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When considering the efficiency of your current backup system, find out whether backups and restores are completed within specified recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) windows, and determine whether routine testing of backups is occurring. There are also the costs of moving and tiering data, and supporting a remote DR site. In addition, you should factor in the cost of the average number of staffing errors that occur each quarter. Finally, add in the cost of personnel, hardware and software. Most of this information should be readily available for your yearly budget process, and it will serve as a good benchmark to compare a SaaS vendor's prices with what it costs to provide similar service levels in-house.

Forrester Research's Balaouras says the first question she's asked by potential SaaS clients is whether it's possible to perform backups over the Internet. "The answer is yes; with some caveats, of course," she says.

"The real challenge is the restore," writes Balaouras in a 2008 report titled Market Overview: Backup Software-As-A-Service. "For large restores, the vendor will quickly ship a DVD, removable drive or network attached storage (NAS) appliance to the customer site to conduct the restore locally." (This is what Lewis is trying to avoid if he has a server go down in Bogota.)

All SaaS players emphasize their restore capabilities;

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each one will tell you that their centralized Web dashboards, remote troubleshooting features, online restores to any location, continuous data protection capabilities and ability to perform delta restores to recover block changes whenever possible makes them better than the other guys. For example, according to a recent Stamford, CT-based Gartner Inc. report, Mozy Inc. (an EMC company) sends the customer a DVD or an external drive via FedEx or zip files via the Internet; IBM's Arsenal Digital Solutions offers online restores to the same site or an alternate location, and has quick-ship restores for databases, file servers and PCs.

Storage as a service is still geared primarily to the needs of SMBs, and no one is trying to convince large enterprise customers to ship hundreds of terabytes over the Internet. "If you talk about having to back up a data center and mission-critical applications, you can't back that up over the Internet," says Balaouras. "People have trouble backing [that amount of data] up over their high-speed corporate LANs."

However, SaaS companies are increasingly backing up corporate PC data over the Internet. "There's a growing realization that there's a lot of critical information stored on laptops," says Balaouras. Many companies, large and small, are using the Internet to ship data to the SaaS and a local backup appliance supplied by their SaaS vendor that's wired directly to the SaaS center's vault. Balaouras tells clients that a local appliance is sometimes preferable for clients with RTOs of less than 24 hours.

This was first published in August 2008

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