Give a nod to marketers. When it comes to the cloud, they have helped shape how we think of this technology, almost as a magic solution to any server or data hosting scenario. Of course, the cloud often delivers on such claims. In many cases, it does provide a better alternative to traditional systems.

But cloud marketing did too good a job. The cloud doesn’t solve every IT problem, says Bryce Tatham, GM: business development at Sithabile Technology Services.

“The cloud era has been great for many reasons, but it’s also enlightened us about the complex and bespoke side of technology. By that, I mean the principle that you have to look at business requirements first. If you do that wrong, technology becomes very expensive and underwhelming. For a while, the cloud looked like a way to sidestep those issues. But instead, it reminds us that nuance is very important, because otherwise your problems actually become bigger.”

Backups are a prime example. On paper, you should throw all your backups into the cloud. It’s cheaper, more accessible, and you don’t need to own or run the underlying infrastructure.

But reality disagrees: cloud data costs can skyrocket, especially when moving data away from a public cloud; accessibility is dampened by latency; the higher reliance on external networks creates cybercrime risks; and, sometimes, you want to have a hand in the systems that run your data.

Of course, these risks can be managed. Cloud backups are great. But on-premises backups also have their advantages. It depends on what the business needs.

Cloud versus on-premise

Before comparing the two options, it’s important to qualify them. ‘Cloud’ backups typically mean using a public cloud provider, and ‘on-premise’ backups can be at a business but also in a third-party data centre, often using private cloud technology controlled by the business.

“The substantial difference between cloud and on-premise is not about new versus traditional,” says Tatham. “They tend to use the same modern backup technologies. The difference is about the backup strategy, cost, access, skills, and legislation.”

These five topics provide the best way to grasp backup options.

* Backup strategy – Not all data is the same. Some can languish in archives while other data needs to be always available. This difference informs the backup strategy. In some circumstances, on-premise recoveries are faster, but the cloud is faster in other events. For example, a remote site with its own servers is likely better than one relying on the cloud. However, data used by employee SaaS applications works best with cloud backups.

* Cost – How much to pay for backups again depends on the type of data and its access requirements. Cloud storage can seem cheaper, but its costs can become complex and hard to control. Nor is it best practice to store cold archives of data in the public cloud – it’s often cheaper to use local tape storage. Yet on-premise storage has additional skills and infrastructure costs, though those can be balanced through the value of access.

* Access – Data is not much use if there isn’t timely access. Again, there is no clear winner about which option is faster. Moving large volumes of data to or from a public cloud data centre abroad can cause delays, yet using local public cloud servers is faster. That being said, one must ensure the correct data is on the right servers. On-premise and private cloud systems don’t have this issue, though that flexibility often has higher infrastructure costs.

* Skills – Since public cloud systems are from third parties, most companies that use those for backups work with partners and their skilled employees–a significant cost saving, though it also means heavy reliance on third parties. On-premise systems require in-house skills, which can be expensive. Again, it depends on the business needs. Smaller companies tend to prefer the cloud, while larger companies blend the two options.

* Legislation – Regulations govern some data types to protect personal information, safeguard tax records, or cover various other legal requirements based on a company’s size, sector and geographic operations. On-premise data backups provide a level of control to manage legal risks. Public cloud services can cater for legislation, but it’s a complicated exercise and requires close reading of service contracts covering liabilities.

Companies often opt for a hybrid backup strategy that blends different public cloud and on-premise options. This is the mature approach: those organisations looked at their requirements and chose appropriate backup locations for different data needs.