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Backup Storage: Cloud vs On-Premises

Backup storage enables you to save copies of your data in different locations or devices. You can then recover this data as needed in the event of outage or data loss. The main types of data backup storage methods are cloud storage and on-premise storage. 

Cloud backup is convenient, but raises security concerns, and in the long term can be costly. On-premise backup requires an upfront investment, but offers more control over security, and lower costs in the long run. Examples of on-premise backup include external hard drives, Network Attached Storage (NAS), backup appliances, and object storage devices such as Cloudian Hyperstore. 

In this article:

What Is Backup Storage?

Backup storage refers to devices or locations where copies of data, software or entire configurations are stored for recovery in the event of data loss or hardware failure. Backup storage generally encompasses both the hardware on which the data exists and the software responsible for managing copies and recovery.

What Is Cloud Backup?

Cloud backup is a method that uses secondary, remote resources to store backup data. It is also sometimes referred to as remote or online backup. The purpose of cloud backup is to ensure that data remains available in the event of a local disaster or incident. While initially, cloud backups were only common for consumers, this method has now become standard for businesses of all sizes.

Typically, remote resources are hosted by a third-party provider in either a public or private cloud. When using cloud backups, you are responsible for storage and networking costs. Depending on the service you use, uploading data may be free but accessing data usually costs a fee.

Despite the costs of the cloud, using the cloud backup method can help organizations save time and money creating and managing backups. When cloud resources are used, IT teams do not have to purchase resources or devote time to maintaining or updating infrastructure. Additionally, cloud services often come with automation tools for creating and managing backups.

Cloud Storage vs Cloud Backup: What Is the Difference?

Cloud storage and cloud backup are similar in several ways. Both use cloud resources to store data, allow remote access to data, and can be used to supplement on-premises resources. The primary difference is the processes used to move that data to the cloud and the type of data stored.

With cloud storage, you typically move data once and then use that data from the cloud as needed. This data is typically intended to be used by multiple users and applications on a regular basis. If you are moving backups, the transfer typically only happens periodically. Unless you have a hybrid-cloud architecture, data is typically not synced between your cloud resources and on-site resources.

In contrast, cloud backup is used only for backup and recovery data. This data is often synced through automation to ensure that backups remain up to date. It is not intended for frequent use and is meant to serve as part of your data loss protection strategy.

Additionally, many cloud backup services include features for disaster recovery. For example, the ability to fail over to the backup copy in times of disaster. While you can set cloud storage up for failover purposes, this is not its primary objective.

Cloud Storage Challenges

When setting up cloud storage, whether for backups or for standard use, there are several challenges you may face. Below are some of the most common issues.

Cloud complexity

While cloud storage can be simple to use and provision, it is more difficult to deploy efficiently. Adopting cloud resources requires expertise that many organizations do not have in-house. This means that when cloud deployment is left to general IT staff, the chance of misconfiguration or misunderstanding of how services work is relatively high.

To deploy resources effectively, IT teams need to be able to plan and implement networking, access policies, and data migration. Teams also need to understand how to optimize resources to ensure that services meet your organization’s needs and that costs don’t balloon.

Data movement 

There are several issues that can arise when it comes to data movement. The amount of data that you need to transfer and the bandwidth of your network play a large role in the speed of transfer. Large amounts of data on slow networks take large amounts of time.

Depending on the service and provider you are using, cost can also be an issue. Some services allow you to import data for free. However, this only means that you won’t be charged additional network costs. You are still responsible for your own outgoing network costs as well as the storage required once data is moved.

Data security during migration is another concern. When data is at-rest it is easier to encrypt and less vulnerable to theft or corruption. When data is in-transit, however, theives can intercept it, leading to theft or modification.

Cloud security

Due to the complexity of cloud systems and the necessary movement of data, security in the cloud can be a significant concern. Misconfigurations, lack of proper access controls, and lack of encryption can all lead to system breach and data loss.

One of the major issues with cloud security for many organizations is a lack of understanding of shared models of responsibility. While cloud providers do manage the security of your infrastructure and provide security tools for you, they do not take care of everything.

Additionally, because public cloud services require an Internet connection, your data and systems are inherently more available to cybercriminals. This accessibility increases your risk of attack and the chance that your data is compromised.

Types of Backup Storage Available On-Premises

Backup storage includes anything from a simple thumb drive to a hybrid system of local physical storage and remote cloud storage. For businesses, the complexity of the systems in operation and the amount of data to be handled reduces the number of viable options. The following are some of the important forms of backup storage.

External hard drives

External hard drives local backup and recovery on a limited scale. They are portable, relatively cheap, can be easily used by IT as well as users and can only be accessed when connected, increasing data security. These drives are useful for smaller amounts of data that need to be available in offline environments but are subject to physical damage or theft. However, external hard drives are not ideal solutions for backing up anything other than individual files or small databases.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

NAS is the addition of a storage device to your server network that can be accessed through a LAN. Multiple devices can be set up to provide both on and off-site backup and these devices can be synced online. NAS systems are primarily used for unstructured data like video, websites and individual files, not configurations or applications.

NAS devices are available as desktop configurations, meant for small businesses and individuals, midmarket solutions for businesses requiring 100s of TB of storage, and enterprise solutions for large organizations that require significant storage space.

Backup appliances

Backup appliances are plug-and-play devices designed for backup purposes. These appliances are designed to integrate with your existing systems and offload backup data and responsibilities from your primary hardware. 

