Cloud Backup Challenges

Cloud is changing the way we are conducting business, sharing information and interacting with the world. Cloud backup is one the ways cloud computing is touching lives of people and businesses alike. Cloud backup means storing your digital data on an offshore server (read multiple servers spread around the globe) by routing them via internet.

Consider this, a few years ago a normal laptop had 100-150 GB hard disk, not 600+ is very common and growing. Not only individuals business are interacting more and more electronically generating volume of digital data (replacing paper and files) which needs to be stored and preserved. With ever growing volumes of digital data, safekeeping of digital archives is becoming a quintessential issue. With the multitude of benefits which the cloud backup offers, it is becoming more and more popular among both individuals users and businesses.

However, in the history of human civilization, there has been no technology that has emerged without any limitations and so is no exception the cloud technology. Herein we try to discuss some of the major challenges and limitations faced while backing up data on the cloud.

Cloud Backup Challenges – Security Concerns

The biggest concern over going cloud is the security, primarily from data thefts. In a broad way, there are two levels of security that cloud service providers usually employ to safeguard its client’s data from data thefts.

The first is the encryption and the second being firewalls. Encryption of data means organised scrambling of data. The backup service provider installs software onto the client’s system. This software is responsible for scrambling of data before it is sent via the internet, i.e. the scrambling is done on the client’s machine itself. What comes out of the scrambling process is a cipher, a puzzle that can be solved only if you have the required key.  This scrambled data is then sent to the service provider’s server via the internet. These servers are then protected by several layers of firewalls, which restrict any unauthorised entry. So, even if in case someone intercepts your data in the path or even manages to break all the firewalls, he or she ends up getting a disordered piece of obsolete data. It is possible to decode the cipher, but with higher levels of encryptions coming in to the market (128 bit, 192 and 256 bit) possibility of such breach becomes one in a million.

However, when saving highly confidential data, there might be some issue regarding the encryption authority. For example, most service providers develop the encryption codes themselves. So in theory, they can always decode your data, something which big clients might not like. However, there are some companies, like Mozy which provides its customers the facility to generate their own keys of encryption, which even the service providers itself, cannot break. While this might seem a very beautiful system, there are issues that how strong encryptions can a lay man generate.

Major corporate have been dealing with this issue by having their own highly skilled professionals, who encrypt the data on their own, before sending it to the backup provider’s software.

The client also needs to make sure that the service provider, apart from providing electronic data, is providing physical security to its bases where it keeps all its servers.

Cloud Backup Challenges – Internet Speed and Connectivity

A very major problem associated with cloud technology, which becomes very relevant for clients based in developing economies like India is the internet connection. Going cloud means uploading everything on a server via backup

Here we are talking about uploading and downloading gigabytes of data on an everyday basis. Most SMBs in India uses standard DSL connections in their work places which can in general provide at max 1mbps of speed. At such rates, the initial transition to cloud might take more than a month, at the same time choking down all your internet connections altogether!!

The individual personal user at home might not worry much about this as for him, data uploading generally is a onetime task. Later on, the cloud software installed on the user’s system make sure that only the changes made in the files are sent to the servers.
However, for businesses which need to route gigabytes of data every day, the speed issue might become a very big spoiler in their plans of going cloud. To solve this problem, the client shall be required to buy up more and more bandwidth which shall add so much expense that it might eat up all the initial savings that cloud technology tends to offer.

The speed issue becomes a much important factor in cases of emergency. Suppose a situation, where your office gets fire and all your hard disks have burned to ashes. You can arrange for new devices and office space in a matter of couple of days, but then routing all your data back from the cloud, which might be several terabytes shall take over months.

There are solutions which are being offered to this problem. A very innovative scheme has been adopted by MozyPro in its new service called MozyPro Data Shuttle. Under this, the provider does not actually challenges the internet speed, indeed it sends down its hard disks to their individual clients, the client uploads all their data (which is encrypted) onto these hard disks and ships it back to Mozy’s office. Now this seems to be a revolutionary idea to fight network congestion.  However, the scheme does not mention anything about the reverse process, i.e. in situations of total recovery of all the backed up data (the fire situation we discussed above).

Then there are also the risks associated with physical movement of data, like plane crash or even physical robbery. 
The other problem with this service is the cost. For 1.8 Tb of data stored via MozyPro Data Shuttle, you need to shell out around fourteen thousand rupees, where in the market, you can get a 2TB external as less as seven thousands, i.e. , just half the price. We can expect costs of the Data Shuttle to go down, at this point of time going cloud seems to be a bit more expensive. However, the extra cost gives you assurance over disasters like earthquake, fire etc. 

