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Online backup services: How to participate in this data backup solution

Value-added resellers (VARs) might fear that the move toward online backup services will box them out. But they shouldn't--there are multiple opportunities to participate in this data backup solution.

Online backup services are seeing stunning growth, and users of the services are no longer limited to consumers or laptop-carrying professionals. Online backup services providers have begun to cater to businesses of all sizes and are now protecting servers within the data center. Some providers are even now offering application protection. Storage integrators, especially those that are focused on backup, may feel threatened by this data backup solution. Fear not, storage integrator; online backup, or cloud data backup, can represent a significant opportunity for you.

Depending on the makeup of your organization, you may very well decide that you want to host online backup services yourself. But, if you are a smaller organization or just don't want to make the investment in infrastructure, you may be better off partnering with a supplier of the technology. The suppliers do need you, by the way.

Many of these online backup services can handle backup -- even hot application backup -- of the environment agentlessly. Most often, online backup is a software solution that's deployed on an appliance or server at the customer's data center. The provider then will deduplicate that data and be able to replicate it to its off-site storage facility.

While these appliances are often promoted as customer-installable, the reality is that many customers need help getting them implemented; installation is more than just plugging it into the wall. Network connections need to be made, and certain network access rights need to be granted. Also, "agentless" does not mean flawless. In an agentless environment, paths to specific machines need to be ironed out, and special user logins may need to be created.

Then there's the issue of protocol: Many of these agentless data backup solutions count on the server to be backed up to present a CIFS or NFS share, so the protocol needs to be activated. In some cases, a special installation step may be needed. For example, some of these solutions require that Linux or Macintosh systems be backed up via a CIFS or SMB mount point. On a Linux system, that may mean that the Samba tool needs to be downloaded and installed on those servers (Macintosh has CIFS support built in).

In addition to the installation process, an initial, non-deduplicated backup set needs to be created (all the data needs to get to the provider's site to build the baseline on which deduplication can work). Part of your service may be to manage that process for the customer -- for instance, making sure the first backup is complete or shipping physical media to the provider and then making the connection to the data set.

Finally, some online backup services providers are offering resellers access to the backup process of their clients. Some can give you a dashboard overview of the clients that you have brought to the service. This allows you to alert your customers to failed backup or replication jobs and then create a service call to go out and resolve the problem.

With online backup services, you can extend your value-add even further by providing a service to remotely manage and run a customer's backup operations. Most of the data backup solutions we discuss here were designed to be run remotely from within a Web browser. With online access like you'd get from a dashboard view into a customer's account, you can perform tasks like adding new clients or restoring files when needed. Finally, you can provide verification of backups and replication. Many businesses, especially small ones, simply can't allocate the personnel to make sure backups are running flawlessly.

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.

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