Technical Considerations for adding a Cloud Backup Service to your MSP Portfolio

In order to keep up with a dramatically changing IT landscape, many value added resellers (VARs), large and small, are considering becoming managed service providers (MSP). A logical first step for these organizations is to provide backup as a service. The good news is backup and data protection in general is something that all data centers have as a part of their infrastructure, and the part they seem most willing to outsource. But the very reasons that IT is willing to get rid of backup, cost, complexity and high risk, are reasons that these new MSPs need to be very careful in how they select the cloud backup solution set they will offer.

Why is Backup As A Service So Popular?

What makes backup as a service so popular is backup’s unpopularity within internal IT circles. Data protection requires nearly full time focus, something that few internally focused data centers can or want to provide. An MSP armed with the right data protection solution, focus, and skill set can very quickly show value. Most importantly and unlike many outsourced IT services, the MSP backup service does not necessarily need to be less expensive, although they often can be, they just need to provide better data protection than what the company’s data center itself can provide.

The key for the service provider is to select a data protection solution that allows them to add value, scale their business and provide a compelling alternative to off-the-shelf solutions.

Consideration #1 – Does the Solution Allow The MSP to Add Value?

Above everything else, the MSP must be able to add value to the process so they can differentiate themselves from both internal and external competition. Some cloud backup solutions provide so much of the solution that the MSP essentially becomes an agent or broker, adding little value and little differentiation from another MSP offering the same service.

Most cloud backup solutions consist of three components and the MSP should be able to add value to each component. First, there is a consultation component, making sure the solution will protect the specific platforms and meet client recovery point and recovery time objectives. Consultation can also evolve into operations, where the MSP monitors backups, adds new servers to be protected and handles data recovery requests. Consultation should always be the sole domain of the MSP, but the backup software vendor should provide resources to allow the MSP to create top-notch data protection designs for a wide variety of use-case scenarios that the MSP will encounter in customer environments.

Second, there is typically an “on-site” component to cloud backup, creating a hybrid cloud backup solution. This on-site component consists of the backup software itself, which needs to be installed, updated and maintained. There is value in implementing the on-site software component of the solution. But here the MSP wants to be careful to strike a balance between adding value and the proverbial installation black hole. The solution should, with practice, become easier for the MSP to implement. It also should be agentless as to not require that software be installed on every server, but the solution should provide broad platform and application coverage.

Third, there is an opportunity to be the data center (i.e. “the cloud”) that the on-site component transmits to and becomes the final repository for the data under protection. An increasing number of cloud data protection solutions provide this secondary data center that the on-site component replicates to as part of their solution, eliminating the need for the MSP to provide it. While this lowers the upfront cost of entry for VAR transitioning to a services model, it also removes the single biggest opportunity to add value and to differentiate from the competition, by providing an outsourced data center to store that information. For most potential customers there is a high amount of perceived value in knowing that the Service Provider they are dealing with stores their data in a secure, encrypted format. Here is where an appliance could help the fledgling MSP to get started. An appliance could reduce risk from having to engineer the entire “back end”. The goal of the appliance should be to allow the MSP to be ready to scale to meet customer demand.

Consideration #2 – Does The Solution Provide The Ability To Scale The Business

The ability to add value to the solution has to be balanced against the Service Provider’s ability to scale their business. This is especially important in the early days of the service when, more than likely, staffing is at a minimum and the same group of people that find potential customers are the same ones that research, procure, design and build the infrastructure.

One of the fastest ways to accomplish this is for the backup software vendor to provide a turnkey appliance for the MSP to use as the backend compute and storage component of their service. But the appliance should not be a requirement. As the recurring revenue scales, the MSP should have the option to create their own appliances using server hardware from whom they see fit. The business decision of when and if they want to move from a turnkey appliance to a build it yourself backup server should be theirs.

Another key element in scaling monthly recurring revenue is to avoid getting bogged down with support calls that end up being bugs in the software that drives the solution. MSPs should look for well vetted backup software developers that have been around for years and their software has been deployed by other MSPs successfully across thousands of customers around the world.

Consideration #3 – Does The Solution Meet or Exceed Customer Expectations

Making sure the “business end” of the MSP backup solution is in order is obviously critical, but if the software solution is not compelling to potential customers, then the MSP will find it difficult to convert them into actual customers. This means that the solution needs to do the basic “nuts and bolts” of a backup solution, like covering all the platforms and providing online application backup. This is important because the MSP will likely be attempting to replace an entrenched legacy backup solution that does meet the basic block and tackling requirement. Careful consideration is required since many of the new breed of cloud backup vendors are not able to deliver complete data protection. For example, some may only protect virtual environments, but many data centers will have physical servers in addition to virtual servers.

The solution also needs to provide the new capabilities that customers are hearing about, as soon as they are ready. Features like VMware data protection and replication, providing protection for software as a service solutions such as Google Apps, Office 365, Salesforce.com, Instant VM Recovery to the appliance or in the Cloud, and full Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). These new capabilities not only attract the attention of new customers, but they also give MSPs a reason to re-visit current customers to see if they can benefit from them.

Conclusion

MSPs face a brave new IT world, one where the cloud threatens much of the old way of adding value. MSPs are wise to confront this new reality and embrace the cloud while at the same time removing one of the biggest thorns in their customer’s side; data protection. It is important though that Service Providers closely examine what solution they are going to provide their customers. This is a long term commitment on the part of everyone involved.

Sponsored By Asigra

About Asigra

Asigra Inc. produces a cloud backup and recovery software platform known as Asigra Cloud Backup. The company is privately held and is headquartered in Toronto, Canada. The software enables Managed Service Providers (MSP) to create and deliver a secure, comprehensive data protection service. Used by thousands of MSPs world-wide for years, the agentless software provides robust application and platform support for physical, virtual, mobile and cloud environments.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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