While tape-based solutions have long constituted SMB’s arsenal for backup and disaster recovery (BDR), a bevy of technological innovations in data backup have changed the playing field for solution providers.
For starters, increasing numbers of SMBs are turning to primary storage technologies with the debut of low-cost data reduction tools that have the capability to perform cost-effective deduplication of data from compressed and uncompressed files. “Built-in deduplication—and compression—is especially helpful in meeting the challenge of replicating backup on the Internet, because backing up duplicates and uncompressed files chokes the bandwidth and makes the process ridiculously slow.” notes Steven Toole, chief marketing officer, AppAssure Software (www.appassure.com). Until recently, Toole says, integrated deduplication and compression were beyond the financial reach of SMBs, but this is no longer the case.
Gaining ground, too, is the practice of implementing all-in-one appliances that incorporate backup and recovery software, deduplication, disk storage, and, in certain instances, tape. Such solutions are becoming increasingly popular among creative shops (e.g., advertising agencies and small publishers), according to a spokesperson for the Iomega (www.iomega.com).
Meanwhile, some SMBs are gravitating toward some form of cloud-based BDR. In a cloud data backup scenario, copies of data are sent over a proprietary or public network to an off-site server. A third-party service provider, which charges the backup customer a fee based on capacity, bandwidth or number of users, hosts the server.
When cloud data backup first emerged as a BDR solution, potential end-users were hesitant to migrate to it because of data security and bandwidth concerns. This challenge has been mitigated to a large degree because most BDR products that support cloud data backup now offer value-added features, including encryption technology to safeguard data stored off-site, compression, deduplication and WAN optimization technology to accelerate performance. Many leverage the scalability of cloud storage for features like snapshots, version control, and data protection.
In a slightly different vein, some SMB players favor a hybrid approach that combines local and cloud storage. Ciphaeus, a VAR headquartered in Seattle, has a number of healthcare clients that have jumped on this bandwagon. “They are shifting the older patient data to the cloud and keeping the newer data available locally,” explains Phil Thompson, principal. “For us, the offsite backup has become an excellent source of recurring revenue.”
Kevin Epstein, vice president of marketing, Drobo (www.drobo.com), concurs, adding that by setting up private clouds, VARs address the major issues SMBs have had with moving even a portion of their data out of the office and into the cloud. “Big public clouds look like a good idea in principle, but there are privacy and cost concerns,” he asserts. “VARs can provide cost-effective cloud solutions from which they can later benefit in recurring revenues, while simultaneously mitigating concerns with the restricted cloud configuration.”
Gleb Budman, co-founder and CEO, Backblaze (www.backblaze.com) cites a similar scenario, noting that many SMBs are looking to VARs for ongoing support of the movement of laptop and desktop backup to the cloud. This shift, he says, is occurring for a number of reasons, including the fact that “offsite backup can be performed remotely when employees are working from home, traveling, etc., and the backup can be restored remotely—again, critical if an employee happens to lose a laptop on the road.” For servers, Budman states, Backblaze is seeing a mix, with many companies still using local backups because servers are always in the office, connected permanently to the network and on 24/7; they may also require complicated backup setups.”
Interestingly, analysts see more SMBs converting from the hybrid local/cloud storage model to one centered entirely on the cloud. A recent report by AMI Research pegs about 12 percent of small businesses and 24 percent of medium businesses as using the cloud for BDR to some degree, with a respective 78 percent and 31 percent of these entities employing an on-premise or hybrid SaaS model and only about one third employing pure SaaS. However, according to AMI, the tides will turn as entities in the small and medium categories alike bump up their cloud adoption plans and make the transition to pure on-demand.
Scale the Walls
While BDR solutions are becoming increasingly comprehensive as well as more appropriate for deployment by SMB players, obstacles to selling the technology remain. Some prospects clearly do not understand the importance of implementation in general—a fact that is borne out by a recent Symantec (www.symantec.com) survey of just under 2,000 SMBs. Of the 50 percent of respondents that claimed to have no backup plan (including BDR solutions) for handling instances involving data loss or outage, 52 percent said they simply do not consider computer systems critical to their business. A total of 40 percent of participating companies said disaster preparedness is “not a priority” for their organization.
“Many SMBs fail to consider not only how much data they can afford to lose—and really, they can afford to lose little, if any—but the cost of downtime to their business in dollars,” can exceed the low five-figures on a daily basis, purports Kim Hofmann, director, storage solutions practice, Avnet Electronics (www.avnet.com). They need to see this information in black and white, no matter the type of BDR solution they select.
Austin McChord, president and CEO, Datto, Inc. (www.dattobackup.com), concurs. He adds that while most VARs are likely unaccustomed to positioning technology as “insurance, they must cast BDR in such a light. Backup, in particular, is the first thing SMBs tend to remove from a contract with a VAR,” McChord observes. “The only way to move it back in is to demonstrate the value proposition, a significant piece of which is insurance for the worth of the data.”
There also exists a considerable cadre of SMBs which, while they may be adopting more virtual machines for everyday use than in the past, are not altering their backup plans accordingly. Earlier this year, a study conducted by vendor Acronis (www.acronis.com) revealed that although SMBs will increase their deployment of virtual servers in 2011, with adoption rising from 22 percent to 33 percent, more than 40 percent of participants admit to not backing up their virtual machines as frequently as they do their physical ones.
Again, sources say, the value proposition figures heavily into reversing this mindset. VARs must emphasize the point that when tier-one, mission critical data—be it SQL databases, Exchange databases, or something different—is virtualized, tape-based systems likely do not offer the fastest, most efficient means of recovery.
VARs can also break down BDR barriers, while simultaneously leveraging the technology to generate additional revenues beyond hardware/software sales and recurring fees for offsite backup, by offering additional value-added services. For instance, about 10 reseller partners that work with of LaCie (www.lacie.com) maintain BDR help desks for their SMB customers, notes Jim Davis, vice president, U.S. sales. Services include not only all types of troubleshooting, but the monitoring of storage capacity and keeping a close eye out for red flags pertaining to potential data loss and compromise.