The entry of heavyweights such as EMC and Symantec may spur increased interest in online backup and recovery.
By Michele Hope
Impending hurricanes and wild fires are examples of external events that can drive organizations to move quickly to correct weaknesses in their backup-and-recovery methods. Looming deadlines-in the areas of compliance or software license renewals-represent other events that can prompt companies to invest in, or deploy a new approach to, data protection. In our look at the use of online backup service providers, such events became the impetus for change in each of the customer cases we profiled.
Traditionally targeted at small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), online backup services have been filling a niche for companies that suffer from either a lack of IT resources or inadequate backup routines.
Take Biscayne Aquaculture, which specializes in the construction of aquatic filtration systems for zoos and aquariums, including SeaWorld Orlando and Sandals Resorts. A few years ago, the company found its Miami office on a potential collision course with Hurricane Frances.
Having previously relied on staff to perform much of their own Windows and Macintosh workstation backups to a central server, where data would then be periodically burned to CDs or copied to external hard drives, Biscayne Aquaculture began looking at what would happen if the office were destroyed. “We realized that if our facility was wiped out, our on-site backups would be useless,” says Jim Post, a company co-founder and the director of project development.
This thinking led Post and others at the company to explore how they could take backups off-site to better protect the company’s critical CAD and 3D drawings, along with other operational data. After considering manual backup and delivery to off-site locations, Post and his team evaluated Arsenal Digital Solutions’ ViaRemote online backup service.
“We got it running within two hours of our first call,” says Post, who noted the subsequent off-site backup of the company’s critical data was “a huge burden off our shoulders.” Biscayne Aquaculture’s backup process now involves individual PCs at the company’s Miami and Austin offices being backed up nightly to central servers, which are in turn automatically backed up over the wire to an Arsenal Digital site.
“We don’t have to do anything now or worry about whether or not somebody backed up his or her information,” says Post. “ViaRemote just automatically updates every night. We just check into it and make sure it’s happened.”
Biscayne Aquaculture is just one example of an SMB taking advantage of online backup service providers to help them move into the benefits of disk-to-disk backup, without having to hassle with the complexity or additional software/hardware licenses typically required to implement D2D architectures internally.
Jean-Paul Issock is another user who can attest to the relief he experienced after handing off his data protection to an online backup provider. Issock is the owner of Culver City, CA-based Quality Business Consulting, a small firm that specializes in construction accounting software for approximately 125 customers.
Hearing reports of the devastating effect of mountain wild fires on local area businesses, Issock began to look at online backup as an option to protect his staff's programming-related files, customer-specific reports, company collateral, and accounts receivable data. Having sporadically used LiveVault (now owned by Iron Mountain Digital) and US Data Trust for a few customers in the past, Issock was already familiar with the concept of online backup. But, he admits his own company's backup practices were inadequate.
Issock set out to develop a better disaster- recovery plan to protect against worst-case scenarios. He evaluated backup providers with facilities that could store his backup data (and, possibly, some of his customers' data) on the East Coast. This is when he came across Intronis, a New Jersey-based online backup provider of a service called eSureIT, which includes two mirrored facilities in Parsippany, NJ, and Toronto.
Little did Issock know at the time that his move to online backup with eSureIT would save his business when his office was completely destroyed by a fire originating from a recently purchased battery backup unit under his desk. The subsequent fire, which began in the middle of the night, destroyed the entire fourth floor of the cinderblock building inhabited by his business and others.
Thanks to Intronis' online backup-and-recovery service, Issock was able to quickly restore all of his company's data.
Customer becomes reseller
Besides appreciating Intronis' backup services, Issock also liked the business opportunity that Intronis presented for him to resell and re-brand Intronis services to his own customer base-a practice he now oversees for several of his accounting software customers and nearly 200GB of backup data.
Online backup service providers at-a-glance
Admittedly just scratching the surface of online backup service providers, the following “A-List” represents the companies that most analysts agree have the biggest impact in the space. Other notables identified by one or more analysts appear below as “Honorable Mentions.”
- Asigra (offered exclusively via MSP channel partners)
- Arsenal Digital Solutions
- EMC (acquired Berkeley Data Systems)
- EVault (a Seagate company)
- Iron Mountain Digital
- Symantec (service not yet generally available)
Candidates for “Honorable Mention”
- BluePoint Data Storage
- Incentra Solutions
- Remote Backup Systems (RBS)
In fact, offering either core backup services or backup software technology licenses as an added sales opportunity to resellers is a common sales channel strategy in the online backup market. Many grand-daddies in the space-including Asigra, EVault, Arsenal Digital, and Iron Mountain Digital-have expanded their markets via this practice, with companies such as Asigra making it their primary sales strategy (see figure).