Cloud Backup Challenges – Cost (as compared to traditional back-up)

The major hurdle that comes in front of any new technology on its way to its wide scale adaptability is the cost involved. Usually, when the technology is new, it’s comparatively expensive and its cost goes down as its usage increases, however in the case of cloud backup technology, the situation is pretty different and in itself unique. In this case, the initial cost of adapting to the new technology is quite less than the traditional method, but as we continue i.e. the amount of our data increases , the costs involved goes increasing, and eventually becomes more expensive than the traditional methods. In traditional methods of backup, the costs involved are largely one time. You buy up all the hardware and other required stuffs (like property to store it, air conditioning, service engineers etc) all at once and then go on utilising it for the next few years until you run out of space. Whereas in case of cloud backup technology, you pay as you go, which means that subscriptions needs to be renewed every year and every next year, you need to pay all those money once again for the previously saved data which means that by the you end up paying more price.  In practise, storing 2TB of data on an external hard disk will mean around $100, and the cost for the same in case of going cloud might get you around $12000!!  (Inclusive of data charges as per charged by your ISP).

Solutions to these problems is being offered with flat sale unlimited plan model. This means that the client pays a flat lump sum amount for an unlimited usage account. This model suffers from some scalability issue, also, even this system might not help you escape data charges. Again you have unlimited data plans from ISPs too, but they also have their own speed issues, something which we will discuss in the next section.

To summarise, we can compare the present cloud technology with our homes. You either buy a home or rent one. Both have its own pros and cons, choice have to exercised depending upon the client’s needs.

Cloud Backup Challenges – Need for customization

Every company is different and thus has its own needs which might be very different from the other and this call for the need of customization, a ground where the cloud backup tends to fail desperately. The needs of a grocery store are very much different from that of a hospital and asking both of them to use a single cloud backup provider may be like asking a dog and a parrot to share their cages.

Off course, different backup providers are present who claims to offer different services, and even the same provider offering a large number of schemes, however, an in depth analysis shows that these variations are largely superficial. A whopping 55.8% of the cloud users say customization to be the biggest hurdle while going cloud.

The issue with customization does not end here, it reaches further to even adaptability, when we talk about medium to large size enterprises. Every company as of today has developed its own model of IT solutions which is usually very unique to that company, now, going cloud for them means integrating this existent IT system with the cloud backup service provider, a process where lack of customization becomes a very big handicap.

A solution to this problem comes in the form of private clouds, a form of cloud backup, where the provider does not issues any software, the client himself is responsible for all the encryption and management of data. Now this is definitely not customization, but it does help the company to have their own tailor made services. The backdrop of this system is that the client needs to hire professionally trained IT personnel, which might not be just feasible even for mid sized firms let alone the smaller firms.

Cloud Backup Challenges – Possible legal issues

Backing up your data on cloud may be a very virtual process, but legally is no different from signing any contract, or a business cloud backuppartnership. There are a lots of issues associated when handling your data to someone else for its safekeeping. The first of its is authority. In US, or servers stored on US soil, the federal government has the full authority to look into any data that are stored on servers installed in US on a court order. This might not be a problem with smaller companies, but with the mega corps, such might be an issue of concern. Also, the issues of authority and nature of access over the data by the service providers is a prime concern. Read the licence agreement carefully and make sure that there is a clause explicitly saying that under no circumstance shall the service provider look into the data stored by its client, something similar to bank lockers.

Issues also arises in case of the company going bankrupt or change of ownership. In case if the company overnight declares it to be stopping all its operations and services, then what shall be the scenario of data retrieval? Also, in case if the company is sold to someone else, or any other major authority change, will the former owners be responsible to intimidate such notices to its clients. This might become relevant in scenarios like, if Company A is storing its data on a certain service provider. This service provider is at some time brought out by Company B and the server is stored in a country whose constitution allows the service providers to look into the data stored on its servers for any security or maintenance issue!! 

In the end ..

It can be seen that the there exists a number of challenges and problems while "going cloud". There are some inherent flaws, which we have to bear all along, and some developmental flaws which we can hope of getting rid of soon.

New forms of cloud, like the hybrid cloud concept which tries to amalgamate the best of private and public clouds are coming up which tends to solve some of this issues to a certain extent and in the future we can hope several other systems coming up to eliminate even the inherent flaws, but for the time being syncing yourself up to the cloud while being aware of its flaws seems the best possible solution.