Online backup is a matter of trust

Online backup services are emerging to address consumer and niche business backup needs. However, concerns about data security remain a barrier to adoption for many.

Online backup services have kept storage vendors busy over recent months. Some of the largest storage vendors along with startups and established companies from other industries put together services through acquisition, partnership or internal development.

All that work means nothing if they can't build up the trust of companies and consumers who would like to outsource backup, but need to be sure their data is safe and available whenever they need it.

I think the biggest barrier to adoption right now is lack of knowledge of these offerings, followed by concerns about security.
Stephanie Balaouras
principal analystForrester Research

"I'd have to say we're in an emerging market phase and we'll probably enter an expanding phase toward the end of the year," Forrester Research analyst Stephanie Balaouras said. "I think the biggest barrier to adoption right now is lack of knowledge of these offerings, followed by concerns about security. People need to be convinced that it's secure to back up over the Internet plus have their data stored in a multi-tenant infrastructure. And, they need assurances around customer service, 24 by 7 support and long-term financial viability [of the vendors.]"

The list of vendors offering online backup includes familiar names in backup such as EMC, Symantec, IBM and Iron Mountain; online stalwarts Amazon and Google; telcos AT&T, Verizon Business and Qwest Communications; and the ubiquitous Microsoft. There are also upstart vendors trying to make a name for themselves by offering online backup.

Some of the large vendors have taken a hit in the trust department. Amazon has been embarrassed by well publicized S3 outages. And, EMC upset Mozy customers by hiking prices after adding online services following its $76 million acquisition of Mozy's parent company.

Smaller vendors have been able to win trust, though. FreeDrive, a managed storage service offered to users of Facebook and other social networking sites, chose startup Nirvanix over Amazon to store its data online.

"The reality is, they do a much better job than we would ever do," Facebook CEO Michael Witz said of Nirvanix. "Our customers' data is safer on Nirvanix than anything we could build ourselves."

Some IT shops are using vendors they already trust to store data. Departments at Stanford University use Amazon S3, but the controller's office is looking to do it through archiving vendor Moonwalk, which built in an interface directly to S3.

"By using Moonwalk to go to S3, I'm building on top of a program I already have in place," said Horace Greeley, systems integrator at the controller's office systems group at Stanford. "Moonwalk uses proprietary algorithms for security and data compression. If I lose a front-end server, I can go back into metadata in a migrated file and recreate all my data wherever I want to create it.

Other smaller service providers are finding success by targeting specific types of customers. Evolution Technology Group (ETG) provides online backup and other managed network services for physicians in 12 states with Iron Mountain's LiveVault service. "We've been doing physicians' offices for almost six years," ETG CEO Mike Jones said. "It's appealing to them that we have expertise in their space and we don't do anything but this."

Another niche player is School Web Lockers, which provides file sharing and online storage to hundreds of schools. Donna Stephan, network administrator for the Clementon (N.J.) school district, said she was attracted to School Web Lockers because she saw what it did for other districts.

"We saw that other schools were using it, and looked at it," she said. "It cuts down on my upkeep, and saved me from having to buy another server. It's easier to outsource it. They [School Web Lockers] maintain it, and the data is backed up daily. Teachers and students can access files from home. I have our network locked down, and they wouldn't be able to get in without a VPN."

Balaouras said smaller organizations are more likely to use online services because it lets them avoid having to hire IT staff and buy more equipment. "SMBs have limited IT budgets for capital acquisition of software and hardware," she said. "I think subscription-based services are appealing, plus they have limited staff to manage premise-based deployments."

The value will likely increase for larger organizations as online backup gets more sophisticated. That will probably be driven by the larger backup vendors who already offer a variety of features in their software products.

"I think vendors will differentiate as they add more services, say maybe archiving, and then have consolidated support, reporting, billing, and so on," Balaouras said.

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