Calling for backup: Inside the Australian business continuity renaissance

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This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of CRN magazine.

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Calling for backup: Inside the Australian business continuity renaissance

The world of business continuity, backup and disaster recovery is having a mini-renaissance of late, thanks to the explosion in malicious actors spreading malware, ransomware, and generally wreaking havoc around the internet.

Keeping your data safe is tricky to begin with, but keeping your business running if the worst happens and data is damaged or lost is something that keeps many businesses up at night.

And while backup and recovery is the insurance of the IT world, it’s often considered dull and boring, a cost that is borne out of necessity but without joy. There is also a seemingly never-ending stream of vendors claiming they can protect your data, but how different are they, really?

Is backup boring?

For a long time, backup and DR was one of those things that happened in the background, if it happened at all. As long as everything continued to work, it was an afterthought, often neglected until it was too late. Organisations frequently discovered their backups weren’t working when they needed them most: when they attempted to restore data. Many an IT pro has tales of woe regarding backup jobs that were failing but no one noticed, lost tapes, and DR systems that had fallen out of sync with production many moons ago, rendering them useless.

But a few years ago, things seemed to change. “Our experience would suggest that this area is no longer considered a dull part of the IT landscape,” says Phillip Dickman, national sales manager, infrastructure solutions at Data#3.

“Like most areas of IT, it is now embedded in the lifeblood of most businesses. Seamless recovery of data and instant failover is a core business expectation of the digitally transformed organisation.”

This move to an “always-on” business is a dramatic shift in expectations from years past where multi-day downtime in order to slowly recover data from tape was accepted if not relished. Now, with the rise of online transactions and customer expectations of 24x7 service, having a system offline for hours, let alone days, can represent an unacceptable business risk.

“The whole area of backup, DR and business continuity must be a business discussion, not a technical one,” says Paul Mangano, managing director at Mangano IT. “Most business owners are happy to discuss what their data means to the business and the effects on the business should that data or IT system not be available.”

Technology has also improved. While tape remains a major component of large archival systems, the dollar per gigabyte of disk has dropped dramatically, making it a viable option for first-tier recovery. Flash storage has also improved backup speeds, even if just as an ingestion tier, and the advent of cloud has added yet another option that simply didn’t exist for most businesses ten years ago.

Cloud first

Cloud support is fast becoming a hygiene factor rather than a simple nice-to-have feature. It is particularly useful as a DR target because its economic attributes align with the business needs. It needs to be available on demand, but until it’s required, the systems don’t need to be running at full production capacity.

Many an IT team has lamented being told the DR systems are a waste “just sitting there doing nothing”. Cloud means paying a small premium each month in the hope that you’ll never need to make a claim on the insurance, but feeling better knowing that it’s there if you need to.

So public cloud integration has become a common feature of backup and recovery products. “Having a ‘cloud first’ approach to everything we do, Mangano IT has several clients deployed in Microsoft Azure,” says Mangano. “In these scenarios, we prefer to deploy Microsoft Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery (ASR).”

This kind of backup-as-a-service (BaaS) or DR-as-a-service (DRaaS) is a popular option for many resellers because it tends to move the discussion away from the technology and towards the business outcomes customers are looking for.

“As-a-service initiatives have a tendency to blur functional silos, requiring a new look at operational practices,” says Udara Dharmadasa, chief executive at Veeam partner Thomas Peer. “Our clients don’t buy BaaS for the sake of BaaS, they buy BaaS for the sake of better business outcomes,” he says.

Of course, cloud isn’t the only option, and many customers have valid reasons to remain on-site. “For those clients that still prefer on-prem infrastructure with local backups, then the Datto Siris 3 platform is our product of choice,” says Mangano.

Differentiate or die

With the myriad of backup and DR options out there, how do customers choose which one suits their needs best of all? How can vendors, and resellers, stand out amongst this burgeoning crowd?

“We take a business-centric, consulting approach,” says Damien Harrison, national practice manager, optimised platforms at MOQdigital. “It’s not about saying X or Y is best.”

“IT is often not fully aware of the business impact of DR,” he says.

MOQdigital works with customers to understand what the organisation is doing with its data, which business services it supports, so that they can define a solution that takes into account the various business trade-offs involved before getting too deep into the technical implementation.

