Cloud storage replication does not suffice for backups – revisited

Free Whipped Cream Clouds on True Blue Sky Creative Commons by Pink Sherbet Photography (cc) (from Flickr)
Free Whipped Cream Clouds on True Blue Sky Creative Commons by Pink Sherbet Photography (cc) (from Flickr)

I was talking with another cloud storage gateway provider today and I asked them if they do any sort of backup for data sent to the cloud.  His answer disturbed me – they said they depend on backend cloud storage providers replication services to provide data protection – sigh. Curtis and I have written about this before (see my Does Cloud Storage need Backup? post and Replication is not backup by W. Curtis Preston).

Cloud replication is not backup

Cloud replication is not data protection for anything but hardware failures!   Much more common than hardware failures is mistakes by end-users who inadvertently delete files, overwrite files, corrupt files, or systems that corrupt files any of which would just be replicated in error throughout the cloud storage multi-verse.  (In fact, cloud storage itself can lead to corruption see Eventual data consistency and cloud storage).

Replication does a nice job of covering a data center or hardware failure which leaves data at one site inaccessible but allows access to a replica of the data from another site.  As far as I am concerned there’s nothing better than replication for these sorts of DR purposes but it does nothing for someone deleting the wrong file. (I one time did a “rm * *” command on a shared Unix directory – it wasn’t pretty).

Some cloud storage (backend) vendors delay the deletion of blobs/containers until sometime later  as one solution to this problem.  By doing this, the data “stays around” for “sometime” after being deleted and can be restored via special request to the cloud storage vendor. The only problem with this is that “sometime” is an ill-defined, nebulous concept which is not guaranteed/specified in any way.  Also, depending on the “fullness” of the cloud storage, this time frame may be much shorter or longer.  End-user data protection cannot depend on such a wishy-washy arrangement.

Other solutions to data protection for cloud storage

One way is to have a local backup of any data located in cloud storage.  But this kind of defeats the purpose of cloud storage and has the cloud data being stored both locally (as backups) and remotely.  I suppose the backup data could be sent to another cloud storage provider but someone/somewhere would need to support some sort of versioning to be able to keep multiple iterations of the data around, e.g., 90 days worth of backups.  Sounds like a backup package front-ending cloud storage to me…

Another approach is to have the gateway provider supply some sort of backup internally using the very same cloud storage to hold various versions of data.  As long as the user can specify how many days or versions of backups can be held this works great, as cloud replication supports availability in the face of hardware failures and multiple versions support availability in the face of finger checks/logical corruptions.

This problem can be solved in many ways, but just using cloud replication is not one of them.

Listen up folks, whenever you think about putting data in the cloud, you need to ask about backups among other things.  If they say we only offer data replication provided by the cloud storage backend – go somewhere else. Trust me, there are solutions out there that really backup cloud data.

3 thoughts on “Cloud storage replication does not suffice for backups – revisited

  1. Great point Ray. This is one of the reasons why snapshot technology is in the DNA of our cloud storage gateway at Nasuni. The Snapshots allow users to go back to any given version of their files and provide the extra resiliency you rightly mentioned in this article.

    1. Rana, Thanks for your comment. Yes, many systems and/or solutions exist that protect user cloud storage – Nasuni and others do this very well today. I just can't abide by others that say it's handled solely by replication.Ray

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