The SMB backup dilemma

Choice is king, but with SMB data protection solutions proliferating, confusion might just reign supreme

Every time I hear a pitch for an SMB backup solution it comes complete with a chilling statistic that suggests smaller companies are tone-deaf to data protection.

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Yes, vendors can be a bit prone to exaggeration, especially when it comes to beefing up the business case for their products. But what's likely more chilling about their doomsday data protection statistics, overstated or not, is the confusion they reap on SMBs, which often must approach IT chores as mere add-ons to their ever-expanding lists of pressing business-related duties.

Why confusion? Because vendors often propose solutions that contrast sharply with what they were selling just yesterday. For all its good intentions, this apparent schizophrenia results in a whirlwind of technologies and products that is enough to make anyone dizzy.

Take, for example, one of Quantum's latest data protection products, which essentially adds a de-duplication-enabled backup app to the company's GoVault line of removable, small-form-factor drives.

GoVault Data Protection Solution taps the expanded data capacity of de-duplication to shrink GoVault drives' backup windows, making the drives more cost-effective. Moreover, backups are encrypted, minimizing the risk of data disclosure, and a new, table-top USB device makes it possible to add GoVault to a server without opening the case.

What I don’t like about the new GoVault is that although backups should finish much faster, they still need to be scheduled, which introduces the possibility of human error and, depending on the schedule, could leave some of the data unprotected for a long time.

Nevertheless, if a company is stuck with a tape solution that seems to be shrinking as fast as Alice after nipping the wrong mushroom, GoVault can be a pleasant, affordable alternative to buying larger, more expensive tapes.

With that in mind, you would expect that Imation -- vendor of backup media and target devices with mythological monikers such as Ulysses and Odyssey, the latter of which competes directly with GoVault -- would be offering small businesses a solution similar to Quantum’s, right?

Well, not quite. Imation recently began offering DataGuard Vault, an online backup service that, after the customer makes an initial selection of what to protect with a full backup, automatically captures, encrypts, and forwards all data changes to a vault, removing much of the data protection burden from the daily operations of small organizations.

Would you have expected a hardware die-hard such as Imation to become a provider of online backup services for SMBs? I wouldn't have.

You may also be surprised to learn that Symantec -- with all its Veritas heritage in backups and other storage management apps -- is beta-testing Protection Network, a SaaS (software as a service) deployment that by year's end should provide online backups and restores to SMBs.

These are just three recent examples of the variety of backup solutions that SMBs have to choose from, but there are so many that even a partial list would be almost too much to tackle -- hence the overwhelming SMB backup solution confusion.

Unfortunately, there is no single bullet to kill the backup beast. Even dramatically dissimilar solutions such as Quantum GoVault and Imation DataGuard Vault can find a place in the same infrastructure, satisfying needs where the other would surely misfire.

The upshot of all this variety is that SMBs still need the help of VARs to choose the best fit for their present and projected needs -- perhaps the one constant in the constantly changing storage industry.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.