You know how important is a backup of cloud services. Cloud vendors often ensure that they will do it for you. Their guarantees can put your backup mindfulness to sleep. You are a pro, so you never forget that as long as it’s your data, it’s always your business to keep it safe. As you know, the most fundamental way of doing that is of course backup.

So, how to handle the backup of cloud services in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS?

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Backup of cloud services

What we cover here?

You probably already know what IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS mean, but in case you don’t, check out our IaaS, PaaS and SaaS explanation.

We’ll go together through each of these models. We’ll see how to do the backup and where to put recovered data when you need them.

Backup of cloud services at IaaS.

Let’s start with the IaaS. You control almost everything here. You install and configure your OS, and prerequisites like middleware or runtime software. Finally, you install and set up your application. You should take care of all these aspects in the backup though. There are 2 ways you can do it:

  • Back up whole virtual machines.
  • Prepare setup scripts to install your software and set it up.

In fact, you’d rather do both of these things.

Have your crashed machine back within minutes using the whole disk image backup.

A backup of whole virtual machines will give you a quick way to recover your working environment. Many enterprise backup systems have an option to run virtual machines right from the backup. You don’t even have to wait for the machine to recover. As backup infrastructure is usually not designed to provide top performance for applications, it doesn’t have the performance of the production machine. In case you need it however, you have your environment running from backups in minutes. The backup system recovers it meanwhile to the production servers.

Address broken configurations with automated scripts.

Sometimes you may face a situation where your configuration is broken and you can’t fix it. When you decide to recover it from the backup, you might have been trying to fix it for some time already. No backups are stored forever. If the retention time passes, you have no access to a healthy configuration.

Recovering from backup doesn’t solve the issue in this case. That’s why you’d like to keep installation and configuration scripts. Having them gives you a chance of building fresh configurations every time you need them. Maintaining the scripts will cost you some effort though. You have to update the scripts with every software update and every change in configuration. It’s quite time-consuming and needs good discipline. You will, however, thank yourself many times for having these scripts up to date.

Save storage space by backing up config and data together.

As you have your configuration covered, you can take care of backing up your data. You can do it all in one while performing the backup of whole virtual machines’ images. In this case, you should verify if you have access to individual files and database data from a backup of your virtual machines’ images. This is a feature many backup tools provide. It lets you recover individual files without the necessity of bringing the whole machine back.

Ensure quick data recovery by additional data backup.

If your backup solution doesn’t provide access to your data from the machine’s disk image, you may want to do another backup of your data only. In this case, however, you should ensure that you have the deduplication option enabled. If you haven’t, you waste your backup storage by keeping the same data twice. One copy is inside the virtual machine and another one – in the files backup or databases dump. If you have a lot of data, storage becomes quite a cost, so you want to save some of it with deduplication.

Where you recover the backup of cloud services at IaaS?

So you have your IaaS-based environment backed up properly. Where you can recover it though? With IaaS you won’t have much trouble with that. You can put your apps and data on almost any virtual machine. The only restrictions you may face are virtualization platform optimizations inside your systems. You shouldn’t have a problem with finding a platform fitting your preferences though. As soon as you have it, you run your recovery process, put your data on top of it, and off you go. It makes a backup of your services laying on infrastructure provided in the IaaS model independent from the cloud vendor.

Why you should want to be vendor-independent? In case of trouble with a particular company delivering your services, you may want to continue your business with another. That’s another layer of security for your apps and data, which is surely worth considering.

Backup of cloud services at PaaS.

You may find it easier to run your applications on the cloud service delivered in the PaaS model. Cloud vendor takes care of all the security issues, patching and updating of OS, middleware, and runtime software. You can focus on the administration of your application only. This convenience comes at a cost, however, and you pay it not only directly with money.

Check how you can do backup of cloud services at PaaS.

In the PaaS model, cloud vendors don’t always provide access to the virtual machine’s OS console. It means that you may have to use some non-standard tools to get your data from the platform. You could be forced to perform your backup with dedicated tools customized to the cloud vendor’s environment. If you keep your apps and data on a well-known cloud platform, many backup engines will support it. You may need however to buy an extra license to have these dedicated functionalities provided. An additional effort with PaaS backup doesn’t end there though…

Check if your cloud backup will work in another PaaS.

As we’ve mentioned before, you need to have a place to recover apps and data from your backup when you need it. With PaaS services, your possibilities in this aspect are more constrained than with IaaS. For your recovered data to work correctly, the platform must be compatible with your application.

