Data is the new oil without which business may quickly come to a halt. Protecting your digital assets is a must, especially when migrating to the cloud. A comprehensive cloud backup strategy is key to securing your data, minimizing downtime risks, and enabling rapid recovery.
According to Statista1, the total amount of data created, captured, and copied in 2022 reached 97 zettabytes and will almost double by 2025.
The threat of data loss has become universal across all industries. Businesses need to proactively prevent data losses before any incident happens.
That’s why today I share critical points for consideration when creating a cloud backup and recovery plan for your company.
This is the fifth part of CAST AI’s cloud migration series – feel welcome to check out our previous posts: Cloud Networking | Secure Cloud Migration | High Availability & Disaster Recovery
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How to create a cloud backup strategy
Data loss can happen at any time and, according to Verizon2, usually costs anywhere between a few thousand dollars to over $15 million, depending on its volume. The most popular causes include failures and human error.
By default, your deployment should account for these general cloud security elements. Investing in a backup and recovery plan significantly reduces the odds of data loss. While you can never completely eliminate the risk, it helps to protect and restore data faster.
Building a cloud backup strategy requires assessing your application requirements, matching them with the right solutions, and regularly testing your backups.
Here are the five steps that can help you structure this process:
Step #1: Identify your app’s specific backup needs
Here are the key things to consider when assessing your application’s backup needs.
1. Recovery Time Objective (RTO) & Recovery Point Objective (RPO)
Different apps may have varying tolerances for downtime and data loss. It’s essential to determine acceptable time frames for restoring applications and the maximum amount of data that can be lost in case of failure.
Learn more about RTO and RPO in my previous blog post.
Backing up and recovering applications may ask for varying granularity levels. In some cases, you may need a file-level backup, while in others, a database or even a full-system backup.
An example of granularity levels helping to create a robust backup and recovery solution:
- Database-as-a-Service online backup.
- Storage account backup.
- File system backup.
- Virtual Machine snapshot and backup.
- Active Directory backup.
3. Application consistency
Some apps can have specific consistency requirements. For example, databases often require transactional consistency to ensure data integrity. Understanding these requirements is essential for maintaining the desired level of application integrity during backups.
4. Cloud storage and retention
When considering the typical size of application data, it’s important to determine the appropriate cloud storage capacity and retention policy requirements. Some apps may generate large data volumes and require extended retention periods. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have flexible cloud storage and retention options to account for different app needs and regulatory compliance requirements.
5. Required backup frequency
Applications may have varying backup frequency requirements based on the data change or criticality rate. You may need to back up some applications more frequently than others – and accounting for those differences is also essential when creating a cloud backup strategy.
6. Disaster recovery
Another crucial element to consider in your cloud backup strategy is the need for disaster recovery capabilities, incl. the ability to replicate app data to a secondary site. It requires determining the RTO and RPO for your disaster recovery scenarios and evaluating how your available cloud services meet those requirements.
7. Compliance and security
A strong cloud backup strategy should also identify and consider any compliance or security requirements specific to your applications. Certain apps may require data encryption, compliance with industry regulations, or adhering to specific security standards.
8. Monitoring and reporting
Implementing appropriate monitoring and reporting mechanisms is crucial to tracking and ensuring backups go successfully and identifying any potential issues. This allows you to proactively manage the backup environment and ensure the availability of required data for recovery.
9. Scalability and performance
Another vital aspect to consider is your app’s scalability requirements and the ability to handle increased workloads. That’s why it’s essential to evaluate how backup operations impact your app’s performance and determine whether you need any adjustments.
10. Integration with your cloud
When creating a cloud backup strategy, it’s important to check how the selected capabilities integrate with other services of your cloud provider.
Step #2: Evaluate your cloud provider’s solutions
Each cloud provider offers at least some native backup and recovery tools.
Assessing their suitability should be your team’s next step when creating a plan for protecting and recovering your data in the cloud.
This overview of Azure services for different backup and recovery needs and scenarios can serve as a benchmark for evaluating your CSP’s solutions.
1. Azure Backup
Azure Backup is a scalable, secure, and cost-effective service enabling you to back up and restore data and workloads in the Microsoft cloud.
It supports various Azure services, VMs, on-prem servers, and apps. Offering features like incremental cloud backups, data compression, encryption, and long-term retention, Azure Backup also comes with centralized management and monitoring capabilities.
2. Azure Site Recovery
Azure Site Recovery is a DR solution that protects applications by orchestrating replication, failover, and failback of VMs and physical servers.
By allowing organizations to replicate on-prem workloads to Azure, it enhances their business continuity. Azure Site Recovery facilitates rapid recovery and minimizes downtime in case of a disaster or failure.
3. Azure Blob Storage
Azure Blob Storage is a scalable and durable cloud storage service for unstructured data. While primarily used for object storage, it’s also useful for backup and recovery. Azure Blob Storage allows organizations to store their cloud backups and snapshots and benefit from its redundancy, geo-replication, and easy access capabilities.
