Rugby club puts backup in safe hands after data loss

Backup as a service is an option for all sizes of business and for different reasons but how do you decide whether your firm should outsource or not?

Northampton Saints rugby club has deployed an online backup service from provider Datastore365 which sees valuable game analysis data replicated off-site every day to a remote location.

The rugby club's decision was prompted by a major data loss as a result of corrupt tape. The Saints' move is part of a growing trend for businesses to outsource backups to a third party provider.

It shouldn't have been a problem but the tapes were corrupt
Brian Facer
IT managerNorthampton Saints Rugby Club
The Saints are typical of one type of business that can take advantage of such services, namely small businesses whose core competencies are not in IT. The rugby club discovered its limitations in a particularly painful fashion when a server went down last year, says IT manager, Brian Facer.

"We were using tape backups on two servers when we had a major outage on one of them. It shouldn't have been a problem but the tapes were corrupt. We got quite a bit of data back from the disks but it took a while and people lost things like Exchange contact books," he says.

The Saints commercial department runs accounting, sales and marketing applications on Dell and HP servers, while the playing department runs video analysis of current and potential players and opponents on an IBM AS400.

The Saints chose an Asigra-based agentless continuous data protection and backup service from Datastore 365. It backs up 120 gigabytes per day of stored data from the club's three Windows 2003 servers to its Northampton base and a mirror site at Greenham Common, Berkshire. Should the Saints lose all its hardware in a disaster the service offers a bare metal restore back to new servers.

The bottom line advantage for the Saints is freedom from fear of data loss. Facer says the job of convincing the board was an easy one.

"There is nothing like a bit of pain to motivate you. After half the board lost their email contact books it was easy to make the case to outsource it," he says. "We were having to rely on someone to put the tape in and take it home and it had to be tested periodically to make sure it wasn't corrupt. IT is not what we do best. We're a typical SME and we outsource our IT because we want it to run smoothly."

When it came to selecting a provider Facer says he struck a balance between cost and service levels. "It's like insurance – you want something that works but you hope you'll never need it, so you don't want to pay more than you need," he says.

The Saints example is typical of a large segment of the outsourced backup market, says Quocirca principal analyst Dennis Szubert.

"The market for remote backup services exists primarily among smaller businesses," he says. "They have the worst practices regarding backup, and even if they have a plan they've often never tested it, have no IT staff dedicated to it and they rarely back up to a remote site."

Large companies outsource backup too

But small businesses are not the only ones to take advantage of third party backup and replication.

Sheffield-based law firm Irwin Mitchell – the eighth-largest in the UK, with seven regional sites and one Spanish office - outsources its backup and disaster recovery provision to Sungard. Its motivations were not just cost but also the need for ISO270001 levels of disaster recovery compliance, says group IT and operations director, Richard Hodkinson.

"The decision to outsource was made on the back of a sizeable client contract that required industrial grade disaster recovery," he says. "We considered that to outsource was faster and cheaper and to do the same thing in-house would have been far too costly in terms of equipment and premises."

Irwin Mitchell's Sheffield data centre replicates to Sungard's Heathrow facility, with the provider also mirroring the law firm's entire Cisco VoIP telephony network, plus e-mail, printing and case management systems to a number of Sungard workplace recovery centres around the UK.

Irwin Mitchell is certain that the service works. Last June, its Sheffield call centre, which handles 6,000 calls a day, was flooded. Following an invocation of the disaster recovery plan at 6pm Sungard provided a replicated environment of Irwin Mitchell's call centre at Elland, West Yorkshire, by the time of start of business the next day with bus travel provided for staff.

When evaluating providers, Irwin Mitchell needed a company that could provide an environment that could mirror its extensive environment of hardware and applications and provide physical backup office space at a number of locations across the UK.

After selecting from a list of three suppliers Irwin Mitchell awarded the contract on the basis of cost and perceived reliability, says Hodkinson.

"We looked at ICM, IBM and Sungard," he says. "Sungard won partly on price and partly on reputation and were the most responsive of the three. IBM's response was late and carelessly put together. ICM was very keen, but brand ultimately won out."

The two cases illustrate how different businesses with different needs can take advantage of outsourced backup services. For SMEs it's a case of getting something they couldn't otherwise have and for larger businesses it's a case of guaranteed business continuity, compliance and reducing cost, says Jon Collins, service director with analyst group Freeform Dynamics.

"For smaller businesses, remote backup services can provide something instead of nothing – which is a pretty straightforward decision," says Collins. "For larger companies the benefits are different - remote backup can be treated in the same way as general outsourcing of specific IT functions and the main benefit is cost effectiveness, plus the ability to focus on more core activities."

Collins recommends determining what you need to backup and knowing where it is before deciding whether to outsource and to whom.

"The main difficulty with backups concerns data fragmentation – few organisations can back up everything they have, as data is dispersed across the IT environment," he says. "Businesses small and large need to fix their backup policy first before trying to determine whether outsourced backups are an adequate way of moving forward. The question then is to review the practicalities of each backup service, and to pilot a shortlist of providers to ensure they can deliver on what they say. Remember, backups are the answer, not the question."

Read more on Cloud storage