Backup and disaster recovery (BDR) is a foundational solution that every IT solutions provider should prosper from its selecting and selling.
A couple of years ago The 2112 Group and Business Solutions collaborated on a survey titled 2013 State of Cloud Backup. Hundreds of managed services providers (MSPs) were asked specifically about their sales practices with regard to backup and disaster recovery (BDR). One of the most surprising findings was that 44 percent of technology firms depend on breaches, downtime, and fears of disruption to sell cloud backup services. And, while selling BDR can be a challenge, determining which type of backup solution to sell can be equally daunting. To help start the new year out right, I spoke with four industry experts to get their take on where VARs and MSPs who are not currently selling BDR should start and what pitfalls they must avoid.
Three Popular Backup Methods Explained
There are multiple ways in which data can be backed up. Following are three popular methods, along with a description of their strengths and weaknesses:
1. Image (Physical) Backup. This method takes a snapshot of everything on a computer or server at a certain point in time. “It includes files, databases, applications, settings, and even the operating system,” says Jess Couto, VP of U.S. channel sales and marketing at Carbonite. “This approach enables ‘bare metal recovery,’ which means you can take a computer or server with no operating system or data on it (i.e., a piece of bare metal) and restore the image to exactly how your system was before a disaster.”
While local physical image backups are often appropriate for performing restorations from major server crashes, their size makes them inefficient for recovering from off-site locations, such as co-location facilities or the cloud. Also, image restores are overkill for scenarios where someone inadvertently deleted a file, for example. For these scenarios, VM (virtual machine) backups or file-based backups are preferred.
2. File-Level Backup. This type of backup gives users granular control during the backup and recovery process. “For example, the user could just target the ‘My Documents’ folder and the contents of that folder is all that would be included in the backup,” says Matt Urmston, chief evangelist/director of product management at StorageCraft. “This lessens the amount of storage required, and it enables recovery from just about anywhere.” The downside of relying on this method alone is that if a user experiences a complete system crash, the operating system and applications will have to be reinstalled, which can be a time-consuming process.
3. Virtual Machine (VM) Backup. VM backup combines many of the benefits of physical image backups and file-level backups by using specialized software, called a hypervisor, to emulate a server’s CPU, memory, hard disk, network, and other hardware resources completely. “A viable BDR software can virtualize a customer’s system in a matter of seconds,” says Eric Torres, manager of channel development at Datto. “Using the VMDK [virtual machine disk] file format, for example, eliminates any worries about formatting/converting. Additionally, users can mount a VM image, quickly drill down to the file level, and restore a specific file.”
Virtualization does require more bandwidth, storage, and processing capacity than a traditional server if the physical hardware is used to host multiple VMs. Additionally, because VMs can consume unequal resource quantities, VARs and MSPs must balance VMs with available resources.
Offer A True Business Continuity Solution
Due to the various types of system failures and restoration needs, it is important to offer a comprehensive solution that covers all recovery scenarios. This can be accomplished by bundling single-purpose backup products from multiple vendors or using a comprehensive solution from a single vendor. If you opt for the latter, be sure to do your homework first, advises Eric Harless, senior product manager at LogicNow. “Some of the big iron vendors that have acquired or spun off multiple data protection solutions over the last decade ended up with ‘Frankenstein’ backup solutions,” he says. “Archiving, disaster recovery, imaging, and continuous data protection are bolted-on features that try to be all things to everyone. They often have good enough but not outstanding feature sets.” He also warns that while these backup solutions are sold by well-known companies, these vendors often sell direct to end users, which creates channel conflict.
Matt Urmston, chief evangelist/director of product management, StorageCraft
Another consideration when selling BDR solutions entails selecting an on-site hardware appliance. “Look for solutions that let you build your own appliance/solution instead of paying the markup on dedicated hardware — your customers will thank you,” says Harless. Carbonite’s Couto concurs and adds, “When selecting an appliance, solutions providers should choose a solution that supports bare metal recovery, which enables complete system protection in a single backup. Additionally, look for appliances that include hardware, software, service, and support for one low subscription fee — especially when it comes to small business clients with limited budgets.”
BDR Pitfalls To Avoid
One of the most important BDR basics to keep top of mind is that just because a BDR solution doesn’t generate an error report doesn’t guarantee it is working as advertised. “Test, test, test,” says StorageCraft’s Urmston. “A lot of solutions providers fall into a false sense of security when it comes to BDR. As good as your BDR solution may be, there is always something that could go wrong. Testing your disaster recovery [DR] plan on a quarterly basis is something that should be built into your service-level agreement.” LogicNow’s Harless concurs and adds, “Also, remember to document your DR plans, plus any passwords, encryption keys, and other system information; you may need it during a data recovery.”
In addition to BDR performance concerns, there is another type of “gotcha” that Carbonite’s Couto warns solutions providers about: hidden fees. “Watch out for BDR offerings that charge once for the hardware, plus additional fees for a cloud starter, and then a third time for an annual subscription for their cloud backup,” she says. “Additionally, be cautious of backup appliances designed for enterprise environments, which are too complex and expensive for your SMB customers. A good BDR solution geared toward SMBs should not require perpetual licenses, plus it should include free installations and phone support in addition to being simple to use and manage.”
One of the biggest pitfalls VARs and MSPs fall into when selling BDR is treating it like a loss leader. Solutions providers that understand how to sell this type of solution can earn 50 percent margins on hardware and services, says Datto’s Torres. “The key differentiator is selling a backup solution versus explaining business continuity,” he says. “The latter entails describing to your client, ‘If your server goes down, I can have you up and running in this time and here’s how.’”
Harless offers an additional sales tip: “Don’t offer your customers something they can buy or quote on their own; they will just undercut you in the future,” he says. “Look for add-ons and premium services you can bundle with your BDR solution, such as DR testing.”
With the rise of malware and other cyberthreats, combined with companies’ growing dependence on data, BDR solutions are becoming more valuable than ever. As your customers’ trusted business advisor, selling backup — and more importantly, recovery — should be the number one offering on your line card. After all, if your client loses its data, it becomes a catastrophic loss for them and for you.