Shifting The Backup And Recovery Focus To Recovery

Asigra's new pricing model focuses on how much data needs to be recovered rather than how much storage is used. Could this be a game changer for the backup/recovery market?

David Hill

July 23, 2013

7 Min Read
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Backup and recovery processes are--or should be--a staple in the data protection portfolio of every organization. Even though backup/recovery has been around for decades, changes in the IT environment--such as the explosion of data, which puts cost pressures on backups--are affecting backup and recovery choices. Moreover, the cloud (public, private or hybrid) beckons, technology choices are increasing, and everyone seems to offer backup in one way or another.

Although these are all important trends, backup/recovery software supplier Asigra argues that the emphasis needs to focus on recovery (reliability, completeness, accuracy, speed) rather than backup. While backup is a necessary step, says Asigra, it is not where the data protection value lies. A key element of the company’s strategy is a new pricing model, the Asigra Recovery License Model. All innovations do not have to be technical and, even if you are not an Asigra customer or partner, you need to know why this model could eventually affect the entire backup/recovery market.

Asigra In A Nutshell

Asigra is a 27-year-old privately held, Canadian-based software vendor with an exclusive focus on backup/recovery. Asigra claims to protect 1 million sites globally, and it has strategic alliances with Cisco, Huawei, IBM, NetApp and Parallels.

Among the niches that Asigra serves are remote and branch offices, desktops, virtual environments and mobile devices. For example, branch offices typically do not have sophisticated IT support, so even managing a single tape drive may be a challenge. Using Asigra’s agentless technology to back up over a network to a central, professionally managed location makes life easier for the branch office and ensures that backup processes are performed reliably and effectively.

The company’s technologies also can apply to the cloud. One managed service provider told me that he adopted Asigra a couple of years ago for his public cloud as the only technology he could find to provide multitenancy and other capabilities that he needed. Another example of where Asigra plays in the cloud is that it is the first--and so far only--backup solution included in IBM’s SmartCloud offering.

Asigra sells 100% through indirect sales channels. Its partners have a wide range of business models, from those who sell the Asigra backup/recovery software directly to businesses to others that bundle Asigra as a backup service on a public cloud where the software is only a small component of the overall product. This point is critical to understanding the impact of Asigra’s new, patent-pending licensing model.

Asigra’s New Pricing Model

The traditional pricing model for backup/recovery is by capacity--that is, by how much storage is used. Asigra invented this pricing model about 20 years ago, and, since then, it has been largely adopted by most players. The company developed this model because the previous standard method was to charge by the number of agents deployed, and Asigra uses an agentless architecture.

Asigra discovered that almost no customer recovers more than 25% of its data at any one time, with 5% being a more common quantity. Yet with the explosive growth in data, more and more information will be protected that will likely never need to be recovered. As a result, the real metric for service quality should be how well the recovery is performed (speed, accuracy, completeness, etc.). So the company defined the new Asigra Recovery License Model (RLM): Users pay a small fixed price to store the data but are charged variable additional costs based on how much data needs to be recovered.

Note that Asigra is not the first storage vendor to charge in this manner. For example, Amazon Glacier, which provides services for deep archiving of data, charges a low price for initially storing the data but what some consider a far higher cost for recovering the data.

[Too many IT pros take risks with backup, according to an InformationWeek survey. Read more in "IT Gambling With Backups."]

In developing the new pricing model, Asigra had to address two significant hurdles: 1) IT budgets tend to be fixed for a year, so pre-planning for expenses needs to be taken into account. Plus, asking for more money in the middle of the year is not a pleasant experience. 2.) The user may feel that his data is being held hostage in a sense, and he only gets it back if the price is met.

Asigra’s RLM addresses these points with a number of techniques, including a cap and floor, a one-time waiver, and upfront savings to mitigate disruptions to the customer’s planning processes. However, in the long run, inefficient customers will pay more. To help a customer plan, the company provides the Asigra Recovery Tracker, a software tool that measures recovery performance.

Now, the Recovery Tracker is a two-edged sword. Asigra’s customers have no choice but to install it to track recovery performance and report back to the company, but viewing it simply as an intrusive “tattletale” application seriously understates how much it helps users improve the operational efficiencies of their backup/recovery processes. Typically, “game changer” is an overused marketing term that causes the eyes to glaze over, but Recovery Tracker is truly a game changer that could lead to significantly improved IT operational efficiency.

Recovery Tracker provides data on the number of recoveries performed each year, the amount of data covered, sources of any data loss, and the reasons restores were necessary.

Meanwhile, analytical tools can provide information, such as total recovery by department, most recovered sources and top four reasons for data loss. The user now has information that can lead to actionable insights, such as what to do to reduce or eliminate the need for recoveries from a particular source. In turn, those actions should lead to changes in user behavior to improve efficiencies in the backup/restore environment.

NEXT: Asigra's Channel Partners Respond

Asigra’s partners are still in the process of digesting the RLM. By necessity, it is complicated and can’t be everything to everyone, but here is some of the feedback I got.

It's a way to make backup/recovery affordable. One Asigra partner, which sells directly to customers, told me about a design company that took six months to recreate designs by hand but still could not afford the necessary backup/recovery software. He hoped that the new pricing model might meet the customer’s needs.

It's unnecessary for my business. For some large MSPs that provide a public cloud, backup/recovery software is only a small part of the bundled cost. They said the RLM would introduce unnecessary complexity. Note that Asigra will allow MSPs to continue to use the capacity-based model if they prefer.

Kudos for behavior change. Two MSP partners sent me the following comments:

•“Analytics to reveal restore behavior are a huge benefit. About four years ago, I thought about how our backup/recovery service would benefit from aligning prices with the labor costs associated with higher restore efforts. I couldn’t do it then, but Asigra now gives me tools to implement such a vision.”

•“The real shift that needs to happen in backups is to understand what needs to be backed up and how it needs to be kept. I think forcing people to think about what leads them to restores and what they restore will make them target what needs to be backed up better and arrange how they need to keep it more efficiently.”

Mesabi Musings

While the RLM licensing model will cause much discussion and change in Asigra’s backup/recovery world, how will it change the rest of the market?

Change is uncertain, of course, but Asigra is trying to affect it. Asigra needs to get the message across that backup is a necessary but not sufficient condition for having a successful backup/recovery environment. You have to take action where it is meaningful--and that is on the recovery side if you wish to improve IT efficiencies.

Now, vendors change only when they see it is in their favor or if customers demand it. With continuing explosive data growth, IT organizations are under increased cost and management pressures. If IT perceives a tipping point and sees Asigra’s approach as one way to improve things, then other vendors will follow suit. Time will tell, but we believe that Asigra’s throwing down the gauntlet is a good thing for its customers and the overall market.

Asigra is not a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.

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