During the November 13, 2012, Wikibon Peer Incite Research Meeting, Paul Martin, Information Technology Manager at Poulin Grain discussed his recent experiences investigating cloud gateways and cloud storage offerings. This Peer Incite was entitled Achieving Enterprise-Class Data Protection on a Small-Business Budget. While the call did not result in an ultimate solution for Mr. Martin, it did raise a number of important issues.
SMB/Small Midmarket challenges
For me, this Peer Incite was particularly compelling because our guest is the IT Manager in a small IT shop. In fact, he’s the lone IT pro supporting the entire business. As a former CIO for SMB/midmarket organizations, I certainly understand just how difficult it can be to manage IT in such environments. After all, SMB and midmarket companies face the challenges similar to their larger enterprise brethren but have to do so with fewer people and fewer resources.
The backup quandary
In our call this week, Martin discussed his need for an improved backup solution and his adventure in considering cloud-based alternatives or additions to his existing on-premises and DR-based backup solution.
The adventures described have been both informative and frustrating. Along the way, Mr. Martin stumbled across companies that weren’t interested in his business due to the small volume and others that were eminently helpful and, even though they recognized that they may not be the best solution, offered to at least educate him on some of the points of consideration.
Break the cycle
Martin isn’t looking for anything unreasonable. He simply wants a solution that is affordable, as cost is a primary driver, and that can handle the backup volume and that doesn’t require constant attention and upgrades. He wants a complete solution that can scale to meet new needs without having to continually re-address backup and recovery every 2 to 3 years. Personally, I think that the goal for IT should be to find ways to break out of the constant upgrade cycle for as many services as possible. Or, at the very least, find ways to reduce the sheer labor that is attached to constant upgrade cycles.
Use cloud for scale
Obviously, it seems like cloud-based backup makes sense in a case like this. Rather than constantly have to worry about on-premises storage for backup, the customer can simply scale the cloud service to meet growing needs. No rip and replace required; simply turn a dial and add space. Of course, this is a simplistic look at the problem, but the point is this: It is possible to deploy something once and find ways to scale it without having to replace it and the cloud is a great way to make that happen.
That said, the challenges in Mr. Martin’s endeavor have not been insignificant:
- Cloud providers carry with them relatively complex pricing models that can make it extremely difficult to predict the ultimate cost of the solution.
- Some providers had the expectation that Mr. Martin would have a fully formed solution ready to present to them, when, in fact, he was hoping to get more information.
- While enterprises are fairly well covered, the SMB and small midmarket CIO faces a dearth of clear, concise information related to how some emerging services can be of benefit. There is no clear roadmap for forging ahead. In most cases, some kind of device of virtual appliance needs to be implemented to act as the cache point for cloud-based backup services. These devices understand the APIs of the various cloud providers.
- While some services seem very good on the surface, upon deeper inspection they may not meet the needs of the organization. For example, Mr. Martin has been considering the user of Amazon’s Glacier service for data storage with regard to backup, that particular service may not meet his RTO due to the service’s speed. That said, the cost of the service is just right for his purposes.
Action Item: I will admit that this has been my favorite Peer Incite call to date. I can absolutely identify with Mr. Martin’s dilemma and see needs for action items on a number of different fronts:
- Cloud service providers: More assistance needs to be provided to help smaller organizations make the jump to cloud-based services. SMBs and small midmarket organizations barely have the resources to maintain their existing environments, let alone spend time exploring new options. Pre-packaged, affordable, sustainable products would be more than welcome in this space. Unfortunately, many SMBs and smaller midmarkets are extraordinarily price sensitive, and many providers don’t feel that they’re necessarily worth the hassle to support, so their needs go unmet. Small SMBs have a ton of options in the cloud backup space, and I suspect that it’s easier for enterprises to on-board robust solutions, but the larger SMB and smaller midmarket spaces are in need.
- Hardware vendors/data brokers: You guys are the middle men. You place devices in data centers and act as the broker between client and cloud provider. You, too, have a story to tell, and you need to tell it to SMB and small midmarket CIOs.
- CIOs: You need to start wrapping your heads around how to get out of the constant replacement cycle, particularly for services that you’re replacing for no other reason than you’ve outgrown your existing service. Find a way to scale what you have for longer periods of time, so that you’re not constantly having to find new solutions to solve the same technical problems you solved three years ago. Further, you need to bear in mind the same kinds of metrics that would be considered for on-premises backup solutions. RTO and RPO are critically important metrics, regardless of the location of the backup. As you engage with vendors, make sure you have clear answers to these questions so that you can be successful in your recovery efforts.