Symantec has begun testing the online backup service that it unveiled last month, and which it will be aiming at small and mid-sized businesses.
The service will go live later this summer, and, according to Symantec, is the first of multiple offerings that will be based on what it is calling the Symantec Protection Network.
The plan to offer automated, online backup was first unveiled last month by Symantec CEO John Thompson, who said other services such as spam blocking and email management are likely to follow.
Symantec is not yet quoting any prices for the service, although it says that charges will be based on the volume of customers’ data to be protected. Although Symantec says that the service could scale to suit larger customers, the mostly likely takers will be small and medium-sized businesses with fewer than around 250 customers.
The service is based on what Symantec is calling a software-as a-service (SaaS) platform called the Symantec Protection Network. Other suppliers such as IBM, HP and Iron Mountain have been offering online backup services for some while, but SaaS has only recently become a fashionable label for online service.
Unlike those vendors, Symantec will sell its backup service via two layers of distribution, and so will be using its channel. But it will also be competing with its channel, and is clearly aware of the potential for conflict.
We’ll be selling this service directly ourselves, but our intention is to work with the channel, because we need them. We think that will actually be a differentiator for us, Symantec’s director of product management Chris Schin spelt out carefully. Resellers will be offered a website where they can manage the Symantec services that they have sold to their customers.
One of the reasons why larger customers are less attracted to online backup services is the cost of the bandwidth needed to handle backup volumes, which can be hefty.
Another reason is that one of the most appealing qualities of online backup is that it is an affordable way to get data offsite for disaster recovery purposes, but companies of medium size or above are likely to operate their own secondary data centers so that they also enjoy rapid recovery or failover.
Symantec service is following a trend already set by other vendors, which are describing themselves as managed service providers or MSPs.
Ovum analyst Carl Greiner predicted that, over the next five years, demand for online backup services will grow. A good part of the SMB market is going to take this up as backup commoditizes, and as small businesses come under legal and regulatory pressure to protect their data better, he said.
If customers buy the online service, then they will not be buying backup management software such as Symantec’s Backup Exec. Symantec’s grasping the trend before that helps flatten out the backup market, Greiner said.
Symantec argued that the service will bring them customers that it has not been able to reach before – customers that were either too small or not sufficiently sensitive to data loss to have bought backup software.
Exactly as other providers of online backup services, Symantec will require customers to install agents on the servers or desktop machines they want protected. The company said that later this year it will develop a way for customers to make their existing Backup Exec agents fill this role.
The SaaS label will probably draw a lot of attention to Symantec’s move, and make it look more radical than it really is.
The truth is that Symantec is only the latest vendor to realize how well backup suits an online service for small and mid-sized customers. But none of the other vendors currently offering such services enjoy the relationship that Symantec already does with small businesses as a supplier of security software, which because of its need for frequent updates is already a quasi-online service.
A one-stop package of backup and email services could be very attractive to SMBs, and a very effective way of blunting Microsoft’s threat to Symantec’s security software business. Whether Microsoft will want to respond by becoming equally intimate with large numbers of SMBs remains to be seen.