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Today's SaaS offerings differ from their first-generation predecessors in that many companies are now focused strictly on online backup business, and aren't trying to expand too quickly into providing suites of offerings, says Mike Riegel, CEO at Arsenal Digital Solutions USA Inc., an IBM company, and VP of information protection services at IBM. Also, today's SaaS competitors have "expertise on how to run and service and architect a complex data center ... I think a lot of the xSPs underestimated what it takes," adds Riegel.

John Lewis is the director of IS at Geokinetics Inc., a Houston-based geophysical services company that has more than 3,000 employees around the globe. He was looking into products from CommVault for data management last year when someone suggested SaaS.

"For us, it was a compliance crunch," says Lewis. Fifteen months after a company merger, "I had to get all these diverse locations unified under a single strategy--with no capital investment--and I had to do it pretty rapidly," he says.

Lewis decided on Iron Mountain Inc.'s LiveVault, and now ships approximately 750GB of data, from applications such as SharePoint and accounting, daily to Iron Mountain. It's collected first on local appliances at headquarters and remote offices, and then delivered via the Internet to the Iron Mountain Underground storage site. "You have to think outside the box to understand

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the advantages of the platform," says Lewis.

Much of Lewis' environment is virtualized, which helps him with quick restores. "Right now, if I've got a Bogota, Columbia, site that goes down and I need to restore their backup, I can take that image from Iron Mountain, restore it on my hardware and make it available over the VPN to them," he says. Before Lewis started using Iron Mountain, if a server in Bogota crashed, staffers there would normally have to wait for a pre-loaded server to be shipped to them. "If you're doing international business and waiting on shipping, that's something tough to figure in an ROI," he says.

Beyond features: What to ask a SaaS vendor
  1. Don't forget what happened to all those storage service providers of yesteryear. Is the storage-as-a-service provider financially viable?

  2. What if you stop using them? What happens to your data? What happens if you break the contract in mid-stream?

  3. Which backup infrastructure do they rely on?

  4. Can they provide customer references with restore requirements and storage environments similar to your infrastructure?

This was first published in August 2008

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