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What's Worth Outsourcing?

Is outsourcing the way to go?

If an outsourcing company can do your work as well as you, but for less money, then you should jump at the chance, right? Well, that depends on what aspect of storage you're outsourcing.

Marcelo Barrios, director of business development, global services, at StorageTek, sees three areas where storage staffs struggles to keep up: data protection, capacity planning and interoperability. StorageTek--like other high-end companies such as Electronic Data Systems (EDS), IBM Global Services and MSI--provides a variety of storage outsourcing services and Barrios has found that data protection is most frequently outsourced.

Why is that? "Backup and recovery duties are frequently outsourced because they can be a distraction when you are trying to focus on mission-critical applications that help run your business everyday," says Barrios.

Another reason for a company to outsource its storage is the recent rush of compliance regulations on data. "A company has to ask itself: Do we have the people and skills to get ourselves compliant," says Doug Chandler, program director of storage and data management services at IDC in Framingham, MA. "If not, then maybe we should be outsourcing."

Chandler points to companies such as LiveVault for outsourced backup and Iron Mountain for e-mail archiving. Zantaz also outsources e-mail archiving for regulated industries. But he adds that when it comes to your primary storage, third-party management is risky. Primary storage is data that should always "stay within a company's walls," he says.

Randy Kerns, storage analyst and partner at The Evaluator Group, believes that a company can lose control of its data to outsourcing, and also lose manpower to the staffing reductions that sometimes result from outsourcing. "A company can lose the people that manage and administer its most valuable asset--its data," says Kerns. "These people are difficult to find and take a long time to become proficient."

But StorageTek's Barrios maintains that outsourcing is more likely to "free up your staff to do more" and predicts that outsourcing in the storage industry will continue to grow as long as outsourcers "stay efficient" by providing the same service at a lower cost.

In some cases, an outsourcer will guarantee improved service of, say, a company's backup and recovery. This may cost more upfront, but Barrios says that ultimately "you will save on maintenance and other expenses like buying tapes."

Still, Kerns warns that outsourcing is not something to do halfway. "I don't think there's a segment of storage that can be carved off and outsourced effectively," he says. "It's either all or nothing."

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