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Most companies have a few basic requirements for their data backup system and apply those to possible cloud backup solutions. Backup has to function without disrupting operations. It must be reliable, and you have to be able to check the reliability easily. It must be able to handle large amounts of data, and the backup medium must be portable, rugged, and with a demonstrated record of permanence. The 20-year-old tape backup technology still fits the bill.

While many companies also back up to optical disks, memory keys, or external hard drives, there is often a tape drive in the background, taking care of long-term backup needs. Now cloud-based backup solutions are proliferating. Suppliers insist their services can act as a company's main backup system.

Cloud Backup Offerings

The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch details the offering of Synform, a distributed cloud backup service. It specializes in Linux server backups and uses the spare disk space of customers to reduce overall costs. The San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate reports on StoragePipe's cloud backup service that targets IBM systems. It delivers integrated backup systems for IBM's TSM technology. In mid-September ZDNet had details about Microsoft's Azure system, and Amazon recently started offering its Glacier backup solution. All these cloud-based systems offer inexpensive storage in a remote server environment. They claim that they can match the various characteristics of tape storage at much lower cost.


Midsize businesses using tape storage have a simple and flexible but secure system. Typically the tape unit starts backing up at 2 a.m. and runs for an extended period. The tape is left in the machine until the end of the day when a designated employee removes the small tape cartridge and replaces it with another one, usually from a previous day or week. He then takes the tape home, satisfying the need for off-site storage.

Regularly, say every Monday, another employee takes a cartridge from the server to the company safe and inserts the one already there into the server backup unit. Companies may also regularly mail a cartridge to head office, a vault, or a disaster recovery location. Usually IT departments periodically test backups with spot checks of files, and they may occasionally generate complete restores of the backup on spare computers. Companies can easily adjust to make the system more or less redundant, according to their needs.

Cloud-based systems can't yet cover the same ground. While they work overnight and back up remotely, they don't give the same feeling of security as having tape cartridges in multiple locations. File spot checks are easy but restoring the whole backup over an Internet connection is time-consuming and costly. Cloud backups don't deliver a separate record for disaster recovery. Although distributed cloud systems may be very secure, they don't quite deliver the same feeling as holding a tape cartridge in your hand.

Cloud backup companies have to supply not only real, demonstrated security for backups but superior perceived security. They are not doing that at the moment. The new technology may replace some of the storage needs of midsize companies but there will likely still be a role for a tape cartridge in the overall backup strategy for many.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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