Tape drive autoloader vs. cloud backup

Your customers might be considering buying a tape drive autoloader, but before they decide to upgrade their tape hardware, it's worth considering whether they're ready to abandon tape for cloud backup.

If you have customers looking to automate their tape backup process with a new tape drive autoloader, before you get too far down the autoloader tape drive road, make sure you discuss another option with them: cloud backup.

While many resellers think of cloud-based backup as competitive to their business, the reality is that many cloud service providers want to partner with you. As we discussed in "Hybrid Cloud Backup for the SMB," companies like Axcient and SonicWall have appliances to optimize backup for local recovery and for cloud-based DR. They need solution providers to help deploy the appliance, get the customer connected to the backup service and help it through the initial backup strategy design, all for a fee.

For customers, there are a number of reasons why cloud backup is an attractive option over an autoloader tape drive or, in fact, over tape backup in general. For instance, cloud backup solutions often include the software and the hardware required for the SMB to properly protect their business, such as special applications for backing up Exchange and SQL Server. Autoloaders, on the other hand, will require the purchase of backup software.

Cloud backup also has flexibility advantages over autoloaders. That's because there are a limited number of tasks that an autoloader can accomplish; essentially, it's confined to backup tasks. Cloud-based backup, meanwhile, can be extended for duties such as email and file archiving. And, your customer could even leverage an appliance from Axcient or SonicWall as a virtual server if one of its servers fail.

Finally, there's the issue of cost. In a down economy, cloud backup's low upfront cost will likely be easier for an SMB to swallow than an autoloader purchase. Over a five-year period (about the lifetime of an autoloader), cloud backup will likely cost more, but not having a big capital expenditure, instead being billed on a monthly or quarterly basis, makes the cloud an appealing option. (This will mean that your profit on the project comes in monthly as well. So while you'll get no upfront payment other than installation services fees, you will get a predictable monthly revenue stream, which many solution providers desperately need.)

To get an idea of how the costs compare, for a company with 3 TB of backup data, a cloud backup solution would cost about $1,000 a month; over five years, that adds up to about $60,000. An autoloader that can hold 4 TB of data, plus backup software, would cost about $8,000 plus backup software and a yearly maintenance fee.

The bottom line is that cloud backup can lead to growing monthly revenue streams for you, with additional incremental sales opportunities. You'll always have the opportunity to provide your SMB customers with an autoloader, but a better option for you and for them might exist in the cloud.

About the author

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

This was first published in June 2009

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