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Online data backup is a good solution for many companies, including SMBs, which are often challenged by many of the same data management issues larger companies face. Mandated reporting requirements and rapid growth, along with remote or mobile locations, mean SMBs struggle with geographically dispersed data and e-discovery requests that can tie up systems and staff. At the same time, many SMBs still depend on tape-based backup systems and often don't have a designated IT staff member who specializes in designing or developing backup and recovery systems.
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Sometimes Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is used interchangeably with on-demand storage, but not all online backup solutions fit the SaaS model. SaaS involves sharing a scalable application (and infrastructure) with multiple tenants while keeping data separate. Applications such as Hotmail and Salesforce.com are great examples of SaaS. There are plenty of ways SMBs can benefit from online and on-demand storage backup and recovery, including pricing, protection, archiving services and bandwidth.
Service-level agreement (SLA)-based pricing (combined with reporting to monitor trending) means fewer surprises for growing companies. Operating-level agreements (OLAs) used by on-demand providers describe the responsibilities of the vendor's internal support group. OLA definitions may be simple, but they are important. Service contracts help set policies for volume limitations (how much can be transferred within a set time frame) and retention periods. Recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives for various data classifications are typically spelled out.
In addition, on-demand services can provide the sort of 24/7 monitoring that many smaller shops can't afford. Additional benefits might include application-specific protection and expertise, or a built-in disaster recovery (DR) plan. Archiving services and electronic data discovery may also be offered. Finally, many providers have certification in storage processes and methodologies and may be better equipped than your own IT team to set up storage policies, compliance requirements and audits.
Of course, companies considering on-demand backup and recovery have to consider bandwidth, which dictates how much data can be transferred. Some SMBs may have to make an initial investment here to reap the benefits of an on-demand investment. And because most organizations cite backup or recovery performance as a major problem, there will be some apprehension about sending data over a WAN connection to a third-party site. A few vendors in this space now have "quick start" and "quick recovery" programs where full backup sets can be physically delivered on disk for initial setup and rapid full recovery.
Finally, online backup involves more than the hosted backup application. You need to consider the vendor behind the service offering. Ask yourself, "how many data centers does the vendor have?", "what experience does the vendor have with delivering a managed service?" and, most importantly, "how well have they performed for companies with needs similar to mine?"
Online data backup shopping list
There are other issues that should be taken into consideration when evaluating an online backup vendor or product. Here's a checklist SMBs should use when shopping:
- Transferring and storing data efficiently. In addition to incremental backup, look for some form of capacity reduction, especially if pricing is based on capacity of data stored.
- Speed. Look for a vendor that offers an alternative to WAN-based transfer to accelerate the initial full backup or full recovery.
- Matching scalability. A partner with a provider or vendor that can match your firm's growth in terms of capacity, nodes, sites, etc, is crucial.
- Disaster planning. Look into the vendor's DR strategy, how many data centers exist and how geographically dispersed they are.
- Meeting industry regulations and compliance requirements. Make sure the vendor is equipped to meet Statement on Auditing Standards No. 70 (SAS 70) and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) audits. The vendor also needs be able to comply with an electronic data discovery request.
- Clarity in service commitments. It's critical to have a handle on SLAs and OLAs. You'll want to make sure service objectives are discussed and benchmarks set.
This article originally appeared in Storage magazine.
About this author: Lauren Whitehouse is an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group and covers data protection technologies. Lauren is a 20-plus-year veteran in the software industry, formerly serving in marketing and software development roles.