Lightning can strike twice: Don’t be complacent backing up cloud data

(c) Spencer

Last month, one of Google’s data centres was struck by lightning; not once, but four times. The result was that some of its data and, worse, other people’s data, was lost forever. This should be a wakeup call for businesses everywhere that they need to back up data in the cloud, because when it comes down to data loss, all data – be it on premises or in the cloud – is created equal.

Most businesses already know that backup is essential, and backing up physical storage is part and parcel of ensuring data remains safe. But what about when it comes to virtual data? The speed at which business applications are migrating to the cloud is staggering. In 2012, businesses had only 12% of their applications and IT systems running in the cloud; by 2014, that had exploded to 69% and this trend shows no signs of slowing. As more and more data migrates to the cloud, should business begin to worry about the fate of data held there?

The simple answer to this is, yes. While software as a service (SaaS) applications will have safeguards in place to protect your data, the responsibility for the protection information stored by providers like Google, Microsoft and Salesforce lies firmly on the shoulders of the business. Of course these organisations have a responsibility when it comes to hardware and software failure, but there are dozens of ways that data can become corrupted of lost that fall well outside of this remit. Anything from hacking to human error, disgruntled ex-employees to malware applications can result in the loss of data, and as far as the service provider is concerned, it is out of their hands.

Of course the big names in SaaS will offer backup and disaster recovery but this often has limitations, and a hefty price tag attached. Salesforce charges a flat rate fee of £6,500 for data recovery and protected data is not easily accessible; it can take weeks to recover data which presents a major problem to those for whom the service forms an integral part of their business.

If the stakes are so high when it comes to cloud data, why isn’t every business already backed up this information as they do their physical storage? Part of the problem has been the ‘how’; storage has traditionally centred around physical backup and backing up information in applications held in the cloud has proven tricky. However, that’s changing and cloud to cloud backup solutions are answering the call to protect cloud application data.

The concept is very straight forward: data held in one cloud is backed up by another cloud. SaaS providers hold all their data in public clouds so a cloud to cloud backup solution takes the information held in the public cloud and backs it up in a secure private cloud, helping businesses to protect and retain control of their data.

Cloud to cloud protected data isn’t simply useful in the event of ‘worse case scenarios’. Case in point being, when employees leave an organisation, cloud to cloud services allow all their data to be retained, including data already deleted by the departing employee. As long as the data is backed up regularly, and the account is configured correctly, it can come in extremely useful in legal discoveries.

As with any IT service, it is never just a case of pick a provider and job done and there are numerous factors that should be considered when considering back up cloud applications. Recovery time objective (RTO), permanence of the provider, service levels, certification, ease of use, data centre security, pricing structure, the amount of data and number of user – these are just some of the elements that vary wildly between providers and it is the task of a business to determine which service ticks these boxes for them.

Applications like Office 365, Google Apps and Salesforce – as well platforms like Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services – are now at the heart of so many businesses. But relying on SaaS providers to protect mission critical data in the cloud can’t be the de facto stance for businesses any more. Businesses must take the initiative to back up this data or lighting strikes may be the least of their troubles.