According to Adam Couture, principal analyst in Gartner Inc.’s storage services, this practice makes life both easier and harder for companies trying to investigate their online backup choices. “Most often, what you see is that a service provider is either reselling someone’s service by just passing it on through without the customer even knowing it. Or, they are licensing somebody’s technology,” says Couture. “If you get managed backup from SunGard or managed backup from IPR International, for example, it’s based on EVault technology. If you get managed backup from HP or Digitiliti, it’s based on Asigra technology.”
This chart depicts the key providers or technology software vendors behind many service provider offerings in the online backup market.
Since there are only a few technology vendors behind most of the online backup services, the process of vendor evaluation can be made a little easier, according to Couture. “You can start by evaluating the base technologies instead of sifting through hundreds of vendor Websites. But, as reselling online backup services becomes an easier proposition for vendors, the field is likely to get even more crowded than it already is.”
In evaluating online backup services providers, Gartner’s Couture notes the importance of learning the following:
- What steps the provider follows to ensure data recoverability;
- How long the vendor has been in business;
- Whether they schedule tests to ensure the process works;
- Any guarantees they can offer that backups will occur and when they will occur; and
- Whether the penalties have “teeth;” Couture warns to make sure there is some punishment, usually financial, to service providers if they don’t meet their SLA. (See sidebar for other guidelines to investigating online backup services providers, p. 26.)
The ‘Wild West’
“It’s like the Wild West,” according to Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, noting that new players are breaking into the online backup market all the time-a factor that he believes is keeping end-user pricing relatively low. Staimer thinks backup service providers may represent the fastest-growing segment of the backup market. “In every city, you’ll find dozens of options: Some are resellers, some have their own technology, and some are a mix of the two.”
Business is booming for many online backup providers. Earlier this year, Arsenal Digital announced its sixth-straight year of double-digit revenue and customer growth. In July, Memphis-based Remote Backup Systems (RBS) announced the completion of its most successful quarter in the company’s 20-year history- attributable to growing sales of its RBackup software offered directly to customers and via RBS’s online service provider channel. AmeriVault even made Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 list of the fastest-growing companies, due in large part to its 96% growth rate over the past three years.
While some online backup service providers are experiencing rapid growth, Gartner’s Couture says the overall market remains relatively small, running at about $500 million in revenue, according to his estimates. This might be why some of the established players seemed optimistic and relatively unconcerned about the anticipated entry of heavyweights such as EMC and Symantec into the online backup market. EMC recently acquired Berkeley Data Systems (see sidebar, below), and Symantec is expected to enter the market by year-end.
Yet, in such a crowded field of providers, some users might find themselves struggling with how best to narrow down their options. Although there are often differences in the technology or service level agreements offered by different providers, here’s how most of the online backup services work: A company’s data is backed up through the network “cloud” to an off-site data center. In most cases, backup data is compressed, reduced, encrypted, and pushed across a WAN or a high-speed DSL/broadband connection to one of the service provider’s off-site backup locations (see figure, p. 26).
While some users may struggle to make sense of the provider options, the choice for others can be as simple as which provider happens to get there first-with the right product, attitude, and price. This was the case in our two other customer profiles.
EMC buys online backup services provider
By Kevin Komiega
EMC recently acquired online backup-and-recovery services provider Berkeley Data Systems for $76 million.
Berkeley Data provides Mozy, an online subscription service for consumers and small businesses that is designed to remotely protect data that resides on desktops, laptops, and remote office servers.
Berkeley currently offers its service in two flavors: MozyHome and MozyPro. MozyHome users can sign up for up to 2GB of free backup space or pay a fee of $4.95 per month for unlimited capacity. Business customers can license MozyPro for $3.95 a month per user with an additional capacity fee of $0.50/GB per month.
The MozyPro service provides customers with an administrative console that includes reporting and configuration tools for centralized management. The service also offers bandwidth throttling, encryption, and “near” continuous data protection (CDP). MozyPro automatically detects and backs up new and changed files every two hours.
Berkeley Data claims to have more than 8,000 business customers. The company has a combined customer list totaling more than 300,000 consumers and small businesses.
According to Josh Coates, founder and former CEO of Berkeley Data Systems, Mozy will operate as a separate business within the EMC New Ventures Group. Coates says Mozy users will not experience any changes in service, pricing, or support.
Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, says acquiring Berkeley Data Systems provides EMC with a risk-free way to enter the consumer storage market, a move he believes is long overdue.
“They can learn without any real downside. Plus, if it helps them figure out consumer market opportunities, that’s 100% accretive,” says Duplessie. “With more and more data being created out at the edge it’s sort of surprising it took this long.”
Houston-based VAALCO Energy knows what it’s like to need something yesterday when it comes to backup and recovery. Being a publicly owned, independent energy company engaged in crude oil and natural gas acquisition, exploration, development, and production, VAALCO found itself in a unique position a few years ago.
