if there are specific compliance mandates your organization needs to adhere to that involve backups or archives, find out exactly how the vendor meets the specific mandate.
  6. Learn the ins and outs of pricing. Smaller vendors can offer both backup software and storage at a simple cost per gigabyte price. Larger vendors can get somewhat complicated with you needing to pay basic storage costs plus ingress, egress, deletion, retrieval and query fees, making it nearly impossible to easily calculate a predictable monthly cost. Be sure to ask and get a clear, understandable answer.

Getting your cloud backup vendor right

Successful cloud backup starts with the right vendor choice. And yet, there is no-one-size-fits-all answer. For some organizations, a commodity mega-cloud vendor is the perfect choice. For others, the hands-on assistance from an expert provider sounds really good. The answer of what's the perfect cloud backup vendor for your organization lies in getting clear on what your organization needs and whether the cloud vendor can deliver that.

By using the best practices above, you'll uncover additional concerns you may have and learn which cloud backup provider is right for you.

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