Cloud-based backup solutions carry a lot of benefits: It’s easier to manage a distributed customer base, you have less infrastructure to worry about, and you don’t have to sell customers on buying a full backup server.
Yet, many “cloud” backup solutions require you to buy a proprietary hardware appliance. In a lot of ways, that defeats the purpose of moving your backups to the cloud. In fact, they have enough limitations that you may want to find a solution that doesn’t require one. Before we get into their limitations, however, it may help to understand why we needed appliances at all.
Appliances are dedicated hardware devices often designed to be a consolidation point for data before it gets uploaded to the cloud. These appliances were built to work around weaknesses in IT environments, particularly when it comes to network speed.
When cloud backup first became viable, wide area networks (WAN) weren’t particularly fast. Waiting for data to transfer to a remote data center could take an incredibly long time, eating up vital bandwidth the business needed for its day-to-day operations.
Enter the backup appliance, sometimes also known as a cloud storage gateway. Your on-premises backup software would send backup data over the local area network (LAN) to the appliance, where deduplication and compression would take place. The appliance would then transfer the data to the cloud over the WAN. It was a nice workaround for bandwidth limitations, but also came with the requirement for additional investment.
Proprietary appliances were also designed to be convenient (in theory). You could simply plug in the appliance, tuck it away in a closet, and it could handle the rest.
Backup appliances offered a lot of benefits for many years. However, they bring a lot of downsides to today’s world that are hard to ignore. Here are just a few:
Cost burdens upfront
Backup appliances can cost a lot up front. You have to make this investment in backup hardware before you even start using the software. If you handle backup for a group of customers, you may have to purchase an appliance for each customer, and physically transport them to each customer location.
Additionally, you’ll have to estimate your customers’ potential data requirements—and purchase the right appliance for the job. Because this takes an upfront investment, you may be tempted (or required by the customer) to choose the lowest-cost solution available. Unfortunately, this could easily lead to underprovisioning, making it hard to deliver the right level of service to your customers.
And what if a customer chooses to stop doing business with you after you’ve bought the appliance? Will you be stuck with hardware expense and no related income?
Unfortunately, with backup appliances you still have overhead. You may be chained to the backup appliance you choose at the outset. If customers outgrow their backup boxes—and that’s likely as their dataset grows—you will have to upgrade, which is an additional cost for your customers (and it’s never fun breaking that news). Or your customers’ appliances may fall victim to either “acts of nature,” like a fire, or “acts of people,” like someone spilling water on the appliance. Either of these could lead to an immediate need for a replacement.
This overhead cost, however, doesn’t just apply to your customers. Your own technicians have to spend time maintaining the hardware (or replacing it when it becomes obsolete). The hours spent traveling to customers’ sites, upgrading the hardware, and traveling back can’t be used on other, more profitable activities.
Proprietary backup appliances were built for a bygone era. They’re relics of a time when we had to be overly concerned about WAN speeds. You had to be strategic about what you backed up. If you’re still using appliances, you still have to be strategic.
For example, you may choose to back up data for a single critical server instead of the customer’s complete dataset, simply to avoid spilling over the device’s capacity. However, if you need to start backing up individual workstations or critical business documents, you may not want to have to use the appliance (especially if a local shared drive or a secure USB stick would do). Frankly, appliances weren’t really built to cover the full dataset.
Bust out of the backup box
Backup appliances served the industry well for years. However, we don’t really need them anymore. Cloud-based backup has come a long way since the days when appliances were essential. We’ve developed multiple techniques to make backup faster (and simpler), even in situations where the WAN is slow. And if you want local copies of data? You can still have that without having to buy a costly proprietary appliance.
We’ll cover that in part two.
Carrie Reber is senior product marketing manager for SolarWinds MSP.
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