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Do You Really Trust Your Tape Backup More than the Cloud?

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New SmartCloud Virtualized Server Recovery services from IBM promise to extend to SMBs disaster recovery features approaching high availability.

 

IT administrators have for decades backed up data to tape and then quietly endured the surprises that too frequently accompany failed attempts to restore a single file or files from those backup tapes. I would hesitate to ask how many would bet their lives on the reliability of their backup tapes. Yet the survival of their businesses might someday come to depend on them.

 

With all of the fear surrounding the perceived vulnerability of data in the cloud, one has to wonder if there isn't a general misperception of risks where today data backed up to tape may be actually less secure than data backed up to the cloud. I would like to see one of the research firms such as Gartner or Aberdeen undertake a study of whether data is more likely to be compromised through loss, theft, or corruption after it's backed up to tape than when it's backed up to a cloud service.

 

Of course, anyone who has faced this challenge will say there are cloud services and then there are cloud services. Not all cloud services are equal. I couldn't help but notice in a recent Vision Solutions webinar that Dr. Frank Soltis, founder of the AS/400, tempered his remarks about cloud security compared to those he has made in the past concerning the risks of data in the cloud. In the recent presentation, he noticeably differentiated between public or consumer clouds versus enterprise private or hybrid clouds, the former presumably being less secure than those designed from the ground up to ensure security is preeminent. I had to wonder if someone from IBM heard or read an account of his earlier remarks and thought they were not helpful in the company's efforts to promote its emerging cloud backup and other platform services.

 

The fact is that cloud services are evolving, and at the time when Dr. Frank first expressed concerns about security of data residing in the cloud, the cloud services available back then may not have been as varied or sophisticated as they are now, a year later.

 

As we know, IBM was an early adopter of the cloud and has been working to develop a portfolio of services for several years. Next week, the company will begin a worldwide release of several new resiliency cloud services that could be among the company's most popular offerings of all time.

 

The approach the company will take, according to Rich Cocchiara, IBM distinguished engineer and chief technology officer for the company's Business Continuity and Resiliency Services, is simply to focus on customers' individual backup and archiving needs and offer them a choice of services that fit their specific preferences.

 

"What our customers have told us is that they have lots of needs," says Cocchiara. "They have a need for backup, a need for recovery, a need for archiving, a need for growth…many different needs beyond just recovery. Archiving, for instance, is a day-to-day operation; it's not disaster recovery."

 

To address these needs, IBM next Tuesday will begin offering on a country-by-country basis several new services that will take conventional disaster recovery to a level closer to high availability and will offer indexed archiving as a cloud service.

 

For more than two years, the company has offered its SmartCloud Managed Backup, a successful service but one that has met with limited acceptance by business. The company redoubled its efforts in this area and is now offering a way for customers to back up and restore their servers in a virtual environment according to the importance of the work for which each server is responsible. Cocchiara calls it "peered service" that takes into account the fact that "not all servers are equal." At the top, or gold, level of the IBM SmartCloud Virtualized Server Recovery service, both applications and data are replicated to a live virtual server to which the customer can fail over in about three minutes without investment in additional hardware. For those applications that are less critical, a virtual server can be provisioned at the time of system failure and the previously backed up data applied after the fact. Recovery is still relatively fast, but the customer avoids the cost of a duplicate live virtual server. For those servers further down the chain of importance, conventional backup and recovery are still available and limited largely by the speed of the customer's network or Internet connection, all taken into account at the time of adoption.

 

Backing up data is one thing; finding it later is quite another. Companies today have been known to index files one at a time. IBM now has a cloud batch service that will index thousands of files at once, thus automating the process while storing everything in the cloud. Called the IBM SmartCloud Archive, the service has been designed specifically to meet privacy and regulatory compliance requirements, from advanced search and indexing to retrieval and eDiscovery for meeting court-ordered demands. Clients have an advanced document and records management system in the cloud based on IBM technology. Available only for files now, the service will offer email and other types of indexing in the near future.

 

Platforms also are limited, with Windows, Linux, and AIX servers available for the Virtualized Server Recovery service. Cocchiara, a former iSeries systems engineer, says the company is working on making other platforms available, but he wouldn't yet commit to promising that IBM i will be one of them. "We have to address the uniqueness of that platform before I can say for sure that we will be able to provide that," Cocchiara says. "It has its own unique architectural…I won't say challenges, but needs." Of course, conventional data backup is not an issue. (We might add that several other IBM Business Partners are already offering various levels of high availability in the cloud to IBM i shops.)

 

At the time of our interview with Cocchiara, prices were not available for the new services, but he did say the services are scalable both up and down and are designed to be affordable for both small as well as IBM's traditional larger customers. However, prices should be available by next week when the service is formally introduced or soon thereafter.

 

Having the ability to constantly replicate data to a virtual server in the sky is a game changer for IT, and it promises to reduce the cost of high availability for smaller businesses that now will be able to have the same level of protection against natural disasters and hardware failures that larger companies were privileged to enjoy for the past decade. Given the frightening effects of climate change that we've seen this past winter, it comes none too soon.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith was the Senior News Editor at MC Press Online from 2007 to 2012 and was responsible for the news content on the company's Web site. Chris has been writing about the IBM midrange industry since 1992 when he signed on with Duke Communications as West Coast Editor of News 3X/400. With a bachelor's from the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in English and minored in Journalism, and a master's in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chris later studied computer programming and AS/400 operations at Long Beach City College. An award-winning writer with two Maggie Awards, four business books, and a collection of poetry to his credit, Chris began his newspaper career as a reporter in northern California, later worked as night city editor for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and went on to edit a national cable television trade magazine. He was Communications Manager for McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, Calif., before it merged with Boeing, and oversaw implementation of the company's first IBM desktop publishing system there. An editor for MC Press Online since 2007, Chris has authored some 300 articles on a broad range of topics surrounding the IBM midrange platform that have appeared in the company's eight industry-leading newsletters. He can be reached at chriswriting@cs.com.

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