To The Cloud

When transitioning to the cloud, don’t neglect data backup and recovery.

GUEST COLUMN | by Chris Gleeson

CREDIT U MarylandLike many academic institutions, the University of Maryland has been moving its operations to the cloud at a feverish pace. From small rural high schools to major universities, the benefits of the cloud are immense. At its foundation, the cloud empowers better collaboration across departments and between faculty and students while lowering overall IT costs. But there is one critical aspect of moving to the cloud that can be easily overlooked – instilling the proper data backup and restore solution. And this oversight can be catastrophic.

Backing up (no pun intended) for a minute, I want to share some thoughts about how my department at the University of Maryland, the Robert H. Smith School of Business, transitioned to the cloud recently, beginning with our adoption of Google Apps. The decision to do so was an obvious one.

There is one critical aspect of moving to the cloud that can be easily overlooked – and this oversight can be catastrophic.

As a department with limited resources, anything that enables us to do more with less is welcomed. That’s exactly what we saw in the cloud. Utilizing cloud services allows us to focus on developing services and features that are unique to the Smith School, rather than having to worry about commodity services such as email platforms. By finding great cloud service providers, we can leverage their cost savings, and just as importantly, the dedicated expertise and talent the providers bring to the table in their areas.

So, why was implementing a data backup and restore solution for Google Apps so important to the University of Maryland Business School?

In order to feel truly confident about having hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of terabytes of files stored in the cloud, it’s essential to be able to recover that data – exactly how it was – in the event of data loss. And data loss will happen. The cloud is by nature collaborative, and academic institutions are susceptible to data loss from accidental deletions, sync issues, or even malicious deletions from hackers trying to access our data. This makes it imperative for IT departments – like ours – to have a backup and recovery solution in their toolboxes.

Unfortunately, backup is much like insurance: no one thinks much about it, until they actually need it. Data backup solutions can easily be an afterthought for academic institution IT departments – and that’s dangerous.

Here is an example. There is a common misconception among those using Google Apps that every piece of data is safe. However, the reality is that Google doesn’t fully protect against data loss when a mistake happens on the user’s side of things. If one of Google’s servers malfunctions, you are probably not at risk, but if a student or professor deletes a semester’s worth of work by mistake – poof! — it’s lost and gone forever. As a result, it’s incumbent on IT and those who are responsible for data accessibility to make sure there is a net to catch users when they fall, so to speak.

A few years ago we discovered that our internal robo-tape backup service had failed and that several backup windows had been missed. Although we suffered no critical data loss, the potential for a catastrophe was there. This near-miss was the wake up call that we needed to re-focus on data-loss prevention, but we did not have the ability to task someone to constantly manage all the different backup sources and services we utilized. We first moved to outsourcing our backups to central IT, but they could only offer ‘traditional’ backups of on-premise services and hardware.

As we have moved more functionalities to the cloud, we have continued to believe that backing up our user data is just as critical, so as part of our standard evaluation process of any cloud service, we do our due diligence to ensure that the data will be protected. So, to make sure our cloud data at the University of Maryland Business School was protected, and that we could always “turn back time” if something was lost, we chose Spanning Cloud Apps to ensure the protection and availability of our Google Apps data. We’ve not had a major (or even minor!) data loss since.

Their cloud-to-cloud backup and restore solution enables us to prevent problems before they happen. This not only removes the management and technical headache from internal IT, but it also allows us to empower our users to recover their own data, even down to simple cases such as a user mistakenly wiping out their calendar when playing with mobile devices. In just a few clicks, this end user can restore the information from Spanning without administrative intervention.

From our initial examination of the available cloud backup providers, it was clear that the level of support provided by Spanning was outstanding. We could see the interactions Spanning had with their customers, but just as significant, the level of interest in soliciting and listening to customer feedback for current and new features to the service. The Smith School has enjoyed working with the design and engineering teams to constantly take Spanning to the next level.

Gradual improvements to the UI and administrative and reporting tools make the service ever-easier to use and provide a simple-to-use and understand interface that gives our administrators confidence that our data is being safely backed up. Backups have become a very small part of my time, as I can check the reports and logs in a few minutes and turn my attention to working on solutions and services that have a visible impact for our community.

Moving to the cloud has been a fantastic decision for our department, and the ability for everyone, from staff to students, to collaborate has never been easier. If there is one piece of advice I can share with other academic institutions moving to (or thinking about moving to) the cloud, definitely do it – but don’t wait until it’s too late to install the proper backup and recovery solution.

Chris Gleeson is Systems and Network Engineer for the University of Maryland.


Leave a Reply