How to minimize backup costs

Case #

There are cases in which you need to estimate the overall costs for a backup solution, including both on-premises and cloud components. In each case you need to minimize backup costs to achieve overall cost optimization. Ideally, in the context of a well-designed business continuity plan (BCP), you need to have both on-site and off-site backups at all times. This article provides guidance on how to minimize backup costs by discussing the types of backup workloads and some notable backup tools and solutions for each workload which can potentially minimize overall backup costs.

Solution #

Backup workloads and storage size calculation #

First off, you need to determine the workloads you need to backup as well as the estimated storage sizes for each workload. Refer to another KB article about how to estimate your backup storage sizes.

The following list presents the most common backup workloads, assume the backups are taken primarily from on-premise to on-premise, from on-premise to cloud or from cloud to another cloud.

  • Server bare metal backups
  • Operating system and Active Directory state backups
  • File data
  • Active Directory virtual machines (application-aware backup)
  • SQL database data (application-aware backup)
  • Non-SQL database data
  • Virtual machine data
  • Container data
  • Mailbox data
  • Cloud-to-cloud backup scenarios

Backup storage types and methods #

The following are the most prominent backup storage types, which can be used as target storage for your backups.

  • File storage. Common protocols used for file storage are SMB, CIFS and NFS.
  • Block storage. Common protocols used for block storage are iSCSI, FC and FCoE. Also there are public cloud implementations of block storage such as Azure Managed Disk. Azure managed disks are block-level storage volumes that are managed by Azure and used with Azure Virtual Machines.
  • Object storage. Amazon S3 and Azure blob storage are types of object storage implementation. There are also numerous S3-compliant object storage services, including the Backblaze B2 and the Synology C2 object storage services.
  • Data lake storage, which is a special type of blob storage used in big data analytics. An example of such a storage service is Azure Data Lake.

The fundamental backup methods are the following:

Backup cost metrics #

Each storage vendor has different metrics upon which the final backup costs will be incurred, including the following metrics, which must be minimized.

  • Backup software, backup server and backup agents. In case you have your own backup software, this cost will be eliminated. In a Backup as a Service (BaaS) solution, this cost is included in a subscription-based billing model. Also when utilizing a backup software solution, most likely you will need to account for a dedicated or collocated backup server (running on Windows or Linux) and you may also need to install backup agents in all machines to be backed up. Read on to find out more about free or cost effective backup software solutions.
  • Total network throughput and number of transactions occurred during a monthly time frame. A transaction refers to any time an API call is made with your account, such as listing the contents of your storage bucket or downloading a file. Transactions can be classified as class A, class B or class transactions. An explanation of the types of API calls group in each class of transactions in the example of the Backblaze cloud service can be found at https://www.backblaze.com/b2/b2-transactions-price.html.
  • Total upload and download bandwidth. Usually the download bandwidth (egress for the cloud storage vendor) is charged separately, while the upload costs (ingress for the cloud storage vendor) has lower or zero cost.
  • Churn. “Churn” refers to “% change in the data being backed up between two consecutive backups”. This could be due to addition of new data, modification or deletion of existing data. Since Azure Backup only backs up what changes between two backups (forever incremental), this value governs the rate of growth of the backup storage. If there is no churn, no backup data is sent to the vault and therefore backup storage doesn’t grow. But if there is say an average 5% daily churn, the backup storage growth will be 5% with every daily backup. Typically File workloads have low churn, VMs have moderate churn while active DBs like SQL have larger churn.
  • Backup storage size. Refer to another KB article about how to estimate your backup storage sizes. Opex online disks are most often more cost effective than buying and maintaining Capex disks on-site.

How to minimize backup costs #

Carry out the following steps to minimize your backup costs.

