When does online backup/recovery make sense?

By Ann Silverthorn

Online backup and recovery-specifically, outsourcing storage operations to third-party services providers-may make more sense than ever. Whether for consumers, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), or larger enterprises, outsourcing a critical business function such as backup and recovery, which requires high reliability and technical expertise, entails a certain amount of risk. But as more and more tapes are lost and hackers find new ways to break encryption codes, the risk-to-benefit ratio is in some cases tipping in favor of trusting outside experts to back up-and recover-your data.

For smaller companies that do not have dedicated IT staffs, adequately securing data is nearly impossible without outside intervention. Even companies that have multiple sites must have the know-how to ensure data is adequately encrypted and physically secure. For companies on either end of the spectrum, the amount of labor required to conscientiously manage the backup process is draining-both on the personnel involved and the budget.

The following case studies illustrate why some companies have turned to online backup/recovery, and discuss the benefits they’ve gained.

ASP chooses EVault

Five years ago, with its servers housed at a third-party collocation facility 30 miles away, application service provider (ASP) ProNet dispatched a technician every couple of days to change backup tapes at the collocation facility.

“We were spending too much time and too many resources on backup,” says Dan Hine, CEO of Leesburg, VA-based ProNet. “There always seemed to be some sort of issue with tapes not working and backups failing. We might have lost a client if we couldn’t provide a backed-up copy of an accidentally deleted or corrupt file. Online backup made more sense.”

ProNet hosts applications such as accounting systems and timekeeping programs for customers that include veterinary hospitals and credit unions.

These organizations usually employ fewer than 50 users and do not have dedicated IT staffs of their own.

A consultant overheard a conversation that Hine was having about ProNet’s backup issues and recommended EVault’s Protect online backup-and-recovery service. ProNet has been using EVault’s Protect service for more than three years and is backing up about 10GB of data to EVault’s Carlstadt, NJ, data center at a cost of about $200 per month. By the end of the year, however, Hine estimates that backups will hit approximately 1TB when his company puts online another customer that is going paperless.

Hine likes EVault Protect because it allowed him to grow his business without adding more staff. He also likes EVault’s Open File Manager, which allows backups of open databases. In fact, ProNet has become an EVault reseller.

“We have a veterinary hospital that’s been in business for 20 years,” says Hine. “When we started to make recommendations for their system, they thought their backup had been working well for two years. They nearly passed out when we told them their backups hadn’t run at all during that time. EVault’s e-mail notification system lets customers know if their data has not been backed up properly.”

Travel agency trusts DataPreserve

Denver-based RMA Travel Tours started using an online backup-and-recovery solution six months ago. RMA owner Rich Sattizahn says his employees have had hard drive crashes in the past and that the need to back up data was obvious. However, it occurred to him that all the backup files were stored next to the computers on the company’s peer-to-peer network.

“Backup data becomes worthless if it’s destroyed along with your computer in a fire,” says Sattizahn, “and I don’t think it’s practical for people to carry backed-up data off-site.”

RMA used a local online backup service for a while, but prices were increasing too fast as the company’s data grew. In addition, Sattizahn’s Microsoft Access files were not being backed up because the service could not handle open files.

At the suggestion of his outside IT technician, Sattizahn decided to try Remote Backup from DataPreserve. RMA’s owner says Remote Backup costs less than his previous solution, and it automatically closes down databases and applications such as Outlook so that they can be backed up. Backups occur nightly, and Sattizahn says it’s easy to exclude files such as MP3s, photos, and personal data.

RMA stores an average of 14GB to 16GB of data at a remote site in Phoenix at a cost of about $65 per month.

“People have asked me if it would destroy my business if we lost all of our data,” says Sattizahn. “It wouldn’t destroy our business, but it would make things difficult. All of our airline reservations are backed up with the airlines. But I’ve got customers’ travel data for the last 10 years, and that would be lost.”

adidas selects StoragePipe

As data was growing at its offices in Toronto and Montreal, plus from a sales force across Canada, adidas-Salomon Canada, based in Concord, ON, wanted an automated backup solution that would not require intervention from the IT staff.

Paul Leone, adidas’ CIO, had read about StoragePipe’s online backup-and-recovery service in trade publications and had also used StoragePipe for procurement of servers and PCs in the past.

About 200GB of adidas’ data is being backed up 25km away at StoragePipe’s primary data center in Toronto. Leone says StoragePipe’s automated messaging system notifies three adidas employees if a backup failure occurs.

“We’ve been able to answer auditors’ requests for invoice registers,” says Leone, “and our ability to pull raw data through the services that StoragePipe provides has been very smooth.”

In the future, adidas plans to add its financial information and a variety of databases to StoragePipe’s online backup-and-recovery service. StoragePipe runs an IBM Tivoli infrastructure at its data center in Toronto, which has backup generators to provide weeks of power, fire suppression, cooling systems, and surveillance cameras. Access to the data center is restricted to only those individuals who have passed rigorous background checks. The Toronto site is backed up to another data center in Mississauga, ON.

“Online backup allows customers who have multiple locations to centralize that service,” says Steve Rodin, StoragePipe’s president. “Their IT staffs can recover to a central location and they can push data out to where it’s needed without needing IT staff in every location. The remote offices also don’t need backup equipment, tapes, and pickup services for off-site management.”

SSP resurgence

Although based in Canada, StoragePipe has customers in the US, Mexico, and Europe. The company was one of the first storage service providers (SSPs) in Canada and is one of the few SSPs to have survived. However, SSPs are making a resurgence, and some are focusing on online backup and recovery. (For more information, see “Storage service providers rise from the ashes,” p. 30.)

For example, Arsenal Digital provides utility-based storage and data-protection services by vaulting copies of customers’ data in its data centers. Last month, Arsenal introduced ViaRemote Business Edition, an online backup-and-recovery service designed specifically for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The company claims that ViaRemote can be installed in five minutes, and it features an easy-to-use Tivo-like interface.

“Most vendors in this market have software that was designed by engineers for engineers,” says Frank Brick, Arsenal Digital’s CEO.

“We developed an application that non-technical people can administer and securely back up, vault, and retrieve data.”

Other examples of vendors in the online backup-and-recovery space include BluePoint Data Storage, Electronic Vaulting Services (EVS), Iron Mountain (which acquired LiveVault last year), ManagedStorage International, and Spare Backup.

Another option for remote backup is Asigra’s Televaulting backup-and-recovery software, which is used by a number of managed service providers (MSPs) that in turn provide online backup-and-recovery services to their clients. Televaulting includes WAN optimization, and last month Asigra added agent-less continuous data protection (CDP) to the software.

This article was originally published on October 01, 2006