Data Protection: Who's Got Your Back?

*Editor's Note: This is the seventh of 10 installments of our 5 Hot-Button Issues series, in which we spotlight five things solution providers should keep an eye on over the coming year in various IT and channel categories.

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Three words can sum up the storyline in storage nowadays: protection, protection and protection.

VARs and vendors are sharpening their focus on safeguarding data, whether it involves access to information, backup, recovery, compliance or other issues. And solutions in those areas are increasingly revolving around services, not just products.

What's more, data protection and other storage solutions are being earmarked for companies of all sizes, since no businesses are immune from the need to take careful care of their data. Here's a snapshot of top issues in the storage channel.

1. Storage and Security
The M&As tell the story. Storage and security are increasingly becoming joined at the hip, as shown by such deals as EMC's $2.1 billion buy of security heavyweight RSA Security, Network Appliance's $272 million purchase of tape encryption developer Decru, and Symantec's $13.5 billion buy of Veritas. Other storage vendors, too, are stumbling over each other in the race to acquire or partner with security-oriented companies.

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Securing storage has taken on a new urgency over the past 12 months or so as horror stories about unauthorized access to personal or corporate data and the loss of laptops or storage devices continue to make headlines.

Unlike traditional security technologies, which focus on keeping evil-doers from gaining access to a company's IT infrastructure, the goal of storage security is to keep important data inside the company, or at least ensure that data taken outside the company is encrypted or otherwise off-limits to unauthorized users.

One big impact from the coming together of storage and security has been to push VARs with a strong storage focus to think about how to secure the data now residing on the arrays they just sold their customers. And many of them are helped by the fact that their primary customer contact has moved from the storage administrator to the CIO or CEO, people who understand the value of data to their firms.

2. Continuous Data Protection
Many consider this holy grail of storage. With CDP, changes to data are automatically backed up -- either on-the-fly or at predefined intervals -- to let users instantly recover a deleted, corrupted or modified file at a specific point in time.

While heavyweights like Symantec and Microsoft have been publicly leading the charge to bring CDP (or in Microsoft's case, near-CDP) to the forefront, much of the development in this space has come from single-product startups, many of which have this year been swallowed up in a feeding frenzy of acquisitions. All this has brought CDP to the forefront among solution providers' customers. Research firm IDC last year said a survey of users found that 64 percent of them either currently use CDP, are planning to use it within 12 months, or are aware of it. Clients want CDP even if they don't know what it is, said Greg Knieriemen, vice president of marketing at Chi, a Cleveland-based solution provider.

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"Customers are not asking for 'CDP,' " Knieriemen said. "But they're asking for all or some of the characteristics of CDP: frequency of backup; how soon after the data is created is it available for restore?"

3. Disaster Recovery
A year of natural and man-made disasters gave disaster recovery and business continuity a spot on the list.

Disaster recovery refers to a company being able to recover its ability to operate and access data in case of a failure. Business continuity goes deeper to help companies put in place a comprehensive plan including how to contact personnel and how to set up offices remotely.

While past disasters have led to discussions of disaster recovery that lasted until the question of cost came up, VARs, especially those with storage expertise, say the cost to their clients -- and their clients' insurance firms -- are turning these discussions into deals.

Customers today are more likely to talk more about how fast they can recover from a disaster than how to back up their data, said Gerard Maynard, CEO of Toronto-based Alliance Technologies.

"This is now being driven by insurance companies," Maynard said. "Insurance companies are seeing they can make more money if the client has a disaster-recovery or business-continuity plan in place. They may drop their rates, or cover the costs if a client relocates its data."

4. Backup As A Managed Service
Turning the backup process into a managed service for small businesses is quickly picking up as several vendors, many of which started off as solution providers, start to offer backup services to the channel.

Although this can be seen as part of an overall move to offer a wider range of managed services to smaller businesses, the backup service business is, according to solution providers, the fastest-growing part of the MSP space because nearly everybody has data that needs to be backed up. Yet small businesses have traditionally not done it well.

5. Zeroing In On SMBs
The move to bring backup as a managed service to small and midsize businesses, in part, ties into the trend to bring enterprise-class technology down to the SMB space. That's mainly because the storage market for SMBs is growing faster than for enterprises. This year saw EMC use technology from a half-dozen acquisitions to offer its first SMB solution provider program and product family, followed by Network Appliance and its first-ever foray into the space.