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Amazon S3 For Backup: Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish

Zetta Explains Why Amazon S3 is a Poor Choice for Backup and Recovery

by Nick Mueller, Zetta.net

Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) is the leading online storage service, but that doesn't mean it's a good choice for your company's backup or disaster recovery solution. Since using S3 for backup requires 3rd party backup software, deployment and configuration is complicated. Also, by the time you add up the costs to use S3, you may not be saving any meaningful amount of money.

If you're an SMB, in a branch office, or even an enterprise where IT is already over-stretched, an S3-based backup may require more time, decisions and expertise than you're prepared to dedicate.

And even if these aren't dealbreakers, there's a more general one, namely, that Amazon S3 is really a storage service, and trying to use it for backup and disaster recovery is like trying to use a hammer as a screwdriver. Maybe you can do it with the right accessories, but it's not easy or effective.

Let's take a closer look at why S3 isn't a good choice for backup and disaster recovery:

Costs Are Complicated and Unpredictable
Let's assume you're a small company with around 500GB of data that needs to be backed up, and you have, hmmm, 6 servers and 50 client (desktop and laptop) endpoints.

Amazon S3 charges $0.125/GB/month for storage = $62.50/month.

Then you have to buy the software licenses. For a popular service like Jungledisk, six servers at $5/server/month will cost $30.00, taking you up to $92.50. The 50 laptops are $4/user/month so that would be another $200 a month, for a sub-total of $292.50.

Next, uploads to S3 are free, but downloads are $0.12/GB. Since this is a backup scenario, let's assume that you're retrieving 50GB/month, for another $6.00, bringing you to $298.50. "Requests" are tens or hundreds to the penny; how many you generate depends on how you're doing your backups, and what you're doing with them. Let's make a SWAG (Scientific Wild-ass Guess) of a dollar's worth per day = $30/month, pushing the total up to $328.50. As for support you have to spend at least $100/month. Now you're up to $428.50/month for S3.

On the other hand, Zetta's 3-in-1 online backup, disaster recovery and archiving service starts at $195/month, including 500GB of storage, with no charges for software agents or 24×7 US-based phone support.

Factor in your own time managing the backup, and if you've got less than 2TB, using S3 is unlikely to be meaningfully less expensive than Zetta, and might be more. Not to mention that with S3, there's a lot of unpredictable - possibly even uncontrollable - price-impacting activity.

Storage Isn't the Same As Backup
When it's time to recover lost data, backups need to have more than just the most recent version of files. You also want to retain and recover previous versions of files - or the state of a file system from a previous point in time. Otherwise, your backup is simply replicating user errors, disk errors, malware or virus attacks - this is why RAID isn't a backup technology.

Backups Aren't Just For Files

To backup SQL, Exchange and other databases online successfully requires high performance data transfer, like WebDAV, that's isn't offered by a combination of S3 and software.

Can you Recovery From A Browser?
If a desktop client is needed to recover after a data loss event, what happens if the desktop itself was lost during that (fire, flood, or tornado) event?

Zetta, however, offers three recovery options - via software client, web browser, mounted local web drive. So your data is always available.

To be fair, there are cloud-based storage and backup services using Amazon S3 as their back end whose offerings may compensate for some of these constraints. But these workarounds still don't address your concerns for versioning and high priority features like remote web-based configuration and mountable volumes.

In the end, when you decide on a solution to protect your company's data, it makes sense to be penny foolish, but dollar wise.


Nick is Zetta's Corporate Reporter, and has been writing and telling stories about technology with blogs, social media, and content marketing since the days when the BBS reigned.

More Stories By Derek Kol

Derek Kol is a technology specialist focused on SMB and enterprise IT innovations.