Backup appliances devices typically include features for automatic storage configuration, encryption, and centralized management consoles. Ideally, these appliances also enable you to scale your backups through the addition of more devices and automate the management of data. 

Object Storage

Object storage is typically thought of as being a type cloud-storage but it can also be used on-premises. This storage type is designed for storing large amounts of unstructured data cheaply in exchange for slower speeds. 

Frequently, object storage is used to simulate cloud storage or to create hybrid storage systems. This is possible because it uses APIs that are compatible with cloud storage, such as S3.  

Cloud backup storage

Cloud storage can refer to remote public clouds, private clouds, or a hybrid solution that uses both public and private or on-premise resources. This backup method is suitable for any type of storage and is scalable to need, making it useful regardless of business size.

Increasingly, public clouds are preferred over private solutions as their remote nature eliminates the risk of local outages or disasters and allows recovery of data from any location with a network connection. Public clouds transfer the often higher costs of purchasing or maintaining equipment to lower subscription rates for storage volume, bandwidth consumption, and the number of users.

Although cloud services include built-in security and customer support, their networked nature can mean a larger risk of security breaches and lack of internet connection makes data inaccessible. Read more in our backup cloud storage guide.

Developing a Backup Strategy for Your Business

The impact of data loss can be felt by your business and its customers through the loss of trade secrets or project progress, lost operation time and its associated revenues, and reduction of customer trust. It can be costly to recover data from damaged or corrupted devices and what can’t be recovered is lost permanently. Developing a proactive backup strategy allows you to resume operations faster, more easily and more cheaply than is possible otherwise.

Assess backup needs

Your backup needs will inform the rest of your storage and data security strategies. You must determine what sort of data your backups will contain and the priority of each type. For example, a payment database might require a higher level of encryption or more frequent backups than OS configurations. Priority level also refers to the impact that loss of data will have on your organization. Applications used on a daily basis will have a greater impact on productivity and must be restored more quickly than HR records from 5 years ago.

Previous losses, number of employees or clients accessing data, and risk of natural disaster all play a role. Length of storage time, determined by regulatory requirements or project timelines, affects the amount of storage space needed and cost.

Evaluate backup options

After considering what data you need to store and for how long, you can narrow down which options best match your needs. Two key points in this determination are Recovery Point Objective (RPO), the frequency of backup, and Recovery Time Objective (RTO), the speed of restoration. You may have multiple RPOs or RTOs depending on how your data is prioritized or segmented.

RPO is dictated by how frequently or drastically your data is being modified as well as the cost of each increment of loss. If your RPO calls for copying large amounts of data on an hourly basis, an external hard drive that you have to manually copy files to is probably not the best solution.

RTO relies on the cost of downtime to your organization in the case of loss. If your RTO dictates that specific data be available for immediate recovery at all times, a solution based exclusively on a public cloud will not meet your needs.

Read more in our backup storage guide.


When determining a budget for your backup strategy it is important to balance investment in solutions with cost of loss. If you’re a small startup with minimal liabilities, it doesn’t make sense to purchase expensive servers that you’ll have to pay to house or hire staff to maintain and operate. Likewise, if you’re a large corporation with valuable R&D projects, relying on a small IT staff with a few external hard drives is negligent.

Your budget should include costs of backup administration, maintenance, and recovery and reflect both short and long term costs. For example, third-party solutions have smaller upfront costs but long term recurring ones. Including your strategy budget in Data Loss Protection (DLP) plan can help emphasize the importance of effective solutions and reduce liabilities created through underspending.

Choose a vendor

After you’ve determined the type of solution you need and your budget, you can start evaluating vendors. Options should be narrowed based on fit of service, presence of lock-in, and ability to integrate services you’re currently using. Once you’ve selected viable options, compare vendor reputation, cost and length of implementation, services included, such as extended support or employee training, and contract specifics.

You should demo the products, if possible, or seek insight from current or past users, if not. Before selecting a vendor or implementing your plan, review your analysis and determinations. If you have already started and discovered a miscalculation, it is more cost- and time-effective to alter your plan when the issue is discovered than to wait until the problem causes damage.

Test your backup solution

Your strategy must include follow-up to be effective. Create a policy defining a schedule and responsible parties to ensure accountability. Backups should be reviewed on a regular basis for fidelity and restorability.

To minimize the risks, you should implement additional checks when you adopt new applications or devices or upgrade current ones. You should also execute more tests after events with large influxes of data or significant data modification. Testing your solution consistently and uniformly ensures that your backups are available when you need them and provides feedback to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Read more in our guides to NAS Backup and Distributed Storage.

Data Management with Cloudian

Regardless of which solution you choose you are likely to have data that is less frequently, if ever, accessed, consuming valuable space. Cloudian allows you to store this less used but no less valuable data at a reduced price on appliances that are scalable and integrate with existing NAS and cloud services.

Cloudian solutions are transparent to users and don’t affect user ability to access data. If migrated data is required, it is returned to the desired location automatically, eliminating loss of productivity caused by manual transfer or wait time. Your data is secured with integrated data protection either on-site or across sites managed from a central location, facilitating offline and disaster recovery.

Cloudian is not an all-inclusive solution, it is meant to complement your strategy and ensure you are fully protected as cost-efficiently as possible.

Learn how to lower your storage total cost of ownership with our TCO calculator

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