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Providing managed backup services

Providing managed backup services has some major advantages over traditional backup, but it also has some disadvantages. Find out how it can help you address your customers' biggest backup pain points, as well as what pain points you're likely to encounter.

By Yuval Shavit, Features Writer

Data backup has always been important, but recent natural disasters and concerns over terrorism have made it an even higher priority for many companies. While standard, tape-based backup is still a staple for many companies, more and more value-added resellers (VARs) are also providing managed backup services. This Hot Spot Tutorial will introduce you to the advantages and disadvantages of providing managed backup services and show you how to get started.

For your customers, managed backup -- also known as hosted or online backup -- can be a more convenient alternative to tape- or disk-based backup. Managed backup is especially attractive to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and branch offices that may not have the staff or technology to maintain solid backup practices in-house. Data backup is vital, but it's not particularly fun or exciting; offer to take it off your client's hands, freeing IT staff to work on more long-term projects.

One of the biggest advantages of managed backup is that staff at your client's site won't have to physically handle backup disks or tapes. While that may sound like a minor benefit at first, it's actually pretty significant since it removes human errors like forgetting to run the backup program or take tapes home.

Handling tapes takes a certain level of knowledge, said Jeff Danos, CEO of Data Protection Services LLP (DPS), a Hammond, La.-based managed backup provider. Tapes are susceptible to electromagnetic fields, temperature and humidity, and office workers can damage them just by taking them home and storing them incorrectly. And if your client wants to keep a record that goes back a significant time, there's also the question of where to put all those tapes.

A good backup practice -- whether handled by a customer on-site or by you as a managed service -- also requires testing and continuous management, said Michael Halsey, president of Profile Technologies Inc., a managed service provider in Littleton, N.H. Some clients have a "set it and forget it" mindset with backups, but that attitude can lead to a backup that's difficult or impossible to restore from, he said. By providing managed backup, you can take on the responsibility for these tests, which take time and expertise.

Even putting aside human error, working with physical backups can leave your client vulnerable to regional disasters like hurricanes, floods or fires. In those disasters, storing a backup a few blocks or miles away from the primary site may not ensure its safety. Managed backup sites can be hundreds or thousands of miles away, so providing managed backup is a good way to protect your client's data even in those extreme situations.

Managed backup isn't without drawbacks, however. Depending on how much data your client has, online backup may not be the best solution. Speed is a major factor; data needs to go through the Internet, so nightly backups can take a long time. This is especially true if your client doesn't have a fast Internet connection or has several gigabytes to upload each night, Halsey said. If the backup doesn't complete overnight, your client will have unacceptably slow access to its disks and the Internet.

Online backups are also slower to restore, which can add extra headache to a disaster that's already costing your client time and money. This is often unavoidable, but you can provide extra services as a workaround. DPS offers to ship restore media to its customers, overnight if necessary, while Profile Technologies suggests that its clients keep a rotation of removable disk drives in addition to off-site backups.

Managed backup can also be more expensive than maintaining physical backups if your client has a large amount of data, Halsey said. Many managed backup providers charge based on the amount of data, and your client will also need to figure in bandwidth costs.

If you plan on providing managed backup, you have two main options: creating your own backup site or outsourcing to another hosted backup vendor. In the next installment, we'll look at the major considerations for both approaches.

This was last published in June 2008

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