Considering a Cloud Archive for Your Legacy Data? Here's How Object Storage Can Help

By Michele Hope

Topics: Cloud Backup | Data Archive

Do you know the difference between a cloud archive and a cloud backup service? Here are a few ways to keep these emerging cloud services straight.

Unsustainable. That word often comes to mind when IT organizations consider how they currently store, protect and retain their data. First, there's exponential annual growth in data production. Then there's storage for backup copies and copies needing years of retention. Is it any surprise that IT professionals are looking closely at cloud backup and cloud archive services?

Technologies like deduplication and compression can reduce the overall storage burden, but the time and cost needed to keep data remains high for most IT budgets. It's no wonder that pay-as-you-use cloud archive services (along with their counterparts, cloud backup and cloud disaster recovery) are of increasing interest to IT organizations.

Still, questions persist. How should IT teams differentiate between cloud backup and cloud archiving services? How should the underlying cloud technology play into decision-making? Specifically regarding a cloud archive, what other factors should IT organizations consider?

Differentiating Between Backup and Archive

Many organizations already blur the lines between their backups and their long-term archives. For those who have traditionally used offsite tape vaulting services for both backup and long-term retention, these lines can blur even more.

But experts in the space of backup, disaster recovery and archiving are often quick to emphasize the very real difference between backup and archive. According to TechTarget, "Data backups are for disaster recovery (DR) and data archives are for discovery. The purpose of both of them is really what makes them different. A data backup is for recovery or restoring lost or corrupted files."

When it comes to archiving to the cloud, the end goal of the archive becomes even more important. How long does the data need to be stored and why? How often will users need to access such long-term data over the next six months, one year or five years? Data may need to be archived for many years in order to meet compliance requirements, especially in highly regulated industries like financial services, healthcare or retail. But many organizations outside of these sectors also find it prudent to retain data for long periods as insurance. This is especially true if they often find themselves subject to litigation and eDiscovery requests.

Object Storage and Active Archives vs. Cold Storage Archives

An organization may want to consider whether it would benefit more from cloud storage that acts as an active archive or more of a cold storage archive. An active archive might be a better fit if the organization has frequent eDiscovery requests, needs to perform more detailed ongoing analytics or wants to explore new ways of mining value from its legacy data.

Active archives can offer secure ongoing access to archived data from any user device, anywhere in the world. They may be based on software-defined object storage technology that allows the archive to scale exponentially into the petabytes while abstracting the details of the underlying storage hardware from the digital archive. This means that static file system structures and pathnames for the location of archived data are replaced by virtual constructs like a global namespace and object IDs. These remain the same for the archive, regardless of evolutionary changes over time to the underlying storage needed to house the archive.

Now compare this type of active archive to a cold storage cloud archive, which focuses more on the durability of the archived data. This type of secure cold archive may assume infrequent data access in comparison to its active archive counterpart. While a cold archive may also be based on object storage, it often stores long-term data on lower-cost storage tiers (even tape) in order to pass the most savings on to customers. Such low cost, however, can come with a significant time lag between when a user requests a piece of archived data and when they can view or access it. Further costs to access the data may also be involved when using commodity cloud providers.

Getting Legacy Data and Archives to the Cloud

In a 2016 survey, 54% of respondents said they were "extremely" or "very" likely to move some of their legacy data from tape to the cloud. However, the same percentage of respondents worried about the time and cost needed to make the move.

Here, cloud service level agreements (SLAs) should spell out the fine points regarding cost to store vs. cost to access data. They should also spell out supported methods and protocols customers can use to integrate, populate or access cloud archives. This might include use of the S3 protocol or specific cloud gateways. Organizations may want to explore such technicalities, especially when incorporating a cloud archive into a larger automated storage tiering ecosystem. This may involve migrating production or backup data to the cloud archive, based on criteria like when the data was last accessed.

As IT organizations move forward with cloud archives, experts advise considering the total cost of the archive over time. Experts also recommend evaluating cloud services based on a few other criteria. Beyond the robustness and scalability of the technology used, consider the service provider's security practices, geo-resiliency, data access, their experience with compliance requirements and the layers of encryption they make available for archived data. And don't forget to evaluate the service provider's reputation at keeping enterprise data safe, along with ways they might assist in managing or migrating legacy data from other formats.

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