Vaalco Energy

A Texas oil firm, a service provider, and a backup vendor form ecosystem

February 3, 2007

4 Min Read
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The word is that online backup services are on the rise. But in reality, online backup requires a confluence of forces to work properly: Vendors of service-enabling products must include the right features; service providers need the right technologies and facilities to open business; and end users need to be sure the model will work for them.

When an online backup ecosystem works properly, though, it can be a boon to all involved, as the following story illustrates.

Flash back to November 2005. When the IT team at Vaalco Energy Inc. learned they needed a new backup system for SQL Server accounting data, there wasn't much time to act. Auditors at the oil and gas firm's Houston headquarters said a new system had to be in place within a couple of weeks -- or the firm would risk Sarbanes-Oxley penalties.

"They required better controls for backup. Until then, I was making copies every few days and taking the tapes home with me," says Robert Walston, IT and purchasing supervisor at Vaalco. With his colleague IT specialist Derek Stubbs, he set about finding a solution.

Hiring an outside firm to pick up the tapes was an option, but it didn't seem to make sense financially or logistically. Vaalco is small, even if it does over $500 million in annual revenue. Walston and Stubbs are on their own among less than 30 employees in the Houston office. Someone would have to be on site to meet the third-party tape guardian's intermediary. That amounted to less efficient backup, even if it was in the interest of compliance.Stubbs researched three online backup companies, but found just one with local presence that wouldn't force Vaalco to halt its applications to launch the backup. Since Vaalco's apps are based in Houston but shared by a second major office in Gabon, West Africa, daily interruption of service would be impractical for remote users. (Nighttime in Houston -- the prime backup time -- is early daytime in West Africa.)

"We would have had to stop the SQL Server process, do the backup, and then restart," Walston says.

Stubbs discovered and recommended NetMass, an online backup and recovery provider based in Houston with customers worldwide. Now, for roughly $400 a month, NetMass backs up Vaalco's accounting apps, and the IT guys are considering expanding use of the service to cover other applications as well.

NetMass had recently completed its own search for software. Stephen Perkins, CTO of NetMass, had picked Asigra TeleVaulting in order to offer backup services to small- and medium-sized enterprises. NetMass already had backup services for individual desktop units, but Perkins saw the real growth in larger-scale offerings.

The uptake in business was immediate. "Since the third quarter of 2006, we've probably seen a 100 percent increase in the number of initial inquiries for our services," he says.Perkins won't reveal what he paid for any of his setup, which includes SANs from EqualLogic and HP as well as software from Asigra. But Asigra charges $11,250 to start a service provider on TeleVaulting. And Perkins charges his customers anywhere from $5 per Gbyte to $15 per Gbyte per month for his services.

Perkins says people are interested in online backup because it's finally become practical. Companies now have the broadband connections to make backup over long distances (typically 35 miles for a recovery site) a sensible move. And, like Vaalco, they have more data -- and more regulatory reasons to back it up efficiently.

NetMass deploys Asigra's software in its Houston-based facilities, which are housed in a major colocation service center alongside setups from at least seven ISPs. (Perkins prefers to keep the colo provider anonymous for extra security.) He was sold on Asigra, he said, because the product works without requiring agent software on customer sites. He can sell a service based on TeleVaulting to firms with a mix of Unix, Linux, and Windows in multiple locations. And as was shown in Vaalco's case, Asigra integrates its software into applications so they don't need to be halted in order to be backed up.

Several factors seem to have coalesced to make online backup work for the trio of Vaalco, NetMass, and Asigra. For one thing, Vaalco is the ideal customer for backup services, since it's small but has a requirement for organized and compliant backup. It's also not strapped for cash and won't miss the extra cost a service represents every month. For its part, NetMass is strategically located and has done its homework to be competitive above and beyond the capabilities of the software.

Asigra faces a growing range of competition, from software vendors like IBM and Symantec to service providers like Iron Mountain. Seagate's recent purchase of Evault also shows how much these services have captured industry attention. (See Sorting Out Laptop Backup, Seagate Buys EVault, and SOS Launces Backup.)Momentum is likely to continue as users, vendors, and service providers form effective ecosystems.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Asigra Inc.

  • EqualLogic Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM)

  • Symantec Corp.

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