  • Determine your backup workload types and estimated backup storage sizes for each workload.
  • Research backup software vendors and compare their features and pricing models, to understand what your final costs will look like after taking into account all backup storage cost metrics mentioned earlier in this article. Expand your research to include both Backup-As-A-Service and traditional on-premise or cloud backup software.
  • Invest in an on-premise NAS or SAN system for some of the workloads and utilize cloud storage for other workloads, depending on criticality of data and on your compliance requirements (e.g. ISO 27001).
  • Make use of the following open source or cost effective backup tools. This is not an exhaustive list but is good baseline for designing your backup toolset.
    • SaaS tools such as Sharepoint Online and Onedrive could be used for taking copies of your file data but are not meant to be used for backup purposes.
    • RClone and MountainDuck. RClone is a command-line tool that provides synchronization and backup capabilities for files and directories across various cloud storage providers. It supports encryption, compression, and incremental backups. MountainDuck is the commercial version of the free Cyberduck tool.
    • SQL Backup Master and other options for SQL databases
    • Corso Backup for M365, utilizing Kopia in the back end.
  • More free and open source backup tools are listed below.
    • Duplicati: A free and open-source backup solution that supports file-level backups, encryption, and incremental backups. It works with various storage providers, including local storage, cloud storage (such as Amazon S3, Google Drive, and Dropbox), and network file servers.
    • Bacula: A network-based backup and recovery solution that supports file-level backups as well as VM, SQL, and container backups. It offers features like client-server architecture, data deduplication, and encryption.
    • Amanda: An open-source backup and recovery software that supports file-level backups across multiple platforms, including Linux, Unix, and Windows. It also offers support for VM, SQL, and container backups.
    • Veeam Backup & Replication Community Edition: Veeam offers a free Community Edition of its popular backup and recovery software. It provides comprehensive backup and restore capabilities for VMs, including virtual disk and file-level recovery.
    • UrBackup: An open-source client-server backup system that supports file and image-based backups for both Windows and Linux. It offers features like incremental backups, deduplication, and central management.
    • BorgBackup: A deduplicating backup program that creates space-efficient backups of files and directories. It supports encryption, compression, and efficient deduplication algorithms.
    • Duplicacy: A cross-platform backup tool that supports file-level backups as well as VM, SQL, and container backups. It offers deduplication, encryption, and support for various storage backends.
    • Kopia: An open-source backup and snapshotting tool that supports file-level backups, deduplication, and encryption. It offers snapshot-based backups for VMs and containers.

The following table provides a summary of the backup features of some of the most well-known free backup tools which cover the full spectrum of backup workloads, including file shares, sql instances/databases and virtual machines.

SoftwareWhat does it backup?What are the backup destinations?Management tool(s)Periodic tasks
Acronis Cyber Protect latest versionSQL instances, file shares and virtual machinesOn-premise appliance onlyAcronis Web-based portal installed on-premisePeriodically watch for new paid software versions. An Acronis software maintenance license is required.
Corso backupMicrosoft 365 mailboxescloud to cloud backups to Backblaze Cloud storageIt can be running as scheduled task and being managed via CLI only.Periodically watch for new free software versions (https://corsobackup.io/docs/setup/download/).
RCloneFile sharesBackblaze cloud storageIt can be running as scheduled task and being managed via CLI only.Periodically watch for new free software versions (https://rclone.org/downloads/).
SQL Backup masterSQL instances/databasesBackblaze cloud storageIt is a Windows GUI application.Periodically watch for new free or paid software versions (https://www.sqlbackupmaster.com/).
ZConverter backup latest versionAll virtual machinesBackblaze cloud storageIt is a Linux-based server with backup agents on all VMs and it is being managed via its own HTTPS Web portal.Periodically watch for new software versions.
CyberduckIt is only a cloud storage file viewer, not a backup tool.N/AIt is a Windows GUI application.Periodically watch for new software versions (https://cyberduck.io/download/).

Last but not least, one can take into account the following backup solution vendors.

  • Microsoft Azure Backup Server
  • Datto
  • Barracuda
  • Replibit/Axcient/Efolder
  • Storagecraft
  • Unitrends
  • Solarwinds
  • Continuum
  • Infrascale
  • Veeam
  • Backup Exec
  • Commvault
  • Veritas
  • Arcserve
  • Rubrik
  • Carbonite
  • Quest Rapid Recovery
  • NetApp
  • Cohesity
  • N-able
  • AppAssure
  • Avamar
  • Bacula
  • Bakbone
  • Data Domain
  • Dell / EMC
  • DoubleTake
  • eVault
  • FalconStor
  • Home Grown
  • HP
  • i365
  • Iron Mountai
  • Microsoft DPM
  • Mozy
  • Netbackup
  • Oracle
  • Nevinetix
  • SonicWall
  • Symantec
  • Tivoli / IBM
  • vRanger
  • Zenith

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