Selecting a backup as a service partner (BaaS)

It was just a couple of years ago my company asked me to conduct a proof of concept exercise for a particular backup as a service offering. The talk of the cloud had become louder and could no longer be ignored. Management was hoping to find a solution that could create some annuity based income and would appeal to the SMB market. Backup technologies can get expensive very fast. A conventional backup solution will require servers, tape or disk targets and software. If tapes are used man hours need to be taken into account to manage as well as an offsite vault would need to be engaged. If a disk solution is used a colocation would be required for DR with replication. It adds up fast and IT budgets rarely take the importance of backups and DR into account in planning. That’s why BaaS is a great option for SMB. For a monthly fee all your backups can be taken care of. Sounds great right? It defiantly has gotten better. Just 2-3 years ago there were really not a lot of players in the market. There were the home consumer products that provided plans for business, but not the intelligence required to properly protect databases and applications. At best these products as well as the service I tested provided a crash consistent backup. That is the robustness of the product is relied on to protect itself. If you yanked the power cable out of the wall on your exchange server, would you be concerned if the database would be mountable at startup? You should be. Most likely you’ll be OK, but you are not %100 protected. Would you want to pay somebody a monthly fee to maybe  protect your applications or databases? Now just a few years later there are many options out there that claim to provide business intelligent backups for this data. I say claim because I have not had the opportunity to test any myself since the POC I had done a few years ago. So with so many options out there, how do you choose a BaaS provider? Here are some things to consider.


Where will your data be?

It’s important to know where your data will finally actually be sitting. Is it in the data center of a known trusted provider or the CEO’s basement? A site inspection should be included as part of the due diligence, which brings me to my next point.


Consider geographically where your data will be.

Will your data be crossing any physical borders into another country? If so you may obviously want to avoid a company that is shipping your data to geopolitically unstable nations, not that any are that I know of.  Most likely your data may be crossing the US/Canada border and your company may or may not have any such concerns, but this should still be taken into account.


It’s good to ask a lot of questions about the technology and ensure you have a solid understanding of how it works. A good BaaS solution should use data deduplication and it should be done on the client side. This is required to reduce the amount of data required to be moved. As well compression should factor into the solution and encryption if required. Is any of your company data sitting encrypted on disk? How will this dedupe? A trial period should be engaged and backups and restores should be tested to ensure the solution can meet your expectations.



Most likely the service will be leveraging some kind of compression or deduplication technology to limit the amount of data required to be moved. The question is can they estimate the length of time required to complete the initial level 0 backup? Can you simultaneously run your existing backup solution during this level 0? Depending on the amount of data it could take weeks to months to complete a level 0 of all your data. Also consider when your billing will start. Will it start on the day the first level 0 begins or when the first level 0 completes? A good strategy would be to break up the company’s data profile into chunks and using known metrics estimate the amount of time it would take to complete a level 0 of each chunk and incrementally bill from there.


Server/network bandwidth cost?

Another question is if there are any throttling options?  It’s important to understand the impact the backup will have on network and server resources as the initial level 0 backup may take weeks to complete, which brings us to our next consideration.


Are there any seeding or shipping options?

Quick recovery of an employee’s spreadsheet over the WAN isn’t an issue, but what about a larger dataset? Some companies provide a service where a backup would be completed to a local portable NAS and then shipped to the service provider to seed the initial level 0 backup in hopes of completing the backup faster. This option would be required if your company has more than 5 TB of data. Conversely what if you needed to restore all 5 TB of data in the event of a disaster? Recovery over WAN would be inefficient to say the least, so could they restore and ship the data on disk? This is an important consideration and could be mean the difference between a faster recovery and going out of business in the event of a disaster.

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