IT Shops Shifting Focus to Desktop Backup and Recovery

Harried by legal, regulatory, or competitive concerns, organizations are increasingly paying much more attention to their desktop backup strategies.

When disaster recovery (DR) specialist Symform launched late last year, it trumpeted its product as DR, cloud-style (see: http://esj.com/articles/2009/09/22/dr-for-pennies.aspx).

What's more, Symform's market wasn't the bread-and-butter stuff of DR or business continuity (BC) -- i.e., back-end, mission-critical servers -- but desktop systems. Although desktop systems are essential components in both DR and BC, they aren't the first things one typically thinks of. The irony, of course, was that Symform was pushing into a market that was not lacking competition, given iStorage (from Iomega) and LiveVault (a solution from Iron Mountain), to say nothing of Microsoft Corp.'s System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 (DPM has a desktop backup component).

In other words, many other players had the same idea.

As it happens, Symform and its more established competitors understood something that the industry as a whole is only just coming to terms with: the strategic importance of desktop, workgroup, or end-user backup and recovery. Harried by legal, regulatory, or competitive concerns, organizations of all sizes are increasingly paying significantly more attention to their desktop backup and recovery strategies, says market watcher IDC.

That's one conclusion of a new IDC special report, Protection and Recovery of PC Data: The Intersection of Desktop Virtualization, Security, and Storage.

Why this interest? The research firm cites a host of drivers, including potential reversals stemming from the loss, theft, or misappropriation of sensitive or proprietary data (see: http://esj.com/articles/2009/12/15/security-year-in-review.aspx). IDC's report identifies a conclusive uptick in the inclusion of desktop-oriented backup and recovery software or services. In fact, more than half (53 percent) of questioned shops now employ a commercial desktop backup or recovery solution, according to IDC researchers.

"Firms are now backing up PC data, once a long forgotten and overlooked information asset," said Laura DuBois, program director for Storage Software with IDC, in a statement. "The most prevalent approach is centralized backup software, although legacy approaches still exist."

According to IDC's tally, less than one-third (32.5 percent) of shops still entrust desktop backup and recovery to employees.

In addition, there's a self-serving component at play here, according to IDC: harried by legal or regulatory concerns, C-level executives, individual business units, or business proprietors are demanding that IT staff or outside service personnel plug their desktop backup and recovery loop holes.

That's one reason why upstarts such as Symform -- to say nothing of established players such as IronMountain -- are enthusiastically contesting a heretofore lightly-contested desktop backup and recovery space. Because they're targeting a nominally resource-strapped market -- SMB customers just don't have the IT resources of large enterprise shops -- these players have found clever ways to promote their products or services. Symform, for example, talked up efforts to promote its own cloud-based service -- which it says delivers DR and BC at a fraction of the price of established offerings (it used a distributed model -- consisting of other end-user desktops, connected via a kind of grid/peer-to-peer network -- in which data is encrypted before being sent out over the wire) -- with help desk, system integrator, and other services shops.

IDC says that such approaches will, in all likelihood, win out over time. "In the longer term, there is a strategic opportunity for suppliers that integrate PC data and system level protection with security PC management and desktop virtualization," DuBois added. "With IT executives struggling to reduce the cost of PC management, desktop virtualization is certainly an enabling technology that is likely to fuel an even greater focus on data and system level protection for PCs."

Symform officials, for their part, see other likely benefits -- such as a potentially enormous OEM market. Kevin Brown, Symform's vice president of sales and marketing, cites the case of a prominent PC and server manufacturer that "has been pretty aggressive in approaching us. They want to basically create a disk appliance, a storage appliance, that backs itself up."

There's beauty to such an approach, Brown contends: "Imagine a … box [manufactured by a vendor such as Dell, IBM, or HP] with a small processor and a couple of 1 TB drives in it for a small business for maybe $500 or $600. It has the Symform agent that [Dell, IBM, or HP] can OEM, you [the customer] plug it in, and all of the data gets backed up automatically."

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