Mentioning Cloud computing in the IT shop can be an invitation to very emotional discussions. For SMBs, which cannot afford to have dozens of experts on staff, the Cloud can be more promise than threat – a promise of taking chores off the back of a small, often overstretched staff, giving them more time to focus on what should be their primary tasks. And the top of that list is data backup and restore.
In most small shops, data backup is a constant distraction, and best practices an unreachable dream. Data backup still means tape, with all the problems that implies. Daily backup is better termed “daily attempts at backup,” with a failure rate of as much as four in five attempts. Tape storage often means piles of boxes in the IT manager’s basement. And file recovery often depends on hand-written logs and manual searches through those boxes for what might be the right tape.
Given that level of frustration, Cloud storage is an instant winner. It promises best practices handled by specialists, using modern technologies, working to guaranteed SLAs. Best of all, the entire backup headache becomes “somebody else’s problem”, freeing the IT team to devote their time and energy to processes that are central to the day-to-day support of the business.
On paper, however, the Cloud alternative, while a fraction of what it would cost to provide the same level of backup and restore in house, still looks more expensive than tape. One thing tape is good at is cheap. So the CIO or IT manager needs to create a business case before taking a proposal to the CEO and CFO.
At the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the business argument for moving off tape focused on the need to ensure preservation of large numbers of historic, digitized images and other documents forever. Collecting and preserving historic documents and images is a basic part of the mission of the museum, and tape backup simply does not provide am appropriate level of security from data loss for that mission.
Most businesses, however, are not in that position, and many SMBs are not publicly traded and therefore do not have the compliance requirements for business document preservation that large enterprises must meet. In these organizations, the business argument for moving from tape to Cloud backup and recovery must depend on a bottom-line argument.
That must be based on a total cost of ownership (TCO) comparison of the two choices. The true cost of tape backup and recovery is much more than just the cost of tape and spindles, and much of that cost is hidden. The TCO must include:
- The cost of staff time spent running backups, keeping records, and trying to get a temperamental tape system to finish a backup successfully rather than crashing half way through.
- The productivity loss from server resets and other events triggered by the tape system – at the museum, IT had to kick everyone off the server over lunch so they could reset the system to get the tape deck to spit out the finished tape.
- The cost of the productivity loss of end-users waiting for IT staff to find the right tape with the right copy of the right file that needs to be restored.
- The cost of the IT staff time spent doing that search.
- The monetary loss to the business from the loss of files that could not be restored.
- The potential cost from the loss of the full set of backup tapes due to fire or flood at the home of the IT staff person storing them.
- The business loss caused by the extra time it would take to fully restore business files from tape as opposed to more modern solutions in the event of a disaster.
In most cases this analysis will demonstrate that tape actually is the more expensive alternative compared to a modern Cloud backup and recovery solution, which can run completely in background and provide online access to backups of active files for restoration times measured in minutes rather than hours or days.
Action Item: SMB IT managers should perform a TCO analysis of their tape backup solution when considering migrating to a more modern solution. The results will provide a true orange-to-orange comparison with Cloud services that usually will provide a financial case for modernization. And regardless of the final decision on this issue, the presentation of such an analysis, couched in business and financial terms rather than IT tech-talk, will instantly elevate the CIO’s reputation with senior business management.