Thomas Peer prefers to avoid talk of doom and gloom and focus on the positive aspects of what modern approaches to backup and recovery can provide. “We avoid FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] tactics such as how much it could cost your business in downtime and security breaches, etc.,” says Dharmadasa. “Punters are savvy to this and often switch off anyway. Rather, we keep our message positive, focused on added value, quality of life and business benefits.”

The key to standing out is now less about the technology in use, and more about how the technology supports business outcomes. “All too often a solution is implemented without any real consideration for business requirements,” says Mangano. Understanding the customer’s business, rather than just selling some technology, is what is expected of modern resellers. It has become the common refrain from resellers whenever CRN speaks to them about how they work with customers.

Is there money in it?

While backup and DR aren’t particularly exciting, neither is insurance, and yet there are plenty of companies making good money selling insurance. The vendors appear to be making plenty of decent money, enough that new startups like Rubrik and Cohesity are able to attract multi-million-dollar funding rounds to try to take share away from the incumbents like Commvault and Dell EMC.

But what of the channel? Is there enough margin in these essential products to go around?

“I don’t really see it as a lucrative offering, but rather if it’s delivered well, it demonstrates your commitment to the client and develops trust,” says Mangano. “Everyone talks about the ‘trusted partner’. Doing important but boring stuff like backup and DR well is what leads you to this.

“Backup and DR is just one component of what we do in managing our clients holistically,” Mangano adds. “At Mangano IT, we focus on delivering great business outcomes for our clients rather than trying to sell them the latest solution.”

Improvement needed

While businesses have improved markedly over the past few years in response to a series of salient events, there is still much to be done.

“People are better prepared than they used to be,” says Harrison, “But they’re still getting better at service recovery, as distinct from data recovery.” When data lived on servers on-site, data recovery was synonymous with server recovery, so knowing how to get a service back online was simpler in many ways.

Now, with data potentially living inside cloud services that are rented and not bought — think Salesforce and Office 365 — organisations need to change the way they think about data protection and resilience to be successful.

There’s no going back to the old ways, so customers and resellers alike are going to have to adapt to this new world of always-on services, and taking a data-centric view of the world.

After all, it’s all about the information.

What makes each backup and DR vendor special?

Datto  Known for DRaaS and backup, Datto is based on ZFS under the covers, and is very popular with service providers.

Veeam  Known for being simple to use (and its ubiquitous bright-green advertising), Veeam started as a VM-only backup solution for SMBs but has expanded its capabilities and is moving up-market.

Zerto  The DR replication king, Zerto is expanding out of its niche of data replication and adding more data management features.

StorageCraft  SMB-focused StorageCraft takes a full image approach to backups, capturing the operating system, applications and configuration settings, as well as data to provide a full point-in-time copy of the original system.

Veritas  Veritas has a long heritage in backup and recovery, so it can deal with many systems the newer vendors don’t bother with, like Solaris, AIX and tape silos. It’s going through a rebuild after being spun out of Symantec, which acquired it back in 2004.

Commvault  A veteran of backup and recovery, Commvault handles enterprise scale and complexity. It has a single instance store at the heart of its offering that it can use to provide a host of other non-backup services.

Cohesity  Cohesity is an HCI-based platform that has shifted focus from backup and recovery to secondary data more generally, targeted at enterprise scope and scale.

Acronis  Acronis got its start based on disk imaging, and its True Image product continues that tradition. Acronis shines in the small to medium enterprise.

Dell EMC  Another vendor with a long heritage in backup and recovery, Dell EMC has a portfolio of products thanks
to its recent mega-merger. There’s the Data Domain de-duplicating storage appliance, Avamar and Networker software, and cloud service Mozy, just to name a few.

Rubrik  Offering enterprise backup on HCI hardware, Rubrik is a unicorn startup trying to make backup and recovery easy, provided you can afford it.

Druva  Druva comes from a very strong base in endpoint backup and discovery and compliance, but has recently made an aggressive push into cloud-based backup and DR for the enterprise.

Kroll On-Track  You’ll almost never see this vendor in large font on the pack, because it’s the magic “Backup Inside” software that many other vendors rely on to provide their application backup smarts. It’s everywhere.

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