4. Azure Key Vault Backup
Azure Key Vault is a cloud service letting you securely store and manage cryptographic keys, secrets, and certificates used by applications and services.
Azure Key Vault Backup protects and safeguards Azure Key Vault data by creating key vaults and secret backups. While focusing on the data within the key vault, incl. keys, secrets, and certificates, it doesn’t consider the underlying infrastructure or the Azure Key Vault configurations.
Step #3: Requirements matchup
Now it’s time for a matchup of your application requirements and solutions. This is how this process can work in the Azure cloud.
A typical RPO for VMs in Azure Backup and Recovery is 1 day, but these can be reduced to 4 hours with more frequent VM backups. SQL Server RPO can be as low as 15 minutes. Both RPO and RTO are much lower for Azure Site Recovery.
When it comes to retention policy, Azure Backup has a flexible retention policy you can set for “long-term retention” of up to 10 years. This meets the most stringent backup and recovery requirements.
In terms of compliance and security, Azure has a strong encryption, security and compliance message around backup and recovery. Handling encryption through a FIPS 140.2 compliance HSM and key management solution, it lets you use Customer Encryption Keys. You can monitor and manage backup and recovery security controls through Azure Defender for Cloud and its related services.
Integration with other Azure services of all these backup and recovery solutions is seamless.
Overall, both Azure Backup and Recovery are excellent choices, but in the case of our client, they don’t meet their stringent RPO and RTO objectives. The offered recovery and recovery point durations are unacceptable for bringing back a single database, VM, or site subset.
These commitments differ in a site recovery solution, and Azure can indeed offer a valuable site recovery service.
However, that wasn’t sufficient for our client’s application requirements, so below follows a matchup logic for the third-party solution they decided to use.
Step #4: Select and review third-party backup solutions
The client’s team selected a backup and recovery solution for Azure environments. The tool offers efficient data protection, backup operations, and seamless recovery capabilities while providing a unified approach across Azure workloads, VMs, apps, and databases.
Here’s a brief outline of the key capabilities matching the client’s specific backup and recovery requirements:
1. Native integration with Azure
The selected tool seamlessly integrates with Microsoft cloud services, including Azure Blob Storage, Azure Virtual Machines, Azure SQL Database, Azure Files, and more. This capability enables efficient and optimized backup and recovery operations for Azure workloads.
2. Agentless architecture
Using an agentless backup technology eliminates the need to install agents on individual VMs, streamlining backup operations and enhancing scalability for large-scale Azure environments.
3. Granular recovery
The tool offers granular recovery capabilities, allowing the team to restore individual files, folders, apps, databases, and VMs as needed. This granularity ensures flexibility and minimizes downtime during recovery operations.
4. Application-aware backup
The solution supports application-aware backup for various Azure apps and databases, incl. Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, and Active Directory. This feature ensures consistent and reliable cloud backups, capturing application-specific metadata and allowing for app integrity during recovery.
5. Deduplication and compression
The selected solution utilizes advanced deduplication and compression techniques to optimize cloud storage utilization and reduce backup footprints. This in turn helps to reduce costs and boost backup performance.
6. Policy-based management
The tool allows administrators to define flexible policies for backup schedules, retention periods, and recovery options. These mechanisms enable automated, consistent backup operations across Azure environments to ensure compliance with data protection requirements.
7. Centralized management and reporting
The solution’s centralized management console allows administrators to monitor and manage backup and recovery operations from a single interface. Comprehensive reporting capabilities provide visibility into backup status, success rates, and cloud storage utilization.
8. Disaster recovery and replication
The tool supports DR strategies for Azure workloads, offering capabilities to replicate data to secondary sites or Azure regions. This functionality enables rapid failover and failback operations to ensure business continuity in a disaster.
9. Security and compliance
Robust security features like data encryption, secure access controls, and compliance with industry standards and regulations help to protect sensitive data and meet strict compliance requirements.
Step #5: Decide how you’ll measure success
Once your backup and recovery solution is configured within your cloud deployment, it’s time for tests to understand its performance characteristics.
In our client’s case, these included the following:
- An SQL database backup, performing transactions and recovery to understand RPO.
- Measuring SQL recovery time to understand the attainable RTO.
- A VM snapshot backup, setting a backup schedule to test its granularity.
- Measuring VM recovery time to understand the attainable RTO.
- Backing up Storage Account (file system) and setting a backup schedule to test its granularity.
- Measuring Storage Account recovery time to understand the attainable RTO.
The ever-growing volumes of data prove the significance of protecting your company’s assets in the cloud. Backup and recovery are essential to minimize the odds of data losses resulting from breaches, downtime, and disasters.
Building a cloud backup strategy always starts with identifying and matching your application needs with the most suitable solutions. I hope that the five steps and consideration points listed above will help you streamline this process.