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Symantec Protection Network offers online data storage, backup

Symantec has finally made its move into Software as a Service (SaaS). Now partners must find the best way to make money off of it.

The long-awaited Symantec Protection Network debuted today with the launch of two storage Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, Online Backup and Online Storage for Backup Exec.

In the works for more than a year, the Symantec Protection Network has been an issue for some value-added resellers (VARs) unsure about entering the services arena. Symantec's managed services provider (MSP) partners, however, see it as an easy, inexpensive way to expand their businesses -- although there's little consensus on how to best take advantage of the offerings.

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"A lot of those [VAR] partners are probably afraid of it," said David Tan, chief technical officer (CTO) for CHIPS Computer Consulting, a Symantec partner in Syosset, N.Y. "We, on the other hand, see it as a nice added service."

Online Backup is a Web-based application that customers can use to manage information stored at off-site Symantec data centers. When Symantec first announced its SaaS push to partners, the plan was for Online Backup to be the only initial offering.

But during beta testing, partners suggested the service should be able to take advantage of Backup Exec, Symantec's popular on-premise storage software. In response, Symantec created the Online Storage for Backup Exec service -- a so-called "hybrid" offering that stores data off-site but relies on Backup Exec for management.

"We wanted to enhance what the customers already had on site instead of making them replace it," Tan said.

Some larger Symantec partners who can afford to run their own back-end infrastructure already offer their own managed storage services. Symantec's offerings will supplement those services and help smaller partners who can't run such a business on their own, said Adam Gray, CTO of Novacoast in Santa Barbara, Calif. The Symantec name also carries a level of trust that will help partners make sales, he said.

"You want somebody big to run it," he added. "You would never get smaller partners to do it."

Despite early optimism about the Symantec Protection Network, questions remain. The biggest: What's the best way for a partner to make money off the services? It's hard to tell whether partners will just resell the services, resell and manage them or provide additional services on top of what Symantec offers, according to Jonathan Dambrot, managing director for Prevalent Networks, a Symantec partner in Warren, N.J.

"It is going to be another solution to sell, but I think it will enable some partners to differentiate," he said.

Gray said the biggest partner opportunity will be providing up-front services such as customer site assessment, policy configuration and perhaps integration as part of an overall storage strategy. After that, the partner can pretty much "get out of the way" because the Symantec Protection Network is so easy to manage, he said.

"I don't see a ton of money in trying to provide the middleman services," he added.

Another question surrounds adoption of the Symantec Protection Network. Even though its recurring revenue model means fewer up-front costs for customers, most businesses still don't have the budget flexibility to subscribe to such a service midyear, said Gary Cannon, president of Advanced Internet Security in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"I don't know how quickly we'll see a migration to the Symantec Protection Network," he said. "I hope we see some. I'm kind of excited about it."

Developing service-level agreements (SLAs) with customers and other contracts governing access to customer data can also present challenges, Cannon said.

"It can be an enormous amount of time," he said.

The licensing and pricing models for Online Backup and Online Storage are based on the length of storage and amount of data stored. Partners will receive recurring compensation for any subscription, service or renewal bill paid by a customer, said Chris Schin, director of product management for the Symantec Protection Network.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are the target customers, and that's why partners are key to the offering's success, said Randy Cochran, the company's vice president of Americas channel sales.

"The platform, Symantec Protection Network, is more than just Online Backup," he said. "It's the whole future of where we're going, and the channel is our route to market for that."

Symantec eventually plans to make its entire product line -- including remote control, system management, messaging security and archiving, endpoint security and perimeter security -- available as SaaS. Despite the recent emphasis on SaaS, Cochran said the company is not abandoning traditional on-premise software.

"You can still sell both," he said. "You have the option to go either way, based on what your customer requires."

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