Finding The Right Storage-as-a-Service Partner

Solution providers looking either to take their first steps into the managed services market, or to fill out their managed services offerings, are finding the best way to do it is to adopt the other SaaS: Storage-as-a-Service.

Storage-a-a-Service has come a long way from the heyday of the first dot-com bubble and the original managed storage service providers, who invested millions of dollars in building storage infrastructures in the misplaced hope that enterprise customers were ready to trust the storage of their data to what was then an unproven storage model.

Here are a few of the vendors, in alphabetical order, that are either partnering with solution providers, competing with solution providers, or both, along with some of what can be expected from them in the next few months.

Asigra, Toronto, Ont., just released the latest version of Televaulting, its software for enabling solution providers to host and deliver online storage backups.

New to Televaulting 8.0 is the ability to protect virtual machines created with VMware's ESX and ESXi applications without the need for software agents, said Eran Farajun, COO.

Also new is the ability to let solution providers host the online storage using cloud storage infrastructures such as Amazon S3, Nirvanix, or CleverSafe rather than on their own infrastructures, Farajun said. "The cloud storage vendors are trying to make it easy to plug into them," he said. "This is not an option for young data because of the latency involved. But it's good for archiving of old data."

Televaulting 8.0 also now includes multi-directional replication which allows customers to continue to work without disruption if their primary storage vault goes down, Farajun said. The application's replication is also now application-aware so that it works as intended depending on the needs of the application, he said.

Asigra has also added grid technology to the front end to allow multiple backup applications to share the same backup server and increase backup server utilization.

Asigra does not provide online storage services, but instead relies completely on solution providers and managed service providers, Farajun said.

Carbonite, of Boston, works with about 700 small solution providers to bring a simple, low-cost online backup service to small businesses and schools, said CEO David Friend. The typical customer is one that wants to replace its tape-based backup technology for something less complicated, Friend said.

"Backups can be expensive, but here's a service for $5 per month for unlimited storage capacity," he said.

Partners range in size from small mom-and-pop resellers larger companies such as Circuit City through that company's FireDog service, Friend said. The majority of business is still done direct, but indirect sales are growing faster. Carbonite has a dedicated channel manager, he said.

The company in the last month or so introduced several new features to its service to make it more suitable for business customers, Friend said. They include advanced scheduling to set specific times when bandwidth usage is low to do the online backups, the ability for customers to manage their own encryption keys, the ability to go back to previous versions of data created up to 90 days in the past, the ability to include or exclude specific file types such as .MP3 files, and an API to let solution providers provision and charge for storage as part of a service for their customers.

Later this year, Carbonite plans to come out with a Pro version of its service. Both small businesses and home users currently use the same service, but there are many features home users do not require, Friend said. "We will split the consumer and professional versions apart, while offering more administrative features including centralized management of multiple customers, for business users," he said.

CommVault Systems, of Oceanport, N.J., has been offering software that enables MSPs to manage data off-site on a subscription basis for five years, said Dave West, vice president of marketing and business development.

CommVault does not build its own data centers, but instead provides the software to MSPs who can work with their choice of data centers to host customers' storage, West said. "We don't compete with our partners," he said. "If a VAR has the core competency to get into storage as a service, we're happy to work with them."

Service providers working with CommVault's software can charge for their services either based on number of clients served or on total capacity of managed service, West said.

CommVault's offering is based on its Simpana modular suite of storage management software, West said. "Service providers can start out with backup, then add modules to provide migration or archiving or replication capabilities without changing the infrastructure," he said.

Atlanta-based eFolder lets solution providers who serve small and midsize businesses provide online backup and recovery services with AES 256 encryption, data scrubbing, and small 2-Kbyte data block sizes to cut the space required to store data and the time to delete it, said Jan Spring, vice president of sales for the company.

eFolder's technology allows for two types of customer accounts, depending on the data types, Spring said. One is an archival account for data that never changes, and the other is a select account for data that regularly changes, she said.

The company recently added the capability to do both remote backups over the Internet and local backups to the customers' own hardware device in order to make backed up data available for quick restores from the local device, she said.

eFolder sells its online backup and recovery service exclusively through solution providers. It currently has about 400 solution providers who work with the company at one of two levels. Gold partners pay a set-up fee of $500 up front, and in return can receive an average profit of 50 percent of the list price for the service fees, Spring said. Platinum partners pay a set-up fee of $2,500, but can receive an average profit of about 70 percent, she said.

eFolder currently handles the hosting of the storage in a redundant co-located data center, with a second data center in the process of being opened.

