Getting started with cloud backups

Everyone needs backups, and for a long time this has meant dealing with backup drives, tapes, software, rotations, and all those fun things. But with the ever increasing popularity and reducing costs of cloud storage and cloud services in general, the cloud is becoming a great alternative destination to tapes and drives.

Recently more and more of my backups (personal and work related) have been migrated to the cloud, so I thought I’d write a little bit about the services and products that I’m using.

Firstly, why the cloud? Well there are a couple of compelling reasons:

  • No need to buy tape drives and tapes  - reducing your infrastructure costs, especially if you have a multiple site environment
  • Your backups are automatically offsite – no need to worry about having your backup tapes stolen along with your server.
  • It’s quick and easy to get up and running – remember with backups, any backup solution is (usually) better than no backup solution.

However there are risks you need to consider:

  • Make sure you’re comfortable with cloud concepts and cloud security
  • Choose a trustworthy provider
  • Be aware that backup/restore times can take a little longer (depending on the speed of your Internet connection)

So, how do you started? Simple. Pick a cloud provider, grab some software, and you’re underway.

Cloud Providers

There’s many to choose from, but in my mind the main 2 players are Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure. They’re both companies who have been in this space for a while, and both services have a good track record and a good level of reliability.

Currently a lot of my backups are located on Amazon S3, but I’ve got plans to take a serious look at Microsoft Azure over the next couple of months. Both services have pricing calculators you can use to get a rough idea of their costs, so do a bit of research and see what’s going to work best for you – however chances are either will do the job.

Software

The software you choose is going to have a big affect on your experiences with cloud backups and cloud storage in general, and if you want to get up and running quickly and easily then I highly recommend the range of products from Cloudberry Lab. I’m using Cloudberry S3 Backup for Windows Server on a few of our servers, and have had nothing but good experiences with it.

You can read the full set of product information on the website, however a few of the feature highlights that are important to me are:

  • Supports a wide range of cloud providers – Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure are two of the big ones, but there’s a huge range of other cloud providers they support.
  • Allows you to store data in a format that means it can be accessed by other software – there are some backup providers who will only allow you to store data in one of their custom formats. While Cloudberry also offers a custom format (offering features such as compression and encryption), you have the option of backing things up in a simple format that’s compatible with everything should you have the need.
  • It just works. Install the software, run the wizard, done.

The backup products support most types of Windows Servers, including Windows Home Server (v1 and 2011).

Cloudberry also offer a Freeware product called Cloudberry S3 Explorer which is great for accessing your data from other machines, or for copying data (one off snapshots or backups) up to the cloud. While I use the Pro version, I have used the free one in the past and it offers a lot of the same features. Explorer also lets you manage a lot of other aspects of your cloud storage (such as security), which is often much more convenient than using the Amazon S3 console. There’s also a load of useful info and how to info on their blog.

I should also mention that if you’re a developer, or someone who likes to tinker, then you might like to look at the Amazon S3 API. At Ignition, Sam has written a quick command line app to zip data and transfer it straight to the cloud using the API, which is very handy for scripted backups and commands. This sort of option isn’t going to be useful for everyone, but if you’re a developer then the S3 API is well worth a look.

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Posted on Monday, November 21, 2011 12:23 PM |

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