Sifting Through Online Backup Service Options

For businesses, finding the right mix of features and storage management tools can be difficult

December 18, 2008

6 Min Read
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The boss says it is time to make some changes. He doesn't want you to spend so much time doing manual backups and tells you to research online backup services. You know there are lots of options. So what are the key questions and issues you need to understand before entrusting your company's data jewels to a third party?

There are scores of online backup services and more seem to be surfacing each day. Some are designed for specific types of customers, such as consumers who take a lot of photos and want to share them or small companies that conduct all of their business via email. Pricing for these services can vary dramatically. Also, there aren't many robust tools to manage these services and the backed up data, so they aren't ideal for large enterprises.

Despite many limitations, the future for these services seems bright. While the market right now is relatively small at only a few hundred million dollars annually in the U.S., it is experiencing double-digit growth and analysts predict such services will become more widely adopted -- especially in the small business and remote office market.

One of the first dividing points among the different services is their target customers. Many of the backup sites are designed for consumers. Rather than backing up information stored on servers in a data center, these services are designed to copy information stationed on desktop or laptop computers. Typically, the vendors offer rather simple backup options at relatively low prices, such as a couple of dollars a month for a few gigabytes of storage.

There are a couple of reasons for this focus. Since the dotcom boom, vendors' business models have shifted. Many service providers first focus on the consumer market -- there are potentially hundreds of millions of customers in that market -- and later go after the business sector.Also, the constraints found with online backup services play a role. Large and mid-sized companies have to back up multiple terabytes of information. While there has been progress improving Internet access and corporate network speeds, online services still have difficulty moving large amounts of information fast enough, so medium and large company backups usually can't be completed in a timely manner.

One plus of the consumer focus is that pricing is relatively low and the services are easy to use. For consumers or relatively small businesses with limited technical expertise, the services can represent a good buy. For the cost of a backup drive, customers can protect important data for about a year. Also, they do not have to worry about whether or not they know how to complete the backups properly themselves.

An online service was very handy for Prinova, which provides cleaning products to hotels and other organizations. The company decided in December 2007 to switch from a manual backup system to Intronis Technologies's eSure IT. "The backups were taking a long time, and we were concerned about the reliability of our backup data," said Prinova president Doug Merkel. During the July 4 weekend, thieves broke into the company's office and stole its computers as well as its office items. Because the information was backed up and stored online, the company was able to reopen for business in a couple of days.

Recently, larger enterprises have become more interested in online desktop backup services. "Many organizations are figuring out that an online backup service may make sense for a subset of their data protection strategy -- possibly remote and branch offices and remote and mobile workers," said Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) .

As employees have become more mobile, important data has moved from servers to desktops, laptops, and handheld devices. Trying to track such information has become a chore for many organizations, and the new services can help companies address that issue.However, many end-user backup services are new and often lack desired features. In certain cases, they do not offer corporations many options for scheduling backups -- they may either be done at night or continuously during the days. "Corporations want online backup systems that are intelligent and automatically schedule backups when they are needed," noted Adam W. Couture, principal research analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. In other cases, the backup data is housed only for a short period of time, say a few months. With recent regulatory changes, that may not be long enough.

Another challenge is many desktop services' reporting functions do not scale well. Comprehensive, consolidated reports, such as how much information all employees have stored and how often it is being changed, tend to be hard to find.

While many of the online backup services been designed for consumers, there are a few with a business emphasis. In these cases, they tend to offer high-bandwidth connections to collect information off of servers and feature more comprehensive reporting features. However, they tend to be more expensive and more difficult to deploy.

Another limitation is a lack of integration among online backup services. Largely, the desktop services and the server backup options run autonomously, with little or no integration. As the market has been maturing, corporations have been searching for vendors able to offer integrated backup options for both the desktop and the server. That may come to pass as more established vendors enter the market.

The market for online backup is still immature, but seems to be developing quickly. For consumers, there are a host of options and more are on the way. For businesses, options are still limited but developing. As this market evolves, these services should become more comprehensive and alluring to more companies.Here is a sampling of some of the online backup services on the market today:

  • Carbonite Inc. offers a consumer service called Online PCBackup for $49.95 a year for unlimited storage.

  • Data Deposit Box offers a consumer continuous data protection backup service called Continuous Backup for $2 a month per gigabyte.

  • Data Vault Corp. offers a business service called Backup Vault for $2.50 to $4.50 a month per gigabyte, depending on options.

  • Elephant Drive offers online backup and file storage services for consumers that costs $4.95 or $9.95 a month for unlimited storage, depending on options, and a business service that starts at $34.95 a month.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) has created a business unit called Decho Corp. to offer business and consumer backup services under the Mozy brand name. MozyHome offers a free consumer service with 2 gigabytes and a service with unlimited storage for $4.95 a month. MozyPro, the business service, costs $3.95 a month plus 50 cents per gigabyte a month for a desktop license, and $6.95 a month and 50 cents per gigabyte a month for a server license.

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) offers a business service called Remote Data Protection Express that runs between $2.89 and $3.89 a month per gigabyte.

  • Intronis Technologies offers a business and consumer service called eSure IT that costs $2.99 a month for 2 gigabytes.

  • Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM) offers business and consumer services. A business service called LiveVault Server Data Backup & Recovery costs $7.00 to $11.00 a month per gigabyte, depending on options. A service for businesses and consumers called Connected Backup for PCs costs between $7.25 and $10.25 per seat per month.

  • PHNS, through its AmeriVault unit offers a business service called AmeriVault that offers a range of services for $1 to $10 per gigabyte a month.

  • Pro Softnet Corp. offers a business service called iBackup that charges $9.95 a month for 10 gigabytes.

  • Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX) offers a backup and recovery business service called i365 eVault that runs around $20 a month for a small business.

  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) offers consumer and business services called the Symantec Protection Network that costs around $9.99 a month for 10 gigabytes.

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