Today in Cloud

A big problem with cloud backup is the initial upload of Gigabytes (or Terabytes) of data. Over the broadband connections used by consumers and small businesses, it’s a daunting prospect that probably takes days to accomplish. Increasingly, it also falls foul of the caps that broadband providers place on traffic using their network. Dealing with enterprise-scale data requirements, companies like Amazon have recognised this problem for a while and offer their customers an option to ship physical disks directly to a cloud data center. According to The Register, Australian cloud provider Ninefold is now offering their customers something similar, and Mozy has also just unveiled their own take on this solution for U.S.-based customers. Both are currently concerning themselves with smaller data volumes than Amazon (Mozy is targeting 100GB-8TB), but I still reckon there’s an opportunity for someone to come a bit further down the scale and deal (perhaps for a larger fee) with the tens of GB that fill the frequently unprotected computers of consumers and small businesses.

Zetta raises $9M more for enterprise cloud storage

Cloud-storage provider Zetta has closed a $9 million Series C round. The company has now raised $31.5 million overall, an indication of just how much promise there is in the cloud storage space even, even if it’s still just relegated to backup.

Today in Cloud

Bitcasa launched at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday, offering “infinite storage” in the cloud at the remarkably low price of $10 per month. The company treats your local hard drive as a cache, storing recently changed and frequently accessed files for speed. According to Sarah Perez at TechCrunch, Bitcasa is able to keep prices low because “60% of your data is duplicate. If you have an MP3 file, someone else probably has the same one.” In other words, Bitcasa may actually only store 40% of your data. When you want to listen to a song or watch a movie, the chances are that you actually access someone else’s copy. But for this deduplication to work, doesn’t Bitcasa need to know what your data is, and be able to read it? If everything is encrypted by the client (before any data leaves your computer) as VentureBeat’s Matthew Lynley clearly states, how will this actually work? And what happens when the owner of the single copy of the movie that Bitcasa kept decides to remove their data from the service? The challenges facing this service are far greater than today’s coverage suggests.

Today in Cloud

Austin-based Spanning already offers a backup service for the calendar, contacts and documents within Google Apps, giving their customers some peace of mind in the face of (vanishingly unlikely) catastrophic data loss at Google or (far more probable) inadvertent file deletion by the customer themselves. Today the company added a Gmail backup capability. Unlike the existing service, which is free for up to three users per domain, the Gmail backup requires a paid subscription. Many cloud customers probably assume that their cloud provider handles backup already, and often they sort of do. Interesting times lie ahead, as companies like Spanning and Backupify explain why we need them, and as less reputable actors perhaps start trying to dupe unsuspecting cloud users into paying for “backup” services that they really don’t need.

How to downgrade from Lion to Snow Leopard

A few folks have asked me how to go about stepping back from Lion to Snow Leopard. It’s possible, but unfortunately you may not be able to easily take your current apps and documents with you unless you’ve cloned your original Snow Leopard drive.

Let’s talk about the broadband-cap gap

The cautionary tales around broadband caps are trickling in and as I read them I wonder if amid these caps the web ecosystem is failing consumers (and maybe teleworkers) when it comes to broadband and cloud services.Here’s how and where things are breaking down.

How to prepare your Mac for OS X Lion

With the next major release of Mac OS X, 10.7 Lion, on the way, it’s a good idea to start preparing your Mac for the transition soon. Here are some steps to make sure your Mac is ready for Lion.

iOS Encrypted Backups Are Now Crackable

It’s possible to encrypt an iOS backup using iTunes. However, a piece of software has just been released which allows the encryption to be cracked, therefore giving someone full access to the data stored in your backup, so reconsider what you store on your device.

The Backup Barrier: Obstacles to Online Storage Strategies

The combination of having both local and offsite storage is something large enterprises routinely base their backup and disaster recovery strategy on, but cost and complexity have made it difficult for smaller companies and individuals at the consumer level to follow suit. But this week, Hitachi GST announced a new range of external hard drives that also ship bundled with 3GB of cloud-based storage, and such a device demonstrates that the storage industry is beginning to respond to the gap in current provision.
Cloud-based solutions like Mozy and Dropbox have been available for a number of years, and while these certainly meet the requirement to store backups offsite, they tend to become expensive as data volumes grow, particularly in the enterprise setting. Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Apple’s new North Carolina data center play in the same area, although marketing around these products tend to focus upon the storage of larger media files.
Moreover, both traditional cloud backup solutions like Mozy and hybrid products such as Hitachi’s remain constrained by the limitations of consumer broadband. Ad hoc uploading of individual files as they are created or altered is perfectly feasible, but typical upload speeds make it unrealistic to expect most customers to complete their initial backup of applications, images and other large files. Without that ability to simply upload everything at the outset, online backup strategies remain reliant upon a process of manual selection, and typically therefore too time consuming to contemplate. For both large enterprises supporting home-based remote workers and smaller organizations that might rely consumer-grade internet connections, the upload speeds of many consumer broadband packages remain a major hurdle to overcome in delivering effective backup solutions.
In the Enterprise
As we often discuss here at GigaOM Pro, consumerization of the enterprise is a hot topic right now, with (mostly) younger employees bring modes of working learned on Facebook, Twitter and other consumer-grade services and devices to their professional interactions. Slowly, enterprise IT systems and procedures are adjusting to cope. And while the this consumerization ultimately benefits everyone, the space is far from perfect, particularly when it comes to safely backing up files.
In most circumstances, data stored on a server will be backed up somewhere else, either on another machine in the data center, to tape, or offsite via a service like Iron Mountain or Nirvanix. An effective backup and disaster recovery plan for the data center will typically involve some combination of all three.
Data stored on company desktops and — especially — laptops is a very different matter, as machines move around, and are often switched off or offsite when backups are scheduled. One provider of solutions for laptop backup, Druva, claims that currently “over 38 percent of corporate data resides on laptops that are never backed up.” In a press release this week to mark the launch of its new cloud-based backup solution for enterprise laptops, Druva cites another statistic: According to the company, “73 percent of laptop users across industries [complain] that ‘intrusive backups’ create a major obstacle to personal productivity.”
In the Consumer Space
Unfortunately those “intrusive backups” remain the primary solution available to people — especially when it comes backing up files in the home. Typically, they require manual intervention by the computer user, and performance of other applications may often be impeded as the machine devotes its attention to scanning and copying files for the backup. My wholly unscientific observation of behavior suggests that, for the minority who do any kind of backup at all, irregular copying of key files to a CD or DVD remains by far the most popular backup strategy.
For those persuaded to invest money rather than time, automated local solutions such as Drobo or Apple’s Time Machine go a long way toward making the consumer backup process relatively painless, but the need to site computer and backup device near one another causes further problems; theft, fire, flood and other unfortunate events are likely to have an equally detrimental effect on both, lessening the value of having made a backup in the first place.
There’s a clear business opportunity for someone to crack the problem of that initial backup, but until that happens — or broadband upload speeds improve — effective backup will remain the preserve of the enthusiastic and the paranoid.

Mac Backup Strategies for Worldwide Backup Day

Today is Worldwide Backup Day, when we celebrate taking precautions so as not to lose data. The best backup strategies take a layered approach to provide different levels of protection. I’m going to focus on three layers for protecting your Mac: online, nearline, and offsite backups.