Cloud Services, How Useful?

The last decade has seen rapid changes to both IT infrastructure, and how we store our data, with a significant shift to using cloud service providers. Ten years ago, most of us would either buy a new hard drive, tape drive or DVD media, on which to back-up our data. In a company environment, an air conditioned server room would often be used, with administrators assigned the responsibility for making sure all data was regularly backed up. Whether individual machines would be backed up, depended upon who held the responsibility. End users are notoriously bad at maintaining backup schedules, which could put data at risk.

The volume of data we are creating, be it a company or home user, has vastly increased. One example being multimedia files, such as photos and videos, are now generally of a much higher quality, and therefore using a lot more disk space. Companies producing research data, from scientific geo-physical surveys, through to financial analysis, are regularly producing terabytes of data, which needs to be stored, with long term availability a necessary requirement.

Cloud Service providers specialise in providing storage space, which is subject to regular backups, with fail-over servers in the event of a problem also available should you require it. The use of SAN (Storage Area Network) servers connected either through fibre-channel or iSCSI over a 10Gbe connection, means an almost unlimited storage capacity can be provided.

The cost of using a Cloud Service provider, who will maintain the integrity of the data, being less than maintaining a server room and the employees required to run it, it’s easy to see how attractive a prospect it is. It really is an easy sell to the finance director, especially with the global financial crisis.

Surely this can only be a good thing? A major benefit is being able to share data anywhere in the world, without the need to set up a VPN for each location that needs to share data. It has to be remembered though, that by taking your data off-site, you are dependent upon your broadband connection. There is also the responsibility to make sure all changes made, are copied back to the cloud server.

This solution works well where the data being shared is normal office documents and photos. Files can be updated and downloaded in a piecemeal fashion. However, when it comes to vast quantities of data where immediate and high-speed access is required, the cloud server is relegated to being a means of backing up the data.

How suitable is my cloud server backup?

The most important decision you can make when considering the safety of your data, is your disaster recovery plan. Business continuity relies on suffering the minimum of disruption when disaster strikes. If your business is able to function with limited access, using a cloud server as part of the disaster recovery plan then this is a viable and suitable option.

However if you require immediate access to large quantities of data, the situation may be very different. Your internet connection is the determining factor in how long it takes to restore your data from the cloud server. The following table details some of the common broadband speeds available in the UK, with the data that may be copied over that connection, assuming a 25% overhead and no other factors limiting the available bandwidth.

Connection speed
2Mb/sec
1 Hour
720MB
10 Hours
7.2GB
1 Day
17.28GB
Connection speed
8Mb/sec
1 Hour
2.88GB
10 Hours
28.8GB
1 Day
69.12GB
Connection speed
17Mb/sec
1 Hour
6.12GB
10 Hours
61.2GB
1 Day
146.88GB
Connection speed
38Mb/sec
1 Hour
13.68GB
10 Hours
136.8GB
1 Day
328.32GB
Connection speed
76Mb/sec
1 Hour
27.36GB
10 Hours
273.6GB
1 Day
656.64GB

With the rate at which data is being created, with immediate access required in many cases, from gigabytes to even terabytes of information, it is easy to see that if you’re relying on a standard broadband package, using a cloud server as a backup may not be the most suitable solution. If you have several terabytes of data, it may be faster to have the data recovered directly from the local failed computer server, which could be extremely important to the long term future of your company.

With broadband speeds limiting the amount of data that can be restored over any given time period, it may still be necessary for your company to maintain data servers on-site, with a backup strategy in place for disaster recovery. If you need to share data across several sites, there are now private cloud solutions which can also be implemented.

It is important for your company to choose the right solution for your circumstances, or combination thereof, in order to provide the best level of data security and disaster recovery. It may not be helpful to have several terabytes of files backed up on a cloud server, if it will take days or even weeks to restore that data back to your company servers.

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