Cloud Object Storage Deep Dive – Part One, Comparison

Disclaimer:
This is a guest post on the Veeam blog. Due to the frequency in which the cloud is changing, it’s important to note that things may have changed by the time you review this.

Love them, hate them, boycott them, hyperscalers still exist and are growing in popularity. The introduction of hyperscale storage solutions has created a whole new selection of options available to the public, with very little entry cost, naturally making them very appealing to organizations of all sizes.

Today we’re going to explore the big three (Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform), how their pricing models are similar and differ, and how to make the most of them when designing a backup strategy that incorporates any of them. These three aren’t the only object storage providers that Veeam integrate with, and most of the lessons within this blog will be applicable to any storage vendor.

This will be a three-part series in which we review what to be aware of with cloud storage, how to utilise this effectively within Veeam and compare benchmarks of real scenarios.

How to choose a cloud provider

When deciding which cloud suits you, there may be some organizational requirements or preferences, such as: Do you have a staff with public cloud training or experience? Does a particular cloud have a preferred data region or meet a specific regulatory requirement? Once you’ve got a shortlist of cloud providers you’re allowed to use, it’s time to review their costs.

Filtering through all the options

If you think that choosing a cloud provider was the hard part, just wait! Cloud providers offer different pricing options such as storage tiers and costs for data writes and retrievals. It can be very tempting to just look at the cheapest, but all is not always as it first seems. Let’s jump in!

What’s a storage tier?

A storage tier is a collection of cloud resources designed to meet specific use cases based on generic customer needs. For example, Microsoft Azure’s “Hot” tier, Amazon Web Services’ “S3 Standard” tier and Google Cloud Platform’s “Standard” tier are considered “hot” tiers of storage. These are classed as “hot” because they’re designed for frequent data access. As a result, they have high levels of SLA, faster-performing storage and the data is readily accessible with lower-cost API calls (which we’ll talk about more shortly).

These aren’t the only tiers available though. The storage tiers available for each of these clouds are listed below from “hottest” to “coldest”:

  • Microsoft Azure
    • Hot Tier
    • Cool Tier
    • Archive Tier
  • Amazon Web Services
    • S3 Standard
    • S3 Glacier
    • S3 Deep Glacier
  • Google Cloud Platform
    • Standard
    • Nearline
    • Coldline
    • Archive

As these storage tiers get colder, a few attributes change about them. The storage backing them can become lower performing and there may be delays between the requesting of the data and the availability of the data.

NOTE:
This is different to read latency, this is a time delay before the data is available to be accessed at all, potentially as high as hours. But that’s not all that’s different about them!

How to determine API call types and requirements

When interacting with storage, either via a read or a write, you’re actually facilitating API calls, fetching or placing a block at a time. So, how large is a block? Well, the answer is of course, it depends! Each storage provider will individually have a maximum block size supported; however, you’ll be guided by your configuration within Veeam. We’ll discuss this further along when we look at Veeam configurations, but by default, expect approximately 1MB to be 1 API call.

So, why is this important? Because API calls cost money! More so, the amount they cost depend on the storage tier you’re using (see previous section). The colder the storage, the more the API calls cost. These API calls are priced either per 10,000 calls (Azure/GCP) or per 1,000 calls (AWS).

Furthermore, when you decide to move data between tiers, this isn’t a “magic” or “free” operation. Each cloud provider handles this slightly differently, for example in Azure, you can demote data to a cooler tier and then promote back to a warmer tier, whereas in AWS & GCP this is referred to a lifecycle transition and data can only be migrated to colder tiers, not back to warmer tiers. Pricing is calculated for each as such:

  • Microsoft Azure (Full details)
    • Demoting Tier: Write Access (GB) and Write API calls are based on the costs of the destination tier.
    • Promoting Tier: Read Access (GB) and Read API calls are based on the costs of the source tier.
  • Amazon Web Services (Pricing details)
    • Lifecycle Transitions: A transition price is defined for the destination tier you wish to demote data to.
  • Google Cloud Platform (Pricing details)
    • Lifecycle Transitions: These are billed at the Class A operations charge rate of the destination storage tier.

