Backup has emerged as one of the first truly "killer apps" in the cloud space. Compared with primary storage or production applications, backup doesn't have the same real-time requirement, so the latency created when sending data over the Internet is less of an issue. Also, if backups fail, the consequences are much less severe than with more critical IT processes. This makes it less risky for companies to try out a new technology like the cloud on backups.
Hybrid cloud backup really drove this technology home, removing many of the strongest objections customers had, specifically the bandwidth problems and the loss of control associated with not storing one's own backed-up data. Hybrid cloud backup puts an appliance (or a VM or software application) on site that looks and feels like a traditional backup system. It's essentially a server running a dedicated backup application with local storage, with a seamless interface with the cloud. Hybrid cloud backup provides fast restores since the most recent data is kept on site, and features such as file serving and collaboration can run on the hybrid appliance.
What is hybrid cloud DR?
Hybrid cloud DR backs up each production server as a virtual machine image, either by making a copy of the current VM or by converting physical servers to VM images (a process referred to as physical to virtual, or P2V) as part of the backup process. The local appliance stores these images just like it does regular file backups but also provides a platform on which they can be restarted in case the primary server goes down.
In this way, a single appliance can act as a local standby server for multiple primary servers and VMs. The failover isn't automatic, but many hosted disaster recovery services can provide what's essentially high availability (HA) to the production server environments as part of their backup infrastructure. The final step is to move these VM images to the cloud provider's data center, which has enough compute resources to restart any of them in the event of a disaster at the client's site.
With hybrid cloud DR, recovery after a disaster is handled in much the same way as a simple cloud restore is. Users or their managed service providers (MSPs) initiate the process, restarting the most critical servers and running them from the cloud until the primary data center is up and running. At that point data between the cloud and primary servers can be resynchronized and applications can be "failed back" from the cloud.
Hybrid cloud DR also addresses perhaps the greatest shortcoming with many companies' DR plans. It enables easy testing of the DR solution. DR testing takes time, especially when it involves a remote site, and like backup testing, it can be ignored without an immediate negative consequence. But restarting a VM is a very simple process, one that also confirms the viability of the backup at the same time.
Hybrid cloud DR vendors
While certainly not trivial, adding VM support to an existing hybrid backup appliance involves relatively standard technologies. Consequently, we're seeing a number of hybrid cloud backup providers on the market and more arriving on a regular basis. That said, there are some major differences to these offerings and some that didn't evolve directly out of the cloud backup market. The following are some examples of current hosted disaster recovery services vendors, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Axcient and Datto Inc. These companies are both longtime cloud backup providers with established hybrid cloud solutions designed to support up to about 25 servers. They both support file-based backup as well as VM backup and P2V conversion for physical server backup. Axcient's solution is agent-less; Datto's requires an agent for client backup, and they both support incremental data transfer to the cloud to reduce bandwidth requirements. The user or the user's MSP initiates recovery, and both Axcient and Datto support simple DR testing from the cloud. Both services are ideal for SMBs and smaller companies and are sold exclusively through VARs and MSPs.
- Quorum Software Inc. Quorum first developed its technology as a local VM recovery solution. The onQ appliance performs P2V conversion if necessary and automatically updates each server image as often as every 15 minutes. This capability, plus its "one click" local recovery, makes this a true high-availability solution. VM images are transferred to the Quorum cloud and kept updated, ready to run. Failover from a local server to the cloud is a simple process that takes a few minutes. Testing is also a one-step process. The onQ appliance is a 2U server with up to 12 CPU cores and enough resources to support 40 VMs. Quorum targets mid-sized companies with five to 80 servers and allows them to set up their own private cloud DR solution as well, using multiple onQ appliances. Quorum does sell direct, but more frequently it sells through VARs and MSPs.
- Quantum Corp. Quantum's hybrid cloud solution offers several highly scalable options that are ideal for medium-sized and large enterprises. A customer can use Quantum's vmPro or any popular data-mover software, including Symantec Corp.'s NetBackup OST or Backup Exec OST, and target an on-premises Quantum DXi deduplication appliance, which then can replicate a copy to a second DXi appliance in Quantum's Q-Cloud. In cases where there's no local DXi appliance, customers can use OST with Quantum's free DXi Accent plug-in to back up directly to Q-Cloud. Quantum DXi deduplication technology delivers remarkable data reduction -- up to 95% -- minimizing bandwidth and data transfer times in the process. Finally, Quantum's Q-Cloud provides the back-end data center in which to store these data and the compute infrastructure to host VMs in a disaster.
Simplifying the DR discussion
Disaster recovery can be a tough discussion for VARs and MSPs to have with their clients since most people want a simple solution, and real DR is never simple. Most solutions focus on the time required to restore data instead of the more critical time to restore services to end users and applications. Hybrid cloud DR can help address this problem.
By storing backups as VM images, they're ready to be restarted quickly, making time to recovery essentially the same as time to restore. And by providing the P2V conversion on the front end, hybrid cloud DR removes the other major hurdle of getting servers virtualized. For VARs this can provide a nice segue to a server virtualization discussion as well.
There's no question that more and more businesses are embracing the cloud as a viable alternative to on-site infrastructure, and for many, backup is an ideal candidate for taking the first step into the cloud. For VARs and MSPs that are used to selling cloud backup (and hybrid cloud backup), adding DR to that solution gives them a clear differentiator when going up against other cloud backup options. It also gives them an excellent way to have the DR discussion with customers, especially the small and medium-sized organizations that are most channel companies' bread and butter. Hybrid cloud DR solutions also provide a very simple answer to a fundamental problem many companies have with disaster recovery, DR testing.
Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.