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When Cloud Providers Fail: Creating A Cloud Storage Backup Plan

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

In 2013 we witnessed the closing of two prominent cloud storage services. While the events don't suggest a trend, it is inevitable that more cloud providers will go out of business in the coming years. How should you prepare?

Despite the recent news of two high-profile cloud storage providers announcing the shuttering of their respective services, industry observers are quick to report that the proverbial sky is not falling nor are cloud providers evaporating. The two providers in question -- Nirvanix and the Backup offering from Symantec -- are interesting data points, but only data points in the overall cloud industry. They do not suggest a trend for cloud providers shutting down.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior adviser at Minneapolis-based consulting firm StorageIO, says that while Nirvanix was a high-profile cloud storage provider, the company itself, which shut down with little notice on October 1, 2013, was a niche player and did not hold a significant market share compared to cloud industry giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

In Symantec's case, Schulz says, the Backup offering was a small and relatively insignificant part of the company's overall business. Walking away from providing cloud services will do little to impact the overall sales and profitability of Symantec. The business model of major cloud providers is very different from niche players who need to create a substantial revenue stream from providing cloud services. While Symantec is a major player in the backup and disaster recovery space, he notes, it is not a major cloud service provider, so eliminating that service will not impact the company's sales significantly.

Jim Bagley, senior analyst at the Austin, Texas-based research and consulting firm SSG-NOW, agrees, noting that "Backup Exec was not a significant line of business for Symantec."

As reported earlier on Tom's IT Pro, Symantec customers will have one year past the January 6th, 2014 deadline to arrange for a new cloud provider before Symantec shuts down the service. According to the article, Symantec is focusing on a new global channel business strategy; a strategy into which the existing cloud offering did not fit.

The major cloud players are in the enviable position of not needing to generate large amounts of revenue from their cloud services because a large part of that infrastructure is designed to support internal use and existing customers, Bagley says. Offerings such as Microsoft Azure or IBM's SoftLayer do not need to break even to be successful, because they support many other large revenue-producing products and services.

"Hurricane Sandy provided the need for having an off-site disaster recovery policy," Bagley says. The shutdown of two cloud providers notwithstanding, companies of all sizes need to prepare for the potential worst-case scenario by having at least one disaster recovery copy of their systems offsite. Organizations need not focus solely on big-name providers, he notes, but companies doing their due diligence on a niche provider should not be surprised if the niche provider they are researching is using one of the major providers' infrastructure as their own cloud. "(Companies) need some kind of cloud service," he says. "There's nothing flawed in that concept."

Creating A Cloud Storage Backup Plan

Schulz says that companies should consider using multiple cloud providers to ensure they have no single point of failure. Nirvanix gave its customers a mere two-week's notice before it shut down, he notes. From strictly a physical perspective, it can take more than that amount of time for all the clients of a provider simply to connect to the cloud servers and download their data.

Rather, Schultz suggests that companies consider using a modified version of the traditional 3-2-1 backup strategy. That system calls for the user to keep three (3) copies of any important file -- one primary copy and two backups. These should be kept on two (2) different types of media and one (1) copy should be stored offsite. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) describes data backup options pros and cons, including using the cloud, here.

In the modified 4-3-2-1 backup plan, Schulz suggests keeping four (4) copies of important documents and storing at least two (2) copies on different cloud provider's systems. Should one provider fail, and 2013 demonstrated that even the major providers such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure will have periodic failures, important data is always accessible from another source.

About the Author

Stephen Lawton has more than 30 years of experience writing about technology and business issues. He served as chief editor for several major publications and web sites, including MicroTimes, Digital News & Review, SunWorld Online and NetscapeWorld. He also is president of AFAB Media Services, a Seattle-area data security and storage marketing consultancy.

More by Stephen Lawton

The falling cost of disk storage -- a 4 TB hard disk can be purchased at retail for less than $200 -- is having an impact on cloud storage providers as price-sensitive buyers might be opting for on-site backups rather than off-site services, Schulz says. But there are tradeoffs to having all of one's backups local. It is one thing to create a backup, but quite another to be able to manage multiple backups, he says. While having a local disaster recovery backup is helpful, companies still need to consider off-site backups to ensure they can recover in case of a fire, flood or other similar disaster. And cloud storage is a viable option for off-site backup.

While Schulz says he expects to see more cloud providers go out of business in the new year, he says the shake-out is to be expected. "Do your homework," he says. If a cloud provider's pricing or promises are too good to be true, they probably are. Before signing up with any cloud provider, make sure to have an agreement that spells out in advance how quickly you will get your data back if the provider shuts down and in what format. It is also important to know about any extra costs that will be incurred if you decide to leave the provider.

Underscoring what Schulz calls Basic Cloud 101, "do your due diligence (and) don't put everything in the cloud."

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