To Recover Or Not To Recover? That’s The Question For Asigra
Backup/recovery processes are — or should be — a staple in the data protection portfolio of every organization. Now, even though backup/recovery has been around for decades, today is a time of stress and transition that affects the choices that everyone makes on backup and recovery. Why? Because the continuing explosion of data puts cost pressures on backups. Moreover, the cloud (public, private, or hybrid) beckons, technology choices are increasing and everyone seems to be offering backup in one way or another.
Although these are all important trends, backup/recovery software supplier Asigra argues that the emphasis needs to focus on recovery (reliability, completeness, accuracy, speed) where the data protection value lies, rather than in backup, which, while a necessary step, is not where the value lies. So the theme of Asigra’s recent Cloud Backup Partner summit (which I attended as a guest analyst) was Recovery Is Everything. A key element of the company’s strategy was to introduce a new pricing model, the Asigra Recovery License Model (RLM). All innovations do not have to be technical and, even if you are not an Asigra customer or partner, you need to know why this model could eventually affect the entire backup/recovery market.
Asigra in a Nutshell
But first, let’s consider Asigra. The company is a 27-year-old privately-held, Canadian-based software vendor with an exclusive focus on backup/recovery. Asigra states that it protects one million sites globally, and it has strategic alliances with Cisco, Huawei, IBM, NetApp and Parallels.
Gartner defines Asigra as a Niche Player in its Enterprise Backup/Recovery Software Magic Quadrant. While that seems correct (for the most part, the company does not compete head-on with the enterprise-class backup/recovery software products), the use of the term niche tends to imply a well-defined yet small market segment that isn’t worth the time for big players. Well, that may apply in some cases, but cloud backup is not exactly small. And Asigra can win enterprise business as it proved by its recent deal with BBC (British Broad-casting Corporation).
Among the niches that Asigra serves are supporting remote and branch offices (ROBOs), desktops, virtual environments, and mobile devices. For example, branch offices typically do not have sophisticated IT support, so even managing a single tape drive may be a challenge. Using Asigra’s agentless technology to back up over a network to a central, professionally managed location makes life easier for the branch office and ensures that backup processes are performed reliably and effectively.
Guess what? The company’s technologies and others can also apply to the cloud. One MSP (Managed Service Provider) told me that he adopted Asigra a couple of years ago for his public cloud as the only solution he could find to provide multitenancy and other capabilities that he needed. Note that he also sells all the company’s enterprise-class back-up/recovery software products and finds them very well suited for one location, enterprise-class data centers. Another example of where Asigra plays in the cloud is that it is the first and only backup solution included in IBM’s SmartCloud offering. Although other vendors are working to catch up with what Asigra offers, they are not there yet.
Now, Asigra sells 100% through indirect sales channels, which it defines as Asigra-centric, complementary, or trailing complementary. This means that its partners have a wide range of business models, from those who sell the Asigra backup/recovery software directly to businesses, to others who bundle Asigra as a backup service on a public cloud where the software is only a small component of the overall product. That point is critical to understanding the impact of Asigra’s new licensing model (which is patent pending).
Asigra’s New Pricing Model Shakes Up Backup/Recovery Behavior
The traditional pricing model for backup/recovery is by capacity (i.e., how much storage is used). As an historical note, Asigra invented this pricing model about 20 years ago and, since then, it has been largely adopted by most players. The company developed this model because the previous standard method was to charge by the number of agents deployed and Asigra uses an agentless architecture.
Asigra discovered that almost no customer recovers more than 25% of its data at any one time, with 5% being a more common quantity. Yet with the explosive growth in data, more and more information will be protected that will likely never need to be recovered. As a result, the real metric for service quality should be how well the recovery is performed (speed, accuracy, completeness, etc.). So the company defined the new Asigra Recovery License Model as one in which users pay a small fixed price to store the data but are charged variable additional costs based upon how much data needs to be recovered.
Note that Asigra is not the first storage vendor to charge in this manner. For example, Amazon Glacier, which provides services for deep archiving of data, charges a low price for initially storing the data but what some consider a far higher cost for recovering the data.
