Data backups had always been an Achilles heel for Prabhakar Sonparote.
As director of IT for Synovate, Inc., a market research firm based in Chicago, Sonparote had the difficult task of deputizing researchers in the company’s 29 offices across North America to perform tape backups.
“We couldn’t afford to keep an IT person in each office to do backups. I’d have to ask researchers to load and unload tapes. Sometimes things weren’t backed up. This was a big risk for us,” Sonparote says.
In addition, the company has high-level executives constantly traveling, which made frequent backups of their systems impossible. “If a laptop was lost or stolen, we’d have no way to restore their information,” he says.
Sonparote solved both dilemmas by signing up for outsourced storage management services last year. So far, he’s put 213 of the company’s 1,300 users on the service from Arsenal Digital Solutions Worldwide, Inc. in Cary, N.C.
“It’s the best thing I’ve done. I don’t have to worry about adding storage, adding disk space or if things were backed up,” he says.
By outsourcing, Sonparote can have desktops, laptops and servers automatically transfer data over the Internet to managed storage silos. In the event of a complete data loss, he can have data restored within hours.
Easing the Load Off IT
Jeannine Gaudreau, network engineer at IT consulting firm Darwin Partners, Inc. in Wakefield, Mass., is just as ecstatic about her storage services. Like Sonparote, Gaudreau was having problems creating a reliable tape backup strategy for the firm’s 500 employees worldwide. “I had to switch the tapes every day. We had to fine-tune our backup plans to account for weekends and we were always fighting for time windows to do the backups,” she says.
Gaudreau was also facing the reality that e-mail was becoming too important for an ad-hoc and limited tape system.
“E-mail is a critical part of our business – our communications with customers. We’ve lost some things that people needed because we have a finite amount of space. We only have room to store so many tapes and they are expensive,” she says.
To date, she has switched 130 of her users to AmeriVault Corp.’s back-up and disaster recovery services. She hopes to put the remainder of the users, who are located in China, on the service soon.
A key benefit of the service is the load it lifts off of the IT staff, she says. “Using a Web-based tool, users can retrieve lost data themselves. This takes IT out of the picture and helps us reduce help desk costs,” she says.
Gaudreau and Sonparote say the outsourced storage pricing is reasonable and is based on the storage space data requires. “It’s definitely a cost-effective solution,” Sonparote says.
John Burke, principal analyst at Nemertes Research, says small to midsize companies are well-suited to take advantage of outsourced storage.
“Most small to midsized businesses have around a 50% success rate at doing backups. These services help them significantly improve that number,” he says. He adds that larger enterprises with lots of remote offices and limited IT staff also could benefit from outsourcing.
But Burke warns that users should follow standard best practices when outsourcing. For instance, they should encrypt their data and make sure you hold the encryption keys. “Review the measures your service provider is taking to ensure your data is secure on their site,” he says.
Get An SLA
He also warns companies that fall under compliance mandates to “be clear of the legal repercussions of using an outside company to hold your information.”
You should have a service-level agreement that focuses on quality of service, latency and availability. Make sure the agreement has teeth and that you get money back if the SLA isn’t met.
Before you enter into the agreement, you should perform a due diligence test, interviewing current customers, checking the financial stability of the company and reviewing the training levels of the staff.
Tim Bowers, product manager for storage at EDS Corp. in Plano, Texas, says IT managers should take time before signing on with an outsourcer to understand their data requirements. He recommends prioritizing groups of data. “Maybe you just need to off-load e-mail archiving and database archiving – those might be more black and white than other areas,” he says.
Once you’ve prioritized your data, you should carry that over to how your outsourcer handles data. “Make sure that all data is not treated the same on the backup side,” he says. You have anything from tape backup to disk-to-disk to higher end replication services depending on how important the data is and how often you need to access it. He adds that tiering storage saves money.
Finally, Bowers says it’s critical to have open lines of communication with your outsourcer. He advises doing spot checks and drills to make sure that all systems are working properly.
Synovate’s Sonparote says one way to ensure excellent communications is to have a dedicated resource in the enterprise and to receive frequent reports on the status of backups. “We have a person in our headquarters that is devoted to dealing with our outsourcer. We also get alerts if backups haven’t occurred,” he says.
Another tip he recommends is staggering backup times throughout the day. “We were worried about the hit backups would have on our bandwidth so we don’t do backups in the morning because that’s when people are most productive,” he says.
The most important thing when dealing with outsourced storage, he says, is to educate users about the critical nature of backups. “Everybody now understands that if you don’t log on, your data is not going to get backed up,” he says.