Now in the previous section, I mentioned that there are delays in retrieving archive tier data, this can be in the form of hours. This is commonly because the data has to be rehydrated from the archive storage. However, depending on the storage tier you utilise, it’s possible to create expedited/high-priority requests at a higher cost per API call and GB read to reduce the time delay to retrieve the first byte and beyond. This isn’t available on all platforms for all access tiers, so make sure that this option is available before you factor it into your recovery plans.

Minimum data retention

Before you go rushing ahead to calculate your storage costs to upload and retain the data, now we should discuss the restrictions on these tiers, particularly the colder ones. Microsoft, Amazon and Google all expect any data being uploaded to these tiers to be retained for minimum periods of time and there may be scenarios in which you believe placing your data onto a colder tier will save costs until you factor these in. The minimum retention periods for the different tiers are:

  • Microsoft Azure (Full details)
    • Hot Tier: No minimum retention
    • Cool Tier: 30 days
    • Archive Tier: 180 days
  • Amazon Web Services (Full details)
    • S3 Standard: No minimum retention
    • S3 Glacier: 90 days
    • S3 Deep Glacier: 180 days
  • Google Cloud Platform (Full details)
    • Standard: No minimum retention
    • Nearline: 30 days
    • Coldline: 90 days
    • Archive: 365 days

This creates scenarios whereby additional charges can be incurred. For example:

  • Deleting the data
  • Migrating the data to another tier
  • (Azure Only) Promoting the data

If any of these scenarios are carried out before the minimum retention periods are met, then charges will be levied, normally in the form of pro-rated storage retention for the remaining days. Review your specific provider and tier for more information via the links above.

As a final note on this subject, these vendors calculate data retention differently, for example GCP calculates data retention based on when the object was originally created within their storage platform, as opposed to when it was migrated to the tier requiring a minimum retention such as with Azure and AWS.

Data distribution options

Storage tiering isn’t the only design consideration you’ll require when planning your usage of cloud storage, you can also choose your level of redundancy for your data to withstand within your platform of choice.

You’ll be able to distribute your data across different data centers within the same region, commonly referred to as different availability zones. You’ll also be able to distribute your data between entirely different regions, to protect against a regional failure of your data. When protecting from regional failures, you’re not just protecting yourself from physical disaster to a location, but also access issues such as power or networking issues that isolate access to a particular region temporarily. Google Cloud Platform differs the most to Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services in this context, as the geo-redundancy you choose for your storage will either be specified by either choosing a region, or a name of a multi-region grouping. The options available are:

  • Microsoft Azure (More details)
    • Locally Redundant Storage (LRS) – This is the cheapest storage option available for Microsoft Azure, storing three copies of the data within a single zone within your selected region.
    • Zone Redundant Storage (ZRS) – This storage will store your data within a single Azure region, but it will store the data three times, synchronously, between different Azure zones within the region.
    • Geo-Redundant Storage – This will copy the data synchronously to a single zone within the primary region, identically to LRS and asynchronously again within a secondary region, identically to LRS.
    • Geo-Zone-Redundant Storage – This will copy the data synchronously to three Azure zones within the primary region, identically to ZRS, whilst asynchronously storing the data again within a secondary region, identically to LRS.
  • Amazon Web Services (More details)
    • S3 Availability Zones – Unless you decide to specifically utilise a One Availability Zone redundancy class, your data will be split between three different Availability Zones within a region as standard. These are miles apart to prevent damage such as fire or flood from destroying all data within a region.
    • S3 Cross-Region Replication – This asynchronous copying of data enables you to store multiple copies of data within different regions
  • Google Cloud Platform (More details)
    • Region – A single region in which your data will be stored.
    • Dual-Region – A dual region pre-grouped by Google.
    • Multi-Region – Two or more pre-grouped regions by Google.

Conclusion

To recap in part one, we’ve looked at the “big three” object storage providers, where they offer similarities and where they differ. In part two, we’ll look at how making changes to Veeam will influence the impact of these providers and the associated costs.

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