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Small Businesses Turn to Online Backup

Online backup seems to be all the rage as of late. Vendors are springing up either catering to a specific niche or claiming to do everything for next to nothing. While such services aren't likely to attract enterprise users, they are certainly luring many SMBs. All you have to do is sign up, decide which files to back up, set a schedule and your files are automatically backed up daily.

But the online backup market isn't just attracting small startups. The big boys, too, are rolling out inexpensive services aimed squarely at the SMB market.

"Enterprise DR market growth is stalling, so vendors are looking for ways to reach new market segments," said Laura DuBois, an analyst at International Data Corp (IDC). "Online backup services are particularly attractive to the SMB market, as this meets some of their unique needs."

So sudden is the upsurge in online backup that IDC does not yet monitor it as a separate category. The analyst firm has no idea how much the of the $2.68 billion data protection and recovery market is taken up by online backup. But DuBois said IDC is working right now on sizing it.

"It's still a relatively smallish market, but with lots of opportunity for growth in the SMB space," she said. "More vendors continue to enter this market."

What's Out There?

There are lots of online backup options out there. For those with only a few staffers and a small amount of data to back up, a simple service like backup.com is sufficient. I use this and it costs about $50 a year for my relatively modest needs. Any new files or changed files are backed up each day. Any time I've needed something, I've been able to recover it in seconds. Based in Washington D.C., backup.com offers a range of packages for SMBs. 10 GB, for example, costs a little over $600 per year.

Mozy.com from Berkeley Data Systems is another such service. According to Vance Checketts, the company's COO and vice president of products, it has signed up more than 6,000 businesses customers in eight months.

"Businesses are realizing the only way to ultimately protect corporate data from permanent loss is to store an additional copy off site," said Checketts. "They recognize that it's more cost effective for them to outsource their backup and archive services than it is to build the infrastructure and hire the team to manage backups in-house."

Mozy.com provides up to 2 GB free, and unlimited space for $4.95 per month. This allows business customers to restore files by downloading them from the Mozy Web site or by ordering a DVD with next-day air shipping.

ThetaBackup.com, on the other hand, is focused mainly on mid-size SMBs. Online backup costs a little under $50 per month. But the company prefers to offer more sophistication to those that require it.

"We provide general network planning, maintenance and trouble-shooting for these businesses beside the online backup service," said Attila Kozma, president of Earth to Stars of Glendale, Calif., the company offering ThetaBackup.com. "It helps us to create the most accurate and efficient backup regimen for their needs that won't leave any chance for failure."

Remote Backup Systems (RBS) of Memphis, Tenn., boasts more than 1.5 million clients in 68 countries. Its RBackup 2007 software has mirroring capabilities that can automatically back up RBS server data to a secondary location, message-level support for live Microsoft Exchange databases, multiple-instance support for live SQL databases and automatic remote updates to the RBackup client software. RBS CEO Rob Cosgrove is dismissive of lower-cost services.

"Services like Carbonite and Mozy are inadequate for SMBs because of several factors, including the slow speed of backups, the cumbersome restore method, the lack of built-in agents to properly back up Exchange, SQL Server and Lotus Notes," said Cosgrove. "Our RBackup software was designed from the ground up for SMBs. Other services that are adequate for SMBs include Asigra and LiveVault."

Such is the allure of SMB online backup that big names like Symantec are also getting in on the act. Chris Schin, Symantec's director of product management, believes that software as a service (SaaS) is the way forward for SMBs that don't have the resources to obtain and manage best-of-breed software applications. Symantec Protection Network aims to be an integrated suite of protection services for the small business user. Online backup is integrated with other services for DR, virus protection, and more. By packaging multiple applications in one, the company hopes to grow market share in the SMB space.

How Good Is Good Enough?

How good a DR option is an online backup service for SMBs? DuBois believes many of these services are good enough in terms of general protection. But she cautions that online backup service providers should be required to serve as a partner in event of true disaster. That means asking for more than just backing up a few files each day.

Kozma suggests several tips to help SMBs select an appropriate vendor:

  • The transferred data need to be encrypted and compressed before transmission;
  • The online backup and data recovery practices of the online backup company should be verified to determine if they store SMB data securely;
  • Recovery times must be rapid;
  • On-site professional help should be available whenever requested at an affordable rate;
  • Open files should be backed up;
  • Many versions of files should be saved online, as opposed to only the last saved version; and
  • The online backup client software should verify the sent data for its correctness.
"SMBs are aware of the necessity of backing up their company data, but it is rarely done properly," said Kozma. "The main thing that is usually missing is the understanding of what needs to be backed up and where it is safe to store those data."

Cosgrove agrees with the above points, and stresses reliability, security, file versioning, good scheduling, automation, compression and strong encryption as necessary components of a good online backup solution for any SMB, regardless of size.

"Depending on the type of business, there may also be a need for assistance with compliance regulations like HIPAA, for archiving, and for data discovery," he said.

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