Saved by SaaS

Data backup via software as a service means so long to tapes -- if you've got the bandwidth.

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A pricing guarantee is crucial, too -- if you can get one. "You're a tenant at will, and they can change the terms and you as a business have to accept that those terms will change over time,'' Howe says. "But there's no harm in asking about future pricing trends."

Sweigart says backup is the only IT function he has outsourced, and he has no idea where his data is stored. What's more important to him is the sense of relief he feels coming to the shop in the morning and seeing a message that the backup was successful. "There's incredible peace of mind that the [data] is going out every night,'' he says.

Compliance SaaS

Companies that must comply with stringent regulatory requirements, however, need to know where and how their data is stored.

For example, Gene Goroschko, vice president of information systems at Physicians Endoscopy LLC in Doylestown, Pa., says, "Being a medical facility, [backups] are a regulatory requirement, not just a good idea. If there's a disaster, we want to be able to recover medical data regardless of what happened to the facility."

Physicians Endoscopy, which builds and manages ambulatory surgery centers, has 13 facilities around the country, plus a corporate office. Before the company turned to an online service, backup was a manual process. Goroschko's group shipped tapes to each facility, and then each facility contracted with a storage provider in its area. But since the facilities are geographically dispersed, the main office didn't have a good indication of whether the tapes were being handled properly, whether any were lost, or even whether a full system backup was being performed every night.

"Online backup has obviously been around for quite a while, and we decided to try it out,'' starting with the corporate office, Goroschko says.

He notes that he was surprised by the lack of response from some companies when Physicians Endoscopy asked how well protected its data would be. It evaluated several vendors and chose MozyPro from EMC Corp. about a year ago. Physicians Endoscopy pays a monthly charge of $6.95 for each server, plus $1.75 per gigabyte per month.

Goroschko was concerned about the feasibility of remotely backing up several hundred megabytes of data daily; the corporate office alone would be handling that much. In addition, since the company has mobile employees, it operates almost around the clock, so off-site backup had to share bandwidth with 10 or 11 workers.

"One of the things we liked about the Mozy system is that it can throttle back or control how much bandwidth is used,'' Goroschko says.

The software allows Physicians Endoscopy to set the hours and amount of data sent. "That wasn't a feature we thought about ahead of time, but it turns out it was the feature we couldn't live without," Goroschko adds.

Today, all of Physicians Endoscopy's facilities except one are doing remote backup through MozyPro. The IT department has a Web-based master account that continuously provides the backup status of each location.

In some cases, backup SaaS comes as a feature of another type of Web-based application. Health First Inc. discovered this when it began using a remote application so nurses could schedule their shifts electronically. Although the health care system's internal IT group takes care of backing up other data for the three hospitals it serves in east central Florida, the scheduling application is backed up by Concerro Inc.

"Once we were aware that this is how this service is delivered, it was frankly a relief," says Jan McCoy, chief nursing officer at Cape Canaveral Hospital, part of the Health First system. "With the hurricane situation we have here, it's good to know the data is protected and we have it when we need it."

But old habits die hard, and even with someone else handling backup concerns, some companies still rely on the manual approach. Physicians Endoscopy hasn't completely given up on the tape-based method, although it has scaled it back to once a week. Says Goroschko, "We're of the strong opinion you can never have too many backups."

Shein is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business. Contact her at eshein@shein.net.

For more on how SaaS is changing life in corporate IT, see here.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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