A Beginner’s Guide to Multi-cloud Storage

A Beginner’s Guide to Multi-cloud Storage

Multi-cloud storage is the idea of having your backup data on more than one cloud service provider. Cloud computing still has its limits, but it provides some advantages over traditional backups, allowing you to access your files anywhere. As a beginner, here are a few concepts you must know.

Multi-cloud Architecture

The typical Cloud architecture comprises a public cloud provider, a backup server (client), and (optionally) an additional virtual machine for protection or recovery purposes.

A backup client protects the public cloud storage. Backup clients are often located at the same provider as their primary storage, but they can be off-premises with a VPN connection to the Public Cloud provider. A protection server provides disaster recovery and business continuity solutions for applications, data, and infrastructure.

In the protection scenario, the protection server is called secondary storage. Some backup solutions enable you to maintain OpenStack instances or VMs, serving as secondary storage for your primary Cloud storage.

The cloud storage provider offers online and offline file access, file sharing, and synchronization with desktop, mobile, and web applications via the OpenStack Object Storage protocol or RESTful APIs.

The provider can be a single service provider or an aggregation of multiple providers. These can be local to each other or remote.

Challenges in Data Availability in Multi-cloud Environments

The standard commercial backup products are based on the concept of “duplicating” and “mirroring” live data in a second location. In other words, backups performed by such products are complete copies of the source. While that can be useful for disaster recovery, it does not help in the “recovery of a file.”

To recover an individual file from a backup, one needs to search and find the missing file. In other words, you must access each file’s metadata to locate an individual file (such as time and date created, owner, size, and attributes). It is impossible to identify a single file out of thousands without this information.

Addressing the Problem

One approach is to embed the metadata in the source file. It is common for Microsoft Office applications and Adobe products (like Adobe Acrobat). However, it requires all applications to be modified, and that’s not always possible or practical.

In addition, this approach may not be acceptable where security is an issue, such as government or financial organizations. These systems are less extensible, meaning any change requires additional code development and testing.

Another approach is to create a separate proprietary file format for storing metadata and the source files. This approach is used by one of the popular backup products — CrashPlan. Such files are referred to as “Autosave Archives” in this product.

The next approach is using a separate database that contains all metadata information. Besides, it would also help if you had a multi-cloud storage strategy to combat the challenges.

Benefits of the Multi-cloud Storage

The chief advantage of this storage approach is that it allows you to spread your data across multiple providers. If one system ever fails, your data will still be available. It is not only for cloud systems but also for physical disks and tapes. The same idea extends to other security measures too.

There are two major types of cloud services: object storage, which lets you store unstructured data as files, and block storage, which enables you to store data as a virtual hard drive.

Object storage is a better choice if you want to store files and use them when you need them; block storage is better if you’re going to set up your software RAID systems or otherwise have more control over your data. You can also use object storage to protect files from ransomware attacks if you encrypt them before uploading them to the cloud.

These benefits are available for any cloud service, but filesystem specifics mean some special considerations when choosing a storage solution.

The first consideration is the filesystem. What kind of files are you backing up? Pre-Xcode or Airport shutdowns? Pre-2015 or post-2015 raw disk images? There’s a particular file type that you might not want to get confused about.

The second consideration is the cloud provider. Are they available in your area? If so, which one? The third consideration is the attributes of the cloud storage service. Some services might have a lower cost but use slower bandwidth than others.

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