MSP backup solutions for hosting cloud backup services

Learn about MSP backup solutions for managed service providers that want to go beyond simply managing cloud backup services to actually hosting them.

This is the fourth in a series of tips on cloud data backup for VARs and managed service providers (MSPs). The first piece, "Cloud backup solutions for VARs, MSPs: Three approaches," defined the space, breaking out the types of cloud backup options into those that the VAR can simply sell; that the VAR or MSP can sell and manage; and that the VAR or MSP can host, sell and manage. The second tip focused on the sales-only model. The third...

tip examined managed cloud backup solutions, where a VAR or MSP not only makes the sale, but also provides ongoing operational support. This tip gives details on MSP backup solutions for providers that want to host their own services.

For many MSPs that have gone so far as to manage cloud backup services -- implementing and providing operational support -- the next step is to actually provide the cloud itself. Moving to the hosting model makes sense because it allows them to increase their involvement (value-add) and revenue potential with their customer bases. At one point this meant standing up a data center to support the cloud backup software, but now MSPs can host these backup clouds in a Software as a Service (SaaS) configuration with such companies as Amazon or Rackspace. And making the jump is now easier thanks to the backup cloud infrastructure vendors, many of which allow MSPs to transition their current customers into their own clouds transparently.

There is an increasing number of backup infrastructure vendors, hardware and/or software available to the MSP that wants to take this step. Some of these vendors' products are big in the private cloud space, providing backup infrastructure for large companies, but the products can also be used as the basis for a cloud backup service. Since this tip is focused on MSPs, many of which are moving up from selling and managing cloud services to hosting the infrastructure itself, our focal point here is in the area of hosted MSP backup solutions.

We'll use two vendors that were featured in the last article in this series, Asigra Inc. and Ctera Networks Ltd., as examples of the solutions in this space. Both have established a business with MSPs managing a cloud backup service for their customers and can support those MSPs that want to host their own clouds as well.

Resembling the managed services cloud backup model, in an MSP-hosted scenario, a hybrid cloud appliance (hardware or software) is installed at the customer's location with the MSP providing the same monitoring and management of backups from a central location. The only differences between the two models are where the data is actually stored and who runs that cloud.

The hybrid cloud model gives the end-user company local backups and restores and an efficient, cost-effective process for the transfer of backed-up data sets to the cloud. The MSP can still provide day-to-day operational support and troubleshooting, as well as expansion, updates and configuration management of the backup infrastructure.

Hosting allows MSPs to increase their margins, providing the same services as they did when they were reselling to their end-user customers.

For MSPs that want to run the cloud in their own data centers, the Ctera Portal Datacenter Edition can be deployed as a virtual appliance or rackmounted physical appliance with 36 TB of raw capacity. These systems support most major object storage systems as well as traditional SAN or NAS infrastructures. Asigra's DS-System cloud backup software installs on Windows or Linux platforms and supports DAS, SAN and NAS storage architectures. For MSPs that choose not to physically host their own backup infrastructure, Asigra and Ctera offer SaaS options that run in public clouds.

These hosting MSPs typically sell directly to end users but sometimes sell to other MSPs, which then resell to the IT organization customer. Some vendors call these channel organizations "distributors," but they're essentially middlemen for the MSPs that have the end-user client relationship.

Hosting allows MSPs to increase their margins, providing the same services as they did when they were reselling to their end-user customers. When they can deliver more services to these same customers, the hosting move can be that much more profitable. The hybrid cloud backup model puts an appliance on-site to improve backup performance and enable local restores. But it also provides a local data storage device with compute capabilities that can be used to support other services as well.

The Ctera Cloud Storage Gateway delivers local data storage that's back-ended by virtually unlimited cloud storage. The appliance also provides file services to local users and file sharing and synchronization for remote users to support an increasingly distributed workforce. When first presented to the industry, "pure" cloud storage services were less than compelling, as evidenced by their lack of success. But when offered as part of an existing backup infrastructure, these services become valuable additions that can help drive revenue for MSPs that are hosting the capacity on the back end.

Hosting the infrastructure that provides the cloud backup services they're already selling is a logical next step for MSPs that want to increase their involvement with their customer bases and grow their businesses at the same time. It also sets them up to enjoy increased revenues from additional services that can be run through these hybrid cloud appliances.

But it does something more. With an appliance on site that provides storage capacity, file services and a platform for applications -- with a live connection to the cloud -- MSPs can set themselves up as a primary service provider for a multitude of cloud-based services (not just MSP backup solutions) that small and midmarket companies are poised to adopt. If they were concerned about cloud locking them out of the IT infrastructure business, they're in a position to essentially drive that process and stay engaged -- and for some, stay in business.

Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.

This was first published in September 2012

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