Alternative backup services explode

Companies not known for storage are flooding the market with online backup and recovery services.

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The pervasive nature of backup and recovery is causing companies not traditionally associated with storage to flood the market with online backup and archiving services. The latest entrant in the game, Con Edison Communications Inc., is now offering an automated PC and server backup and restore service to its customers in New York City.

Con Ed Communications' PowerProtect service is based on software from Arsenal Digital Solutions, Cary, N.C. As a result of a partnership, Con Ed is using Arsenal's ViaRemote software to offer users server and PC backup.

Con Ed is not out to back up mainframes. The company installs Arsenal's software on remote desktops and servers then backs up data to a centralized location on a daily basis. The software supports Red Hat Linux, Solaris and Windows-based systems.

Con Ed is backing its new service with a guarantee of 99.99% data availability for hundreds of application servers and terabytes of data, usage tracking and analysis through an online portal and tape-based data protection. Once an initial backup has been completed, the software facilitates daily backups and point-in-time copies automatically with minimal impact on system and network performance.

Russ Kohn, vice president of product development and marketing with Con Ed Communications, said adding backup services to its product menu was a no-brainer. "We have the pipes and the access to all of our customer locations. We sell T1 and T3 lines as well as Sonet and Ethernet circuits. This is a natural extension of services that we can layer over our network," Kohn said.

Kohn would not divulge Con Ed's pricing details, but said they are "testing the pricing out in the marketplace."

Con Ed has high hopes that the new service will deepen its existing customer relationships and bring new users into the fold. While it has no users to speak of to date, Con Ed expects somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 customers to sign on for the new service by years' end, each with about one terabyte of storage capacity. "It's catching on quickly," said Kohn.

Con Ed joins a growing list of telecommunications companies and banks that are getting into the storage service business. In recent weeks, AT&T and BT Syntegra announced e-mail archiving services that offer businesses and US government agencies a way to offload their e-mail archiving. Last month Cleveland-based KeyBank began offering online backup and disaster recovery services to its small and medium-sized business customers through a partnership with AmeriVault Inc.

So why are non-storage companies starting to offer more storage services? It offers much-needed incremental revenue for established telcos.

"These IT providers like Con Ed and AT&T have the infrastructure in place. They already have the people aboard and the capital expense to provide these services is practically nothing," said Gartner Inc. analyst Adam Couture. He said if Arsenal or its competitors like EVault, AmeriVault or LiveVault were to try and recruit users on their own they'd have some trouble. "These are pretty small users that are backing up a couple of hundred gigabytes each. That does not generate a lot of revenue, so if you were to go to a direct sales approach it would be cost-prohibitive."

For users already in managed hosting environments or with remote servers at branch offices, Couture said installing this sort of a service and handing it over to a service provider takes the onus off the end user. "They're responsible for assuring your backups [are successful]. They're responsible for meeting services levels by contract," he said.

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