In developing the new pricing model, Asigra had to address two significant hurdles: 1) IT budgets tend to be fixed for a year, so preplanning for expenses needs to be taken into account. Plus, asking for more money in the middle of the year is not a pleasant experience, and 2) The user may feel that his/her data is being held hostage in a sense, and he/she only gets it back if the price is met.
Asigra’s RLM addresses these points with a number of techniques, including a cap and floor, a one-time waiver, and upfront savings to mitigate disruptions to the customer’s planning processes. However, in the long run, inefficient customers will pay more. To help a customer plan better, the company provides the Asigra Recovery Tracker, a software solution that measures recovery performance.
Now, the Recovery Tracker is a two-edged sword. Asigra’s customers have no choice but to install it to track recovery performance and report back to the company, but that it is simply an intrusive [ ] tattletale application seriously understates how much it helps users improve the operational efficiencies of their backup/recovery processes. Typically, game-changer is an overused marketing term that causes the eyes to glaze over, but Recovery Tracker is a game changer that enables new and positive behaviors that could lead to significantly improved IT operational efficiency.
If one focuses only on backup, metrics include if all the backups run to completion in a timely manner and whether all the data was protected. Those are important but there are no actionable items (that is, if the answer is yes). Now, let’s consider Recovery Tracker, which provides data on the number of recoveries performed each year, the amount of data covered, sources of any data loss, and the reasons restores were necessary.
Analytical tools can provide information, such as total recovery by department, most recovered sources, and top four reasons for data loss. The user now has information that can lead to actionable insights, such as what to do to reduce or eliminate the need for recoveries from a particular source. In turn, those actions should lead to changes in user behavior to improve efficiencies in the backup/restore environment.
What Asigra Partners Think of RLM
Asigra’s partners are still in the process of digesting the RLM. By necessity, it is complicated and can’t be everything to everyone, but here are some thoughts that I was privy to.
-It is basically a way to make backup/recovery affordable — One Asigra-centric partner (who sells directly to customers) told me about a design company that took six months to recreate designs by hand but still could not afford the necessary backup/recovery software. He hoped that the new pricing model might meet the customer’s needs.
-It is unnecessary for my business — For some large MSPs that provide a public cloud, backup/recovery software is only a small part of the bundled cost (as hardware and facilities expenses are more); the RLM would introduce unnecessary complexity; note that Asigra will allow MSPs to continue to use the capacity-based model if they prefer.
-Kudos for behavior change — Two MSP partners sent me the following comments:
“Analytics to reveal restore behavior are a huge benefit. About four years ago, I thought through how our backup/recovery service would benefit from aligning prices with the labor costs associated with higher restore efforts. I couldn’t do it then but Asigra now gives me tools to implement such a vision.”
“The real shift that needs to happen in backups is to understand what needs to be backed up and how it needs to be kept. I think forcing people to think about what leads them to restores and what they restore will make them target what needs to be backed up better and arrange how they need to keep it more efficiently.”
Asigra has changed the focus for backup/recovery from the front end backup to the backend recovery side. To do this they have implemented the new RLM licensing model and have a new marketing emphasis around the Recovery Is Everything theme. While this will cause much discussion and change in Asigra’s backup/recovery world, how will it change the rest of the market?
Change is uncertain of course. But Asigra is trying to affect change. Asigra needs to get the message across that backup is a necessary but not sufficient condition for having a successful backup/recovery environment. You have to take action where it is meaningful and that is on the recovery side if you wish to improve IT efficiencies.
Now, vendors change only when they see it is in their favor or if customers demand it. With continuing explosive data growth, IT organizations are under increased cost and management pressures. If IT perceives a tipping point and sees Asigra’s approach as one way to improve things, then other vendors will follow suit. Time will tell, but we believe that Asigra’s throwing down the recovery focus gauntlet is a good thing for its customers and the larger market.
The Mesabi Group (www.mesabigroup.com) helps organizations make their complex storage, storage management, and interrelated IT infrastructure decisions easier by making the choices simpler and clearer to understand.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Pund-IT Review.