With a relatively small corporate office staff yet a high market cap, VAALCO soon realized it qualified as a company that must adhere to the requirements of the then-recently passed Sarbanes- Oxley Act. Before they knew it, senior IT supervisor Robert Walston and IT specialist Dereck Stubbs were meeting with VAALCO’s auditing team to account for how they were backing up and safeguarding the company’s financial data.
“In the past, we just made all our backups to tape, which we did sporadically throughout the week,” Walston explains, “and I would just put the tapes in my briefcase and take them home with me. Once the Sarbanes-Oxley compliance laws came out, they told us that wasn’t going to work.” Walston and Stubbs waited to see if other backup options might be acceptable to internal SOX auditors, such as hiring a service to transport the tapes to a more secure, off-site location.
Although they had been in frequent discussions with various consulting groups and internal auditors, the timeline for implementing a new backup process ultimately became tight. “The Sarbanes-Oxley rules were so unclear and ill-defined that it wasn’t until the final hour that we knew our current strategy wouldn’t work and we had to find something else,” says Stubbs.
After looking at their options to minimize the impact on what Stubbs identified as his IT team’s four-component model (hardware, software, people, and procedures), online backup seemed the best option. “Because it was such a tight timeline, we couldn’t go through a formal proposal process,” he says. “We just got on the Internet and started looking around. We quickly came to [McKinney, TX-based] NetMass.” NetMass offers a managed backup service it calls ServerSafe Total Data Protection, which is based on Asigra’s Televaulting software.
“We put in a call to two online services, and NetMass was the first to get back to us. We just told them we needed something today,” says Stubbs. “That same day we got the software, and we implemented it that night.”
One of the big challenges NetMass helped them overcome was not related to backups. The auditors were looking for proof that the backups actually contained valid financial data. Here, the NetMass service helped them by allowing them to run a validation to prove to auditors that the backup hadn’t been altered. They were able to restore their backup data for the entire accounting database to a test server from backups performed the previous night. By printing a trial balance of both the test and production servers, they could then prove the two matched and the backup produced valid financial data.
“NetMass helped us cut through the red tape,” says Stubbs. “It took us about 10 minutes to restore the whole accounting database.” Stubbs also liked the fact that the service now allows production systems to be backed up without taking them offline. With operations both in Texas and West Africa, there’s almost always someone online, which made for very small windows in which to start and stop servers associated with the company’s Exchange system or its SQL Server-based IDEAS Oil & Gas accounting system.
Sorting through the options
On the surface, many online backup services providers seem to offer similar features and functions. Technologies such as compression, data de-duplication, and the sending of only block-level changes are common features. Likewise is the encryption of backup data before, during, or after transmission. Some providers offer plug-ins that more closely integrate with specific applications. Some may also offer stringent compliance and security safeguards to ensure data remains safe and inaccessible by anyone but pre-defined personnel at the customer’s site. Still, there are some factors users should consider when they’re evaluating the merits of one backup service provider over another.
First impressions of the vendor, and the vendor’s representatives, can make a big difference when it comes to clinching a deal. This was the case with backup provider EVault when Dean Comber came to call. Comber, the IT director at the Illinois Park & Recreation Association, is the only IT professional at the non-profit organization. Comber serves the needs of 25 staff members and the various systems and applications that support the association’s approximately 3,000 members.
Comber had been using Veritas (now Symantec) Backup Exec with an HP StorageWorks tape autoloader to protect data on five Windows servers. As he recalls, it became something of a nightmare to get the tapes allocated and track which tape was in which slot. “If I wasn’t here, it just didn’t get done,” he admits. “You just had that sinking feeling: Who would restore the data if I wasn’t there?”
Despite his concerns, Comber continued on with the tape-based backups until his Veritas license was about to expire. About that time, Veritas was also acquired by Symantec. After putting together a comprehensive ROI document to explore the costs involved in upgrading the association’s software licenses and the money spent on tapes, Comber decided to look at online backup as an alternative.
After reading about EVault and a few other vendors at TechSoup.org, a Website that offers resources to non-profit organizations, Comber contacted Pro Softnet (providers of IBackup), Berkeley Data Systems (providers of MozyPro, and recently acquired by EMC), and EVault (providers of InfoStage software, and EVault Protect and Advantage backup services). EVault representatives were the only ones that made the trip to the association’s office. That impressed Comber. “I put a regular e-mail through their contact page, and the next thing I knew four representatives were in my office.”
Comber liked the fact that the EVault backup service for the association’s Exchange system allowed him to perform brick-level backups and restores of individual e-mails rather than just backing up the information store.
A week after implementing the EVault service, Comber went on a cruise- with no phone service or e-mail. He was relieved not to have to leave a note on someone’s desk beforehand to ask them to remember to put tape A in slot B, etc. When he returned, he had daily e-mail reports telling him that all data had been backed up successfully in his absence.
Michele Hope is a freelance writer covering storage and networking. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.