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Hot Spots: On-demand technology sized right for SMBs

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Sometimes software-as-a-service (SaaS) is used interchangeably with on-demand, but not all online backup solutions fit the SaaS model. SaaS involves sharing a scalable application (and infrastructure) with multiple tenants while keeping data separate--applications such as Hotmail and Salesforce.com are great examples. Call it what you want, but there are plenty of ways SMBs can benefit from on-demand storage backup and recovery, beginning with pricing.

Service-level agreement (SLA)-based pricing (combined with reporting to monitor trending) means fewer surprises for growing companies. Operating-level agreements (OLAs) used by on-demand providers describe the responsibilities of the vendor's internal support group. OLA definitions may be simple, but they can be important. Service contracts help set policies for volume limitations (how much can be transferred within a set time frame), and retention periods, recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives for various data classifications are typically spelled out.

In addition, on-demand services can provide the sort of 24/7 monitoring that many smaller shops can't afford. Additional benefits might include application-specific protection and expertise or a built-in disaster recovery plan. Archiving services and electronic data discovery may also be offered. Finally, many providers have certification in storage processes and methodologies and may be better equipped than

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your own IT team to set up storage policies with regard to compliance requirements and audits.

Of course, companies considering on-demand backup and recovery have to consider bandwidth; it will dictate how much data can be transferred and some SMBs may have to make an initial investment here to reap the benefits of an on-demand investment. And because most organizations cite backup or recovery performance as a major problem, there will be some apprehension about sending data over a WAN connection to a third-party site. A few vendors in this space now have "quick start" and "quick recovery" programs where full backup sets can be physically delivered on disk for initial setup and rapid full recovery.

Finally, online backup involves more than the hosted backup application. You need to consider the vendor behind the service offering. Ask yourself "How many data centers does the vendor have?," "What experience does the vendor have delivering a managed service?" and, most importantly, "How well have they performed for companies with needs similar to mine?"

This was first published in October 2007

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