Small Businesses’ Cloud Cover

Low-cost storage clouds put companies on the road to disaster recovery

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While the typical small business has at least implemented basic technology such as tape or optical storage to back up its data, solution providers looking to help these companies find better ways to protect their data in case of a disaster can now explore low-cost storage clouds.

Companies such as Amazon and Rackspace are providing online mass storage clouds that customers can access for just a few cents per Gbyte per month, making it possible for even the smallest businesses and solution providers to make cloud-based storage the first step toward implementing disaster recovery.

What’s needed before that can happen, however, are management tools that turn that raw storage capacity into something small businesses can access without a lot of technical skill. Several vendors, including startups and established storage suppliers, are now offering these capabilities to their channel partners, charging small businesses for their technology while leaving those customers to pay cloud storage providers directly for the raw storage capacity.

The result is a very basic form of disaster recovery, one that makes it possible for a small business to recover up-to-date data while also being able to access all or part of its server infrastructure from anywhere over the Internet.

This basic disaster-recovery scenario is not true disaster recovery or business continuity in the sense of specifying how a company’s processes, technologies and personnel should act in case of a disaster.
However, it does offer the small business a way to recover from most disasters. Unlike events such as Hurricane Katrina, a typical disaster is more local, including a power loss, a cut cable or a broken water pipe that floods the server closet.

Several vendors offer the ability to access public storage clouds.
About 90 percent of the customers of Nasuni, a Natick, Mass.-based provider of technology to access such clouds, are looking for a disaster recovery solution, said CEO Andres Rodriguez.

Nasuni provides the Nasuni Filer, a virtual appliance that acts like a local NAS device. However, unlike a NAS appliance, any files stored on the Nasuni Filer are sent to a storage cloud, either to Rackspace, Amazon, Nirvanix or Iron Mountain, Rodriguez said.

The Nasuni Filer costs $300 per month, or $250 per month when paid a year in advance, but customers contract with the cloud providers directly for capacity, Rodriguez said. For customers without a cloud storage account, the Nasuni Filer automatically creates one for them, he said.

A lot of small businesses are already starting to use online backups, but restoring 200-plus GBs from online or tape can take days. However, because the data itself is stored online, in a disaster the Nasuni Filer just needs to recover the metadata, so a customer can be in operation almost immediately after a disaster just by signing in from any location, Rodriguez said.

“Customers don’t need a second data center,” he said. “They can run from anywhere.”

Nasuni plans to launch a partner program this fall to allow partners to resell and aggregate accounts, Rodriguez said.

Another vendor is Vision Solutions, an Irvine, Calif.-based supplier of disaster recovery and business continuity solutions that recently acquired Double-Take.

Vision Solutions offers the Double-Take Cloud, which lets customers store, back up and replicate data to a public cloud. Double-Take Cloud also provides cloud-based server failover and VPN capabilities, said Christian Tate, vice president of market development.

The Double-Take Cloud currently interfaces with Amazon’s public cloud, but the company plans to expand that capability to other partners including Rackspace and Microsoft Windows Azure, Tate said.

Double-Take Cloud’s replication engine replicates an entire server image into a storage container or target, Tate said. “So if a server fails, all of its data, settings and attributes go live,” he said. “It will then show up on the network as if it were a physical server.”

Pricing for the Double-Take Cloud ranges between $85 and $150 per month, depending on storage capacity. Customers can be as small as a one-person shop, such as a storefront with a point-of-sale system, Tate said.

Meanwhile, CloudReplica works with Double-Take Cloud and Amazon EC2 to provide a disaster recovery solution and business continuity as a service for smaller companies, said Bob Skiba, president of the Houston-based company.

“We don’t back up just the data, but the entire system state of servers,” Skiba said. “So if a customer walks in and sees a smoking crater where his server used to be, he can quickly get back up and running.”

CloudReplica also provides extra protection of data by allowing recovery from one cloud to another, Skiba said. “We’ve recovered from one Amazon cloud to Amazon, from Terremark to Terremark, and from Amazon to Terremark,” he said.

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