EMC, of Hopkinton, Mass. is a new entrant to the field thanks to its acquisition of the consumer-oriented and small business-oriented Mozy online storage service. The company also recently unveiled an enterprise version of the service, and used Mozy to form the base of a new platform on which to start offering more managed services in the future.

EMC this month unveiled MozyHome for Mac for Macintosh home users. It offers 2 Gbytes of online backup free-of-charge, or $5 per month for unlimited backup capacity. The company also plans to introduce a business version of MozyPro for Mac, said Vance Checketts, Mozy general manager. To improve data restore times, EMC is also planning to introduce the ability to do restores to a hard drive which can then be sent to the customer, he said. The company is also planning to let customers "seed" their data protection by doing the initial backup onto a disk which can be sent to EMC.

While most of the 2,300 Mozy resellers leverage the Mozy brand name, they have the option of using their own brand, Checketts said.

EMC's pending acquisition of Iomega also offers the possibility combining the Mozy service with other products, including letting customers back data up to a local storage device and to Mozy at the same time, he said.

EMC's MozyPro can be used by consumers for a flat fee of $4.95 per month for unlimited capacity, or by businesses for a monthly fee of $3.95 plus an additional 50 cents per Gbyte of data that is stored.

Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, Calif., last month rolled out its new HP Upline subscription storage service. The service, based on HP's acquisition of Opelin, is aimed at consumers and small businesses looking to store, share, and remotely access digital content, and migrate files to new PCs. The service provides unlimited storage for an annual subscription of $59, $149, or $299, depending on customer requirements.

However, right after the roll-out, at least one customer reported issues with missing data that had been backed up to Upline, causing HP to temporarily shut down the service.

An HP spokesperson said the company is working direct with customers for now, but plans to implement a channel program in the near future.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., in February entered the online storage business when it closed its acquisition of online storage provider Arsenal Digital. The service, now a part of IBM Global Technology Services, is still available as a stand-alone service, but is more and more becoming part of larger IBM enterprise solutions, said Brian Reagan, IBM's chief marketing officer for information protection services.

Before the acquisition, Arsenal was moving from depending on telecom resellers to a more general solution provider, but that was put on hold until recently when IBM began rolling it out to its channel partners, Reagan said. The company this month will make online storage part of a new IBM Express Advantage offering, and will eventually look to build a two-tier distribution program for the service, he said.

Later this year or sometime next year, the organization will also look at how to reach out to small business customers, he said.

Iron Mountain Digital, the Southborough, Mass.-based provider of tape vaulting services, also has an online data protection service thanks to its acquisition in December of 2005 of LiveVault.

The company currently offers several types of online storage services, including the Connected backup and recovery service for PCs, LiveVault backup and recovery for remote and small offices, and Total E-mail Management Suite for archiving e-mails, said Karen McPhillips, global vice president.

Iron Mountain Digital's services are available direct and through the channel and OEMs. Channel partners can either resell Iron Mountain's services with the opportunity for recurring revenue, set up their own service using the vendor's technology, or resell software licenses, McPhillips said.

Late last year, Iron Mountain Digital unveiled a revamped partner program, and is currently pilot testing a lead generation and nurturing program with eight partners, McPhillips said.

The company this year also received certification of its technology from the MSP Alliance, letting it start building out this part of the channel, she said. It is also expanding its ability to secure data both in motion and at rest, and adding technology to make it easier for customers to access their information when and where they need it. "A lot of this depends on partners providing additional value-added services," she said.

NovaStor, of Simi Valley, Calif., plans to release a new version of its NovaNet-WEB in June that integrates with its NovaBackup software to provide both local and online backups, said Mike Andrews, managing director.

With the integration, both local backups and online backups will share the same GUI, Andrews said. "All the devices will show up on the screen, including the online storage, which shows as a device," he said.

The company's software lets solution providers host their own storage infrastructure, work with another hosted storage provider, or work with its own hosted storage partner, Digi-Data, Columbia, Md.

Service providers can set up the service as they wish, Andrews said. For instance, they have a choice of setting customer space limits or not, he said.

Robo DRS, Atlanta, recently unveiled the latest version of its Robobak remote data protection software that can either be sold as a licensed software application or used to build an on-line data protection service.