Let’s take the most common PaaS service for example – web hosting. To prevent errors on your website or web application, you need a database engine and PHP interpreter in the correct flavor and version. Vendors usually offer many versions of them, so it’s relatively easy to find an alternative vendor, which offers a platform compatible with your web app. Hosting is quite a simple and popular type of the PaaS service though.

Recovering a more complex environment built in a PaaS model may become a challenge. Sophisticated configurations built on services like Azure or AWS would need much work to convert them accordingly to work on another vendor’s infrastructure. Even if you do it, each modification can harm you with a loss of compatibility. You have to maintain your recovery scripts and procedures to ensure this compatibility.

Check if PaaS convenience is worth it.

You can save time on setting up and maintenance of your environment in the PaaS model. Backing it up however can cost you additional money and effort. You may also find yourself constrained about your recovery destination.

Backup of cloud services at SaaS.

With PaaS you can have fewer possibilities while planning your backup than with IaaS. With SaaS is where you get fully dependent on your service vendor though. The provider runs your environment as well as the application for you. He delivers it from where he decides to do it and does the backup as he chooses to do it. As a user, you have very limited options in this matter.

Unfortunately, it’s you who process and often store data in the service. As this is your data, you are the one who has to take care of its security. You probably would also like to ensure that in case of any problems in the data center, your service will still be available. What you can do about it when your vendor steers the whole process though?

Use the process of choosing the service to secure your data.

The moment you can ensure security for your data is when you choose your vendor and order the service. Companies too often do it based mainly on the service functionalities and performance. They take much time to search for functionalities they like. Sometimes they test the services too in the area of features and smoothness of use. They check the service terms in the area of data security after the tests are over. With this approach, their verification is harmed by the sunk costs fallacy. As they are already convinced of the chosen solution, they are more likely to accept a poor data security policy offered by the vendor.

As you already know, in the SaaS model, you have virtually no influence on how your data is backed up. That’s why you may want to consider how it’s done by the vendor right at the beginning of the decision process. Why not consider the backup quality factor as important as the set of provided features and user experience?

Vendor lock or SaaS – pick one.

You have your priorities set in the decision process, but here comes another challenge. You may find it very difficult to become vendor-independent with your data recovery in the SaaS model. In fact, making it so turns the whole service into a different model than SaaS. If you take the application from the vendor and try to launch it in another environment, you, by definition, turn it into the PaaS or IaaS. You can even make it on-premise if you recover it in your own infrastructure. If you find vendor independence necessary for your service, you should reconsider if the SaaS model is right for you.

Verify possibilities of doing your own backup of cloud services.

Does it mean that you can’t do anything to back up your data laying in the SaaS service? Not exactly. For many common SaaS services, there are customized backup solutions. Microsoft Exchange Online is a good example here. With the dedicated software, you can backup your e-mails from it. You can even store the backups away from Microsoft’s servers. If however, you want to stay in the SaaS model, you have to recover it on the Exchange Online provided by the same vendor as your main service. If you recover it on your own Exchange Server, you lose the SaaS advantages in this area. To provide access to your restored data, you have to manage your own piece of software.

Microsoft Exchange Online is a quite common service, and it uses a common structure of data – e-mail messages. For less common SaaS services, you’ll find backing up your data on your own very hard. You will have to rely on your vendor to backup it for you and provide it to you. If you can do it however by yourself with dedicated software, you should strongly consider this scenario.

Testing your backup of cloud services.

It needs testing to ensure that you don’t fail with your cloud backup. Regardless of the model, you have your service provided in, you should keep your eye on it. How you test your backup? You recover your configuration and data in a separate environment and verify if it runs correctly. You also check if all expected data is in its place.

In the IaaS and PaaS models, you want to have your own backup, so you perform tests yourself. In the SaaS model, the vendor should do it for you. You should have your recovered application and data provided for verification. These kinds of procedures would cost you extra money. You don’t have many other options to verify the backup of your data otherwise. Of course, if there is a solution to backup your data from the SaaS solution, you should use it too as an additional layer of security.


The bigger part of the technology stack you outsource to the vendor, the smallest direct impact you have on the way your cloud backup is performed. Your vendor redundancy options decline too. You should check the terms of service in the area of backup in all delivery models. In IaaS and PaaS you can treat the backup provided by your vendor as an extra security layer. You should always have your own backup in these models though. In the SaaS, you often have limited to no possibility of doing your own backup. Knowing what your vendor provides is the absolute key here as most often this is your only hope for not losing your data.

How do you do your backup of cloud services? Where do you recover your data? Join us in the discussion on cloud backup in the comments!

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