Online Backup Is Promising Option for IT Managers

Companies are beginning to hand the task of backing up data to third parties

November 6, 2008

4 Min Read
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In many organizations, backing up data has been one of the main jobs of the IT department and one that offers the least fun. It is a task that has to occur daily -- at least. It chews up valuable time and resources, can lead to significant problems if not completed properly, has become more important with recent government regulations, and has about as much appeal as an unsalted cracker. After all, how exciting is it to sit and wait for data to be written to a tape or a disk?

In a growing number of instances, an alternative to this long-standing grunt work is emerging: Companies are beginning to hand the task over to third parties. That change means no more sitting and waiting for a tape or disk to copy, no more worrying about where you might have put said tape or disk, and having greater redundancy if your corporate data gets lost.

Yet, there are limitations with these services. In many cases, there is not sufficient bandwidth available to support the vast amount of data that large enterprises need to back up, so early adopters tend to be small and medium-sized businesses. Also, there are different approaches for delivering these services, and the market is splintering between data center backup -- its traditional base -- and end-user backup, an emerging market segment. In sum, while there is a lot of interest in this category of service, there are more questions than answers about whether it is a viable backup alternative for many companies.

In fact, few companies are now using online backup. Analysts peg the amount of money spent annually on these services at around a few hundred million dollars. Yet, it has attracted a wide variety of suppliers. AmeriVault Corp. , Asigra Inc. , Carbonite Inc. , DataVault, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Intronis LLC , Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM), Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX), and Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) are some of the suppliers offering backup services.

Making sure that companies make copies of corporate information has been a requirement since the days when IBM mainframes ruled the data center. Until recently, their only option was making a tape or disk duplicate and physically moving it somewhere else. "Vendors expended a lot of time and effort figuring out to do backup over the WAN [wide-area network]," noted David Friend, chairman and CEO at Carbonite.This option is now in place and offers some potential advantages compared to conventional backup. Staffing is one potential benefit. "IT departments typically look to online backup services because they cannot adequately support on-site data protection -- either due to a lack of on-site IT resources or capital equipment, such as secondary storage systems and/or backup software," noted Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) .

Also, there are limitations with backup tapes. In some cases, they were stored in the same location as the main tape, so the idea of data protection was an illusion. Having a copy on tape is only helpful if a company has computers to access it if a disaster happens, However, funding a complete backup data center is not feasible in most cases.

These issues have become more vexing because data storage has been growing rapidly. In some companies, data growth has been in the 50 percent to 100 percent range each year, so companies have outgrown their traditional backup systems.

While such factors have been pushing companies to examine online backup services more closely, these are still many questions. Bandwidth constraints represent one potential problem. "Because of the amount of time needed to send information over a WAN, online backup makes sense only for companies that work with only a few terabytes of information," said Adam W. Couture, a principal research analyst at a Gartner Inc.

The type of service needed is also changing. Vendors started off by focusing on backing up data center information. But increasingly, important corporate information is located on end-user devices, such as laptops and cellphones. As a result, suppliers have been trying to figure out ways to extend backup to these devices.Such options are beginning to emerge, yet it is unclear which vendors will be able to offer services that best address that challenge. The market's importance is clear, as shown by the number of well-established companies moving aggressively to offer online backup services. During the past few years, ECM, IBM, and Seagate all acquired startup online backup companies and have made these services keys components in their storage portfolios. Ideally, they will eventually address current limitations, so IT managers will no longer view backup as such drudgery.

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