Managed backup solutions: Hybrid cloud backup options for MSPs

Find out what your options are for providing managed backup solutions to customers, including hybrid cloud storage offerings.

This is the third 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. This tip...

examines managed cloud backup solutions, where a VAR or MSP not only makes the sale, but also provides ongoing operational support. The follow-on tip will provide detail on the last category of cloud data backup solutions that are available to the channel.

Many VARs who have traditionally sold on-site backup hardware and software are now adding cloud backup to their line cards. Some are adopting a pure reseller model, while others are offering managed backup solutions. It's hard to say whether this makes the second group MSPs or whether they're still VARs who handle backup services for some of their clients. But for the purposes of this article, we'll refer to all solution providers who provide a managed cloud backup service directly to users as MSPs.

From a product perspective, cloud backup sold as a managed service is essentially the same as what was described in second tip in this series: Most managed backup solutions either run as a software component on the client machines being backed up and send data over the Internet to the cloud data center, or run on a server or appliance on-site, taking backup data from client machines and managing the transfer of those files to the cloud.

After the sale is made, the MSP goes on site and installs the software and hardware -- if the solution includes any on-site hardware -- and completes the implementation for the customer. The MSP then monitors backup operations and leads troubleshooting efforts when something goes wrong. In most scenarios, the MSP can manage a customer's backup operations from a central location (typically with a Web browser), and most can change configurations, add clients, and the like, without having to go back on site. Many cloud backup solutions also allow the MSP to customize the user interface and choose some features and support options.

Most of these solutions are "comprehensive" in that they don't require an existing backup infrastructure (hardware or software); in fact, most replace existing backup applications, backup servers and storage altogether. Hybrid cloud solutions are becoming the norm in this space. They include an on-site appliance running an embedded backup application (or software running on user-supplied hardware) that provides local storage for faster restores and more efficient use of bandwidth to the cloud.

The companies and products described below are examples of these hybrid-cloud backup solutions. They're not the only alternatives, by any means, but a representative sample of what's available for MSPs to sell.

Asigra

Asigra's DS-Client software (which runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X) is installed on either a dedicated server or a server that's targeted for backup. It pulls data from computers, servers and storage systems on the network and stores it for transfer to the cloud. The DS-Client then sends data over an IP WAN to the Asigra cloud, which can be run by the MSP if it is hosting its own cloud or by a cloud backup service provider (Asigra calls these hosting entities MSPs).

For LAN clients (desktops and laptops connected to the corporate LAN), Asigra doesn't require any dedicated software agents, which simplifies implementation. Backing up tablets and smartphones requires an app that runs on those mobile devices. The DS-Client also performs deduplication and encryption for secure, efficient transfers to the cloud.

Asigra's DS-System software provides the cloud infrastructure itself, running on Windows or Linux platforms using a DAS, SAN or NAS storage topology. Since Asigra manufactures both the client and cloud software, MSPs can easily move into a hosting role by implementing their own DS-System infrastructure.

Ctera

Ctera's hybrid cloud backup offering consists of a range of solutions. The company manufactures the appliance (the gateway) that goes on-site and the software that controls the cloud infrastructure itself. Ctera's Cloud storage gateways come in a variety of sizes offering agentless, on-site disk-based file backup and cloud-based DR for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X clients (via Apple Filing Protocol and Time Machine), plus rsync and WebDAV protocols.

Ctera gateways provide up to 24 TB of raw capacity in RAID, JBOD or iSCSI configurations and feature storage services, including logical volume management, thin-provisioned snapshots and volume encryption. Ctera was one of the first cloud backup vendors to enable local file sharing on a gateway appliance (its Cloud Attached Storage), functionality that's becoming more common in the industry.

Most MSPs will sell, implement and manage the hybrid infrastructure, sending data to a cloud that's run by one of Ctera's distributors. But since they also provide the cloud software, MSPs can migrate from implementing and managing a Ctera cloud solution to hosting those services as well.

Axcient

Axcient offers a hybrid cloud backup solution that also provides agentless, file-based backups or virtual machine image backups for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X clients. The on-site appliance is available with raw capacities up to 20 TB and is targeted at small and medium-sized companies with as many as 25 physical or virtual servers. Axcient is targeting companies that need a turnkey business continuity solution. To this end, the Axcient appliance can perform a physical-to-virtual conversion as part of the backup process, storing virtual server images on the local appliance, ready to restore to the original host or to be run on the Axcient appliance itself.

Axcient has also added a recovery service enabling users to actually run VM images in the Axcient cloud. One of the first to offer this service, Axcient has helped to create a new category of cloud data protection: hybrid cloud DR.

In a lot of ways the managed services model is the most effective delivery method for cloud backup, which explains why it's the most common among cloud backup solutions that are targeted at businesses -- at least those too large for consumer-oriented products. For VARs, it offers an opportunity to add cloud products to the line card and still maintain a healthy service component to their businesses. The logical progression for MSPs can be to begin hosting their own cloud, which is the topic of the next tip.

Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.

This was first published in August 2012

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