New with Robobak Version 8 is the ability for managed service providers to either brand the service as their own, or to help their own resellers brand the service with the reseller's name, said Ron Roberts, president and CEO. The MSPs can also do some customization to make the service their own, including changing the end user license agreement, he said.

Also new is the ability to assign backup policies to a group within a company such as accounting or sales so that all files associated with that group comply with the policies. This ensures that group backup policies remain in place if a PC is replaced or moved, Roberts said.

The new version also allows bare metal recovery of both the operating system and the data from local or remote backups. The new server does not need the same hardware configuration as the original server, Roberts said.

Robobak 8 now allows large restores to be done by having the data sent to the customer on a portable USB or FireWire drive instead of over the Internet, Roberts said. "Now you don't have to send 5 Tbytes of data over a thin line like DSL or T1," he said. "This lets us marry data and disaster recover and new hardware at a remote site for a grand emergency restore capability."

The new version also allows agentless continuous data protection, is compatible with Macintosh PCs, and introduces the ability to do backups to both online and local storage devices, Roberts said.

The EVault Data Protection business unit of Seagate Services, which was acquired by Seagate Technology, Scotts Valley, Calif., in late 2006, lets solution providers either offer storage as a service to customers, resell software to let customers offer internal storage service offerings, or both, said Randy Bartlewski, vice president of channel sales.

Partners who use the EVault technology to offer storage as a service can use their own data center or a third-party data center to host the storage, Bartlewski said. They can also use the software to work with enterprise customers who wish to set up their own internal storage as service, he said. Partners also have the option of selling the service for a commission, or they can handle their customer billing.

EVault currently has several hundred partners, Bartlewski said. Growth in the partner base came in part because of the acquisition by Seagate. "When Seagate purchased us, they had a big channel already," he said.

Symantec is in the process of rolling out its new Symantec Protection Network with a promotion that lets customers and solution providers who sign up by April 30 to try it free for 90 days, after which the company goes to a 30-day trial period, said Chris Schin, senior director of product management for the offering.

Symantec is charging $9.99 for the first 10 Gbytes of online backup storage, which includes an always-on guarantee and full reporting and alert functions, Schin said. Options include instant activation, auto billing, and other features that will also partners to build an online storage service, he said.

Symantec's Backup Exec data protection software handles backups to the Symantec Protection Network, treating the online storage as if it were a local storage device, Schin said. However, Backup Exec is not needed to use the service.

The service will be available both direct and indirect, although Schin said Symantec expects a large percentage of the business to come from solution providers.

Vembu Technologies, of Chennai, India, provides technology which small business solution providers can use to offer storage as a service. The company has seen its channel grow to about 500 solution providers in North America today compared to about 20 partners in 2006, said Lakshmanan "Lux" Narayan, president.

With Vembu, solution providers help customers set up their infrastructure to do backups online and use a USB data storage device to do the first, or seed, backup, Narayan said. After that data is transferred to the partner's backup server, incremental changes are backed up online, he said.

The company has recently added the ability to backup Exchange data bases at the mailbox level, Narayan said. It is also planning to roll out more advanced reporting capabilities in the near future to allow service providers to monitor and manage multiple customer backups over multiple backup sites.

Also coming soon is the ability to interface its software with Amazon S3 as a data target. By replicating data to Amazon S3, customers get a low-cost secondary layer of data protection from which to restore data to rebuild a crashed backup server.

Vembu is also preparing a community of its partners to help in future product developments, Narayan said. "We want to make a forum so that partners can participate in the development of our technology," he said.

While several online storage technology vendors are now adding the ability to backup data simultaneously to on online and a remote device, Zenith Infotech, of Mumbai, India and Warrendale, Penn., has been offering that capability with its own hardware appliance since its first deployment about a year ago.

That appliance not only speeds up the restoration of files by making them available from a local source instead of over the Internet, it also has the ability to automatically deploy a virtual server to take over operation of a crashed server in order to keep customer downtime to a minimum, said Akash Saraf, CEO.

The appliance's virtualization capabilities, which resulted from a partnership with Innotek which was recently acquired by Sun Microsystems, of Santa Clara, Calif., also allow customers to build a virtual server for test purposes, he said.

The company works exclusively with solution providers who can resell the appliance or lease it on a monthly basis for a fee on top of the 39 cents per Gbyte that customers typically pay for the on-line storage, Saraf said.

This summer, Zenith's software will support Windows Server 2008 environments, and by the Fall it will support back up of workstation data, he said.