Most solution providers carry a lot of baggage: one or more former relationships with backup and disaster recovery vendors that stopped working for them. Even for something as straightforward as BDR, selecting the right vendor partner means matching up each one’s technology and value proposition to the unique needs of your business and clientele—and then revisiting that decision with some frequency as all of those factors evolve.
Rapidly evolving capabilities in virtualization, storage and cloud mean BDR options and best practices are also changing quickly. Solution providers shopping around for best-fit solutions need answers to these essential questions:
1 Does this fit my clients’ needs?
The nature of a solution provider’s customer base—things like average size, budget, vertical industry, amount of data, computing platform and how quickly they need to access their data in the event of an outage—all shape the choice of solution.
An early step in disaster recovery planning is setting the recovery time objective (RTO) for the applications in question, to determine how quickly they must be back up to keep the business running. Different clients have different overall tolerances, and each client has different tolerances for different applications and data. Solution providers must select options that cover the range.
For small clients with just a few seats and/or less than a terabyte of data, BDR alone may be enough, but for larger ones—tiered disaster recovery and storage solutions—combining local physical or virtual backup with off-site data storage—are often necessary. Once clients start taking a closer look at their data, data management and retention policy development often become an adjacent solution opportunity. “For MSPs, you can’t just back up,” says Alan McDonald, president of managed network services AllConnected (www.allconnected.com), an Ingram partner (www.ingrammicro.com). “You’ve got to know what you’re protecting—the value of data. Analytics is a big piece.”
AllConnected’s clients work on several different operating systems and use mobile devices to access data. So it was important to the solution provider that a BDR solution support all devices and operating systems, including mobile.
Scalability is also critical. Solid technology is a must. For solution provider Net Sales Direct (www.netsalesdirect.com), which uses a solution from Drobo (www.drobo.com), virtualization has been an important boost to its ability to offer robust backup and disaster recovery. “Virtualization enhances BDR drastically with advanced features like high availability, vMotion, snap technology, redundancy between hosts and failover to disaster recovery sites within minutes/hours versus the traditional two week downtime,” says Jeff Foxhoven, VP sales and marketing at
Net Sales Direct. Managed services provider Corvallis Technical (www.corvallistechnical.com) had been using a solution that was too expensive and extensive for their small business clientele, which range from one to 36 seats. After an extensive search, owner Benjamin Brewster and his team decided the right replacement was two different providers: Continuum Vault (www.continuum.net) for servers and Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) for front-end devices. So clients get speedy restoration and redundancy from the on-site appliance and failover server, while resting assured their data is secure in unlimited offsite backup. For Corvallis, the solution set provides an easy-to-manage product they can bundle in with their own subscription services to offer the peace of mind their clients seek. “Small businesses want each day to be like yesterday,” says Brewster. “They don’t want variances or sudden bills. We can say ‘we do IT support for X a month’ and this is one of the things we include.”
2. Will clients view this as a commodity or a value-add?
Google “online backup” and you get thousands of options. The task for solution providers is to align with those that offer additional value and differentiation—and then educate prospects on the difference. As businesses grow increasingly reliant on data to function, explaining the importance of having a reliable solution and hands-on technical support is getting easier.
“Everything is going digital,” says Net Sales Direct’s Foxhoven. “We stress the importance of protecting data. In Texas we have hurricanes, tornadoes and recently fires that have wiped out entire buildings, so the reality of a loss is evident. Downtime and loss of data is more costly than BDR.” The solution provider created a sister company (NSDvault.com) dedicated to disaster recover solutions, co-location, and public and private cloud.
3. What does it take
The business model doesn’t work if supporting clients’ backup and restore processes consumes a lot of labor. Solution providers want products and services that automate and centralize as much as possible, minimizing the number of hands-on processes to manage.
Some SPs strongly prefer solutions that don’t require software agents to be installed on the clients’ hardware. “If the customer has 20 servers, and there are agents on all 20, and then there is a conflict with software, that’s a lot of labor,” says AllConnected’s Brewster, whose solution uses native APIs. “Then the agents update in six months and you have to do it again. Having no agents is a big deal.”
Solution Provider Webhosting.net (www.webhosting.net) is able to leverage agent-less backup for clients that also buy Nimble Storage (www.nimblestorage.com) products. Its clients—SMBs of 50 to 100 employees and 20 to 30 servers—can both store and backup in one place since Nimble groups everything into one array. Webhosting.net replicates the entire architecture in one of its data centers. While Webhosting sells an agent-based solution to customers with other types of storage, for Nimble clients “there is definitely a lot of cost savings because there are no agents. Our costs are bandwidth, storage and hosting,” says Jose Uribe, COO. “We sell bandwidth so we control our own costs.” Restores also use less engineering time, lowering costs and enabling webhosting to charge less.
4. What service levels does it offer, and
do those meet my
clients’ needs and my
For AllConnected, the ability to guarantee recovery was a top priority. “A lot of BDRs take the data, write it somewhere and never look at
it again,” says McDonald. “You don’t know it if will recover.” So the MSP wrote its own, basing the solution on technology from Asigra (www.asigra.com), and spinning it off into a separate company. “Each vault
has about 300 million files, and you’ve got to look at each one at least every week.”
5. Does the vendor offer a solid channel
Solution providers want to feel they’re working with a partner, not against them. River Run Computers (www.river-run.com) left its former vendor when they realized its business processes, technology and solution provider support were all lacking compared with its competitors, and now uses Datto (www.dattobackup.com). It pays periodically to revisit vendor selection to ensure vendor services and solution provider and client needs still align.
6. Does the vendor live up to its promises?
Trust is paramount when you’re committing to meet high
service levels to your clients, and those are based on your vendor’s ability to deliver. Other solution providers—preferably referrals you find through networking, not hand-picked by the vendor—are the best source of real feedback.
7 Can we make money with this product?
- Do they do what they say they’ll do? For example, are data quality verification processes carried out according to the agreement?
- Are the fees locked in? River Run left a former backup and data recovery provider after its prices nearly doubled in a year, with no advance notice as per the agreement.
- Do I trust my provider’s partners, and can I tell my client exactly where the data is? Clients in industries such as financial services must have the physical addresses of the places where their data resides; others just want to know.
- Do they offer solid business processes that ensure the integrity and accessibility of data?
Answers to all of the above help determine the ultimate question for solution providers: margin potential. Solution providers like predictable costs just as much as clients do, so they can structure pricing to ensure a profit.
For Net Sales Direct, the right approach was a “pay-as-you-grow” solution that allows its clients to pay only for what they need now and expand later when budget permits. River Run has found simple all-in-one pricing strategies work best for their own business as well as their clients’ budgets; that’s easier to do if the vendor’s pricing approach is also simple. “In the first six months selling Datto we surpassed three years of selling the previous solution,” says Torres.
Pricing backup capacity by the block doesn’t work for River Run Computers. “It requires a lot of management behind the scenes” to track and bill for clients’ consumption, says Eric Torres, strategies and initiatives manager for River Run. Torres prefers a bundled solution so he can offer clients a predictable price as well as control his own profit.
Backup and disaster recovery may not be the sexiest member of a solution provider’s product suite. But when disaster strikes, they prove their value in a hurry. With such high stakes, selecting a partner that fits your culture and your clients’ needs is a critical step, one worth revisiting regularly to ensure the best fit.