Data growth has also forced larger companies to consider outsourcing as storage administrators struggle to keep track of
"Before, when our employees traveled, it could be as many as 10 days before their laptops were backed up, because they had to be connected to our network for the data to be collected," said Prabhakar Sonparote, IT director for Synovate Americas, a global market research company that has multiple petabytes of data on IBM storage at its headquarters in Chicago. From there, Sonparote said, the previous backup system had required an IT person to mail backup tapes for storage offsite with Iron Mountain Inc.
"It got very cumbersome," Sonparote said. "People didn't remember to log in, people didn't remember to mail the tapes -- there was a lot of risk there."
Despite being many orders of magnitude larger, Synovate is now using the same ViaRemote product as Strahan Associates, purchased through Sun Microsystems Inc. Managed Enterprise Services, albeit on a much bigger scale chiefly because it backs up data automatically from any of the company's laptops that connect to the Internet, regardless of whether or not they are dialed in to the Synovate virtual private network (VPN).
The biggest plus for outsourcing backups overall, Sonparote said, is the ability to keep track of data on company laptops. "We had a lost laptop at O'Hare [International] Airport recently, which was supposed to be with a rep doing a client presentation in London," Sonparote remembered. "Under our old tape system, that would have been a disaster, but we had the presentation restored from the main ViaRemote repository in Chicago before they landed in London."
Individual success, but a fuzzy market
"Backup outsourcing is definitely on the rise," according to W. Curtis Preston, analyst with GlassHouse Technologies Inc. (GlassHouse also has its own outsourcing business, a separate department from Preston's, within the company)."Of all the applications in the data center, it's the one that it makes the most sense to outsource," Preston said. "I can't think of any other application when, as soon as you get really good at it, you leave it."
In general, backup is a junior position in most IT departments, and an unpleasant job, according to Preston, who was himself a backup administrator in a former career.
"There's no career path there for most people in most organizations," Preston said. "Virtually, the only place you find people who do have a career path and long-term expertise in backups are outsourcing firms."
But while some in the industry are gung ho about it, analysts say it's difficult to tell just how big the market might be for backup outsourcing in general.
According to Robert Stevenson of TheInfoPro, the market for outsourcing may have a ceiling, as the Fortune 1000 hasn't caught on to outsourcing outside of email archiving. "There's some evidence they're looking into consultative services for capacity planning and data classification," Stevenson said of the largest enterprises. "Where we're seeing outsourcing is more of a small-to-medium business phenomenon on the whole, generally in the $10 million to $200 million revenue range."
According to a report by the Enterprise Strategy Group, while only 23% of those surveyed said they would consider an outsourced archiving service, 65% also said they would consider such a service because it would provide off-site data protection, a figure which could bode well for backup services. The majority of those who said they would not consider outsourcing said it was because of data security concerns.
Meanwhile, however, outsourcing firms themselves remain sanguine about the possibilities for the market.
"Backup is a necessary evil for most companies," said Tom Ludden, vice president of customer support services for GlassHouse. "But it's becoming increasingly difficult to bring in the right resources in terms of personnel and really stay current on change management and best practices for backup."
In response, traditional backup service providers are getting in on outsourcing, too. Third-party reporting software maker Aptare Inc. has fashioned an Outsourced Edition of its product, which is used by GlassHouse, as well as Hitachi Data Systems Inc. Backup maker Asigra Inc. and partner Exanet Inc. also recently announced that Digital Storage Corp., an outsourcer with 195 clients, is using its combined product to provide backup outsourcing services.