How to find the best cloud backup approach

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AWS backup options restore cloud when disaster strikes

Enterprises operating with insufficient or out-of-date disaster recovery plans may be whistling past the graveyard. These services provide the structure for developers to achieve redundancy.

The AWS public cloud infrastructure provides disaster recovery and backup capabilities in the form of several services and tools, but users also must comply with AWS' shared responsibility model and use the cloud's building blocks to support their uptime needs.

A few features that bolster its inherent disaster recovery (DR) and AWS backup options include its global data center footprint, Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances, Elastic Block Store (EBS) snapshots and database as a service (DBaaS) options.

AWS global footprint: Since it began over a decade ago, AWS has expanded its global infrastructure. The company has 13 regions, each of which consists of multiple logically separated data centers called Availability Zones (AZs).

EC2, Amazon Machine Images and snapshots: AWS backup options come in two primary forms, which can restore a single EC2 instance -- keep and recover from an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) or keep a snapshot. However, there are limitations, particularly with Windows instances, and automating this requires an IT administrator to create a seamless backup and recovery.

EBS snapshots: Using a point-in-time snapshot, IT teams can protect data for long-term durability, storing it within Amazon Simple Storage Service. This service is designed to provide 99.999999999% durability of objects over a single year, according to AWS.

Since it began over a decade ago, AWS has expanded its global infrastructure. The company has 13 regions, each of which consists of multiple logically separated data centers called Availability Zones.

DBaaS: In addition to being able to manually run a database on EBS volumes and wrap it with automated backup and recovery processes, AWS also provides Relational Database Service (RDS) and DynamoDB. The cloud provider manages these DBaaS options, giving customers out-of-the-box AWS backup options and recovery mechanisms. For example, a quick configuration of an RDS volume automatically creates read replicas across availability zones.

Two AWS backup options and recovery methods

Whether an enterprise is using AWS as a secondary DR site for on-premises environments or running all operations on AWS, there are two types of configurations available.

1. Hot standby. A hot standby is an AWS secondary site that is continuously up and running and kept up to date so it's ready for user requests if/when the main environment fails. The two sites are continuously synchronized automatically. The whole configuration is replicated "as is" in the cloud, across AZs and regions, enabling seamless failover and maintaining a consistent end-user experience. But constantly running a replica means that the costs of running an application in the cloud will nearly double.

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2. Pilot light. In a pilot light scenario, a secondary site holds the minimum amount of resources in an ideal state and acts as a spare tire for the cloud service. The infrastructural elements of an application are saved as images and snapshots, and are ready to spin off another environment if disaster strikes. For example, instances can be in a stopped state or spun from ready-made AMIs. Because nothing is actually running, this results in minimal costs that solely cover maintenance and storage for the secondary stack.

Most AWS customers often choose a combination of the two approaches. For example, an enterprise might auto scale web servers to keep up with demand, keep AMI replicas in a separate AZ and keep active database instances in the same zone. Which option to choose comes down to how much an enterprise is willing to invest to fulfill business needs and compliance requirements.

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