Avoid MSP Backup Sprawl: Less is More in the Cloud

Outsourcing backup remains one of the most popular ways for businesses to embrace cloud related services. In fact, many managed services providers (MSPs) and value added resellers (VARs) have forged their initial entry into the cloud through cloud backup offerings. The challenge is some MSPs are supporting multiple point backup solutions, resulting in increased complexity and a higher total cost of ownership. In order to remain competitive, MSPs need an all-in-one backup solution.

Backup Sprawl

MSPs and VARs have a whole range of backup technologies to choose from when deciding to offer a cloud backup service. So it begs the question, how did some of these providers end up with “backup sprawl” – or multiple islands of backup technology? For many IT service providers, their initial entry into the budding cloud services market was opportunistic. They may have started out with a laptop backup service and then over time, through customer demand, expanded into Windows application data protection and/or VMware backup services. In short, many became victims of their own success.

Complex Clouds

While this may seem like a good problem to have, the cost and complexity of separately managing distinct islands of backup technology can ultimately prove the undoing of otherwise successful cloud backup entrepreneurs.

The first challenge is training backup operations staff to manage multiple backup products. Each backup interface typically has a different “look and feel” and each solution occupies a separate pane of glass. The chances of making a mistake are greatly elevated if a technician has to navigate between various interfaces to manage backup requests from several different clients at the same time. During the heat of a critical recovery event, this could result in missed service level agreements (SLA) and ultimately jeopardize the ability for providers to retain clients. These risks become all the more elevated when a regional disaster, like super storm Sandy, takes place and there is a sudden spike in demand for recovery services.

Likewise, if a provider is managing separate silos of data backup for the same client and a request comes in to perform a full physical or virtual machine (VM) recovery, the complexity of performing the restore operation could be quite challenging.

First, the sequence of actions required to perform the recovery would have to be carefully coordinated. Data for the VM image would have to be located from the appropriate hypervisor backup platform and then restored into an available physical server. Next, the application data would need to be restored; if the provider was using a Windows-based backup application, for example, it would require yet another interface and possibly another separate piece of physical infrastructure to perform this part of the recovery.

Lastly, the different backup naming conventions and nomenclatures across backup product lines would make the recovery process far less intuitive and greatly hinder the workflow for performing the recovery operation efficiently.

Even if MSPs develop strong internal best practices and become quite adept at managing multiple silos of backup infrastructure, they may find as their business grows, the level of complexity of managing a multi-tenant backup and recovery environment will rise proportionately to their growth in new business. In effect, limiting their ability to efficiently scale their business to meet new demand and making them less competitive.

Cloud Cost Overruns

In addition to the day-to-day complexity of managing separate backup products, operator training costs would be inordinately higher than if a single solution, which managed everything, was being utilized. To compound this problem, in many environments, some individual technical team members may develop proficiency in one set of backup tools but remain deficient in others.

This results in pockets of expertise; whereby some backup operators may be relied upon, for example, to manage VM backup and recoveries but are not called upon to perform Windows application-based backup and recovery. Sudden personnel changes could make finding a technical subject-matter expert a major undertaking; leaving the environment lacking in the necessary skill sets to ensure continuous normal operations until an adequate replacement could be found, hired and trained.

The other major consideration is the cost of managing multiple backup software licensing contracts and the associated hardware infrastructure to store the offsite backup data for each of those environments. For example, data reduction technologies like change block tracking (CBT) can only be leveraged efficiently if a single common pool of backup storage resources is being utilized across the data center.

Workflow Automation

Then there is the day-to-day management and monitoring of the environment to ensure everything is in a healthy state. Alternating views into different management consoles is laborious, time consuming and elevates the risk that an important alert will go unnoticed. While a single interface would be highly beneficial, it is equally important for the backup monitoring system to integrate with the MSP’s trouble ticketing system. When this works correctly, critical alerts would automatically generate trouble tickets to ensure a timely response to issues as they arise.

It is difficult, at best, to achieve true cloud data center multi-tenancy, and all the associated efficiencies and management benefits when backup infrastructure management is highly silo’d. Moreover, silos from an infrastructure standpoint, as well as a human resources perspective, can severely limit the ability of MSPs and VARs to effectively scale out their cloud backup business.

Cloud Backup for the MSP

MSPs and VARs aspiring to offer a cloud backup service or scale out their existing offering will be well served by considering a backup software technology that is purpose built to manage the universal data protection needs of businesses today. The ideal solution should provide end-to-end data protection of VMs and application data, as well as protect edge devices like laptops and desktops. The solution should also be capable of providing future support for Mac operating systems, Android and iOS devices.

In addition, the solution should be flexible enough to enable cloud backup providers to utilize a secure web portal to protect customer data in their cloud data center environments while providing the option to perform fast recoveries off of their clients’ local storage. This would give their clients the best of both worlds: Daily data protection into the cloud with the speed and network efficiency of a local restore.

The solution should also have the intelligence to only send over new blocks of data rather than sending the entire backup payload over the network with each nightly backup run. Equally importantly, high severity issues should automatically generate tickets into the providers’ workflow integration system to ensure an immediate response to problems as they occur.

Simplicity Means Profitability

Adopting a single backup solution for managing all data sources would make command and control significantly easier for backup operators. This would be especially true if proficiency in the backup software application could be attained in a matter of hours rather than in a matter of months. No longer would technical staff have to go off to backup school and be out of the “lineup” for weeks at a time.

Interestingly, this could potentially enable MSPs and VARs to assign junior level operators to manage backup and recovery tasks and free up their more experienced personnel to focus on other revenue generating activities. Another advantage is that there would no longer be silos of backup expertise; each backup operator would have a standard way of performing their job function. All of these benefits would reduce training costs, incorporate standards into the backup process, lower administrator overhead and most importantly, enhance client quality of service.

Administration Automation

Clearly an important function of a cloud backup software platform is the ability to provide chargeback and metering to simplify the customer billing process. If the solution is backing up the entire customer enterprise, from the data center to the edge, than the billing process is going to be simpler, with less red tape and overhead for both the provider and the client. Likewise, from a licensing administrative perspective, managing a single contract for supporting a multi-tenant client infrastructure would be much easier and could also result in cost savings since more software would be consumed with the same vendor.

Backup software solutions, like those from Intronis, are delivering all of these capabilities to make it more viable for MSPs and VARs to compete in an increasingly crowded cloud backup solution marketplace.

Conclusion

Many MSPs and VARs have remained in business over the years for one simple reason: Customer trust. They have spent years building strong relationships with their clients by being there when it mattered most. For some providers, cloud related services represent a dramatic departure from the traditional model of IT datacenter product sales and integration services. Consequently, getting it right up front with respect to a cloud backup offering is absolutely critical.

Since cloud based backup could very well be their entry into other lines of cloud business offerings, MSPs and VARs need a full service cloud backup solution that will enable them to maintain their track record as a reliable IT services delivery organization.

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Intronis is a client of Storage Switzerland

As a 22 year IT veteran, Colm has worked in a variety of capacities ranging from technical support of critical OLTP environments to consultative sales and marketing for system integrators and manufacturers. His focus in the enterprise storage, backup and disaster recovery solutions space extends from mainframe and distributed computing environments across a wide range of industries.

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