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Cloud backup solutions for VARs, MSPs: Three approaches

Find out about the three potential cloud backup solutions a VAR or MSP could adopt to provide services for customers.

Cloud means a lot of things to different groups of people. For end users the cloud can be a source of confusion, which can be an opportunity for the VARs, MSPs and resellers that call on them. But for channel partners themselves, the number of variations in cloud-related services and products they can potentially sell creates confusion as well.

As I’ve written about previously, the cloud is essentially a delivery mechanism that is poised to replace a lot of the hardware and software projects that pay the bills at many of these same channel organizations. Adding cloud services to their line cards will be a requirement for staying in business as end users, especially small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), transition to a services model for their information technology needs.

There are several types of cloud backup solutions available to sell and an even larger number of companies offering these products. For VARs and MSPs that are looking into cloud backup, choosing the right model can be a little daunting. In this tip we’ll look at the types of cloud backup offerings available and discuss some of the things each can bring to their channel partners. Basically, VARs and MSPs can sell the cloud backup service; sell and manage the cloud backup service; or sell, manage and host the cloud itself.

Selling cloud services

The first option is selling cloud backup services that are provided by a managed services provider or by a commercial online backup provider. This is pure resale play, which might not be attractive for VARs that are used to a greater services involvement. But for VARs that are just getting started with selling the cloud or those that focus on more of a reseller go-to-market model it can still be a good choice.

Another option is selling the cloud service that’s offered by one of the major backup software applications. Some of these cloud solutions are hosted by the backup ISV, while others leverage public clouds for their back-end infrastructures. These can be good choices for VARs that are already selling the on-site software licensing and have customers that want to add cloud services for DR. Many of these customers are larger businesses with a significant existing backup infrastructure and wouldn’t be interested in replacing that with a managed services solution anyway.

For both of these resale offerings, the end user typically goes to the provider or software vendor for service. While reselling cloud backup services is an easy way to get going with the cloud, many VARs are interested in a greater level of involvement with their clients. For this reason they may resell ISV cloud services where appropriate and focus on a managed services model, which gives them more account control and an opportunity for greater margins.

Selling and managing cloud services

Managed services allow the VAR or MSP to not only sell the backup service but to install the client software (and hardware for hybrid cloud solutions), as well as monitor and support the day-to-day operations of their customers, typically through a Web portal provided by the cloud provider. MSPs will often rebrand these services, putting their logo on webpages their clients see. Some can also customize their offerings, such as the reports they provide or the configuration and management tools that the end user has access to.

MSPs can sell a “pure” cloud backup solution, with all backups being sent directly to the cloud. But an alternative that’s becoming the standard is a “disk to disk to cloud” (D2D2C) solution, where a backup appliance is installed on-site. With this hybrid cloud model, the backup appliance then replaces a traditional backup software application, the backup server and the local storage target to hold backups and support restores. Some require agents be installed on client computers and servers, while others are agentless.

One of the biggest benefits to the hybrid appliance model is its ability to support local restores and to provide a consolidated replication operation to the cloud. Backup appliances also manage the connectivity with the cloud backup location, using data reduction technologies such as deduplication and compression to reduce bandwidth consumption in the process. Most also leverage an incremental methodology to reduce the amount of data sent to the cloud and improve storage efficiency. Some even use this on-site appliance to provide file sharing and collaboration, or to be a platform to make additional cloud-based services available to the customer. 

A newer variation on the hybrid cloud backup solution for MSPs is the ability to host virtual machine (VM) images in the cloud and provide a platform to restart those virtual machines in the event that the on-site server becomes unavailable. For the solutions that provide this feature, the on-site appliance can take backups from existing VMs or run the physical-to-virtual (P2V) conversion on legacy servers to make them ready for recovery in the cloud. This solution can fully integrate disaster recovery, with an emphasis on availability, into the data protection solution an MSP is selling. It can also provide a simple but effective way to test the recoverability of backed-up VMs.

Selling, managing and hosting cloud services

For MSPs that want the greatest level of involvement, they can take on the hosting of the cloud backup infrastructure itself. This involves setting up their own data center(s) to house servers, storage and networking equipment, or they can use a public Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider to host the storage, the compute equipment or the entire system. Some VARs will actually be a customer of an IaaS provider for hosting their backup infrastructure and resell other infrastructure services from that same provider to their clients.

Making a cloud backup choice for VARs and MSPs starts by determining the level of involvement they’re comfortable with. As this participation increases, so does their value-add to the customer, along with their margin potential. Obviously, their financial commitment and risk exposure go up as well. As they develop their cloud backup business, they may be interested in increasing their involvement, like a VAR becoming an MSP or an MSP becoming a hosting MSP. If this is a possibility, care must be taken to choose a platform up front that can support this kind of transition without disrupting their clients’ experiences. In subsequent tips we’ll explore these types of cloud backup solutions in more detail and provide examples of companies offering each type.

Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.

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