SMBs reject tape for online storage and backup

SMBs looking for fewer server backup headaches are turning to remote services instead of tape.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are gradually looking to online remote services for their server backup requirements, but tape backup continues to have a firm hold on the market.

"Remote backup has been around since just before the dot-com bust," said Adam Couture, principal research analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Tape is cheap, so if they backup at all, they primarily backup to tape.
Adam Couture
principal research analystGartner Inc.

Couture said tape continues to be the backup media of choice for SMBs. But last year Couture reported that online server backup prices have declined during the past five years, making the technology more appealing to SMBs. Couture has predicted double-digit annual market growth for the industry through 2008.

"Tape is cheap, so if they back up at all, they primarily back up to tape," he said.

He said SMBs usually adopt worst practices with tape backup. In particular, they fail to move backup tapes offsite.

"Anything that takes out their server could take out their tapes as well, if you have a fire or whatever."

Scott Restivo, MIS Director at J.A.M. Distributing Co., a Webster, Texas-based distributor of fuel and lubricant products, used a semiautomated tape backup system from HP until a little over a year ago.

"It kicked off [a backup] every night," Restivo said. "We came to find out it didn't actually work. We lost a database once. When we went to the tape to get it, the reports said it was backed up, but it wasn't there." He blamed himself for not "checking on it."

Restivo said that was the tipping point. His company switched temporarily to a fully manual backup protocol with a 400 GB hard disk from Iomega Corp.

"Every night I would back it up myself," he said. "After a short period of time we started looking for other automated backup solutions. We weren't looking for managed services. We were looking for something in-house."

But Restivo met with Terian Solutions LLC, a Houston-based company that provides remote online backup services powered by a data storage services platform from Toronto-based Asigra Inc.

"We started this service about a year and a half to two years ago," said Terian president Mike Colesante. "We were talking to our customer base about challenges and problems they had. One thing was antivirus and spam, which we knew was taken care of by the big players. The other was data protection and backup. People hated tapes. It was a last resort for them."

"We were using tapes," said Ricky Bajaj, a business development manager at Telco Solutions III LLC, a Franklin, Tenn.-based manufacturer of circuit boards and cable assemblies for electronics. "Our goal over here is to really do automation as much as possible. That's what we concentrate on if we can put the proper tools in place. We only have three IT people with multiple servers."

Bajaj said his tape backup system is still on his servers, but he doesn't use it. Instead he works with Terian, too.

"I'm not truly seeing huge savings, but that's not what my focus was on. [Remote backup] is definitely easier. If I had to retrieve something, like an email, I could take a couple hours going through tape. With Terian, I can retrieve it in five minutes."

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Remote backup services usually charge customers a tiered fee tied to how much data they store.

The amount of data that passes from a customer to a provider of continuous data storage can pose a bandwidth problem, so some providers offer on-site appliances to do an on-site disk backup. All new and changed files, which require much less bandwidth than a whole server, get backed up at the remote location. So a client can restore a server from the appliance on-site without being constricted by bandwidth. And there's redundancy at the remote location.

"We have a local appliance on our network that backs up all our data onto it," Restivo said. "Then simultaneously moves data to the [Terian] data center in Dallas, and then it's backed up to their Houston data center. That's the redundancy we want."

Couture said one of the roadblocks to remote backup adoption is security.

"Somebody else having their data, that's always an issue," Couture said. "And obviously the cost. It's always cheaper to do it myself. "

Restivo explained, "We weren't so much concerned about security. They use encryption. I was more concerned about the time it would take to get all our data backed up. But they just back up changes to a file. They don't back up everything. And because of the appliance we have a full backup."

Couture said the biggest roadblock to adoption is probably awareness of the service. SMBs just aren't that aware of the risk they are facing by not having a robust server backup in place.

"I can sleep at night," Restivo said. "Once you lose a database, that's very nerve-wracking. If you lose a database, that's your job. You're gone."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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