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The race between providers of managed services platforms is intensifying as they rush to add remote storage and data recovery to their offerings.

N-able Technologies Inc., Ottawa, Tuesday is announcing it plans to add data backup and recovery to its growing suite of services within 30 days, while Level Platforms Inc., also based in Ottawa, is getting ready to offer a similar service to its partners.

Last month, Kaseya Inc., San Francisco, released a new version of its managed services platform that includes a module for backup and disaster recovery. Partners can use the module to set up backup solutions on site, off site or both.

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The urgency to provide backup and recovery comes as businesses affected by such recent storms as Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma struggle for a return to normality. But work at N-able to offer remote backup and delivery was already well underway before the storms hit, said Bill Stewart, the company’s vice president of marketing.

“I don’t think anyone needs to be sold on the importance of storage, backup and recovery,” Stewart said. “We firmly believe that there is a tremendous amount of demand in the small business market space for alternate backup solutions.”

The question is whether end-user customers are ready to trust having their data backed up over the web and stored where they can’t see it. It’s a big leap of faith that Jeff Kaplan, president of analyst firm THINKstrategies Inc., Wellesley, Mass., says many businesses are ready to make, particularly smaller companies.

That’s because companies that have decided to contract out other IT functions to managed services providers already trust that the managed services model works, he said. So data and backup becomes another function that end-users customers have to trust their providers with handling, Kaplan said.

“There’s no question, on the customer side, that people are recognizing the value of data is growing exponentially everyday,” he said. “Smart companies like N-able are figuring out there’s an opportunity here.”

Through managed services, a VAR, integrator or service provider takes over some or all of a customer’s IT functions. This approach solves a problem for small companies with limited IT budgets. Customers pay providers utility-like monthly fees to keep their systems running and updated.

Data Protection is a Key Role

“Data protection is one of the key roles we play for our customers,” said Arlin Sorensen, president of Heartland Technology Solutions, Joplin, Mo. “That starts with solid storage infrastructure and has been based on a strong backup solution to tape or disk. For disaster recovery, we are actively recommending use of remote storage offerings across the wire.”

Heartland delivers backup and recovery through a partnership with another VAR, Sorensen said, but he added the company would consider switching to a solution from a managed services platform provider for the right price and level of robustness.

“It would make sense to make it part of the actual package rather than bolting it on as we do now,” he said. Heartland currently uses technology from both Level Platforms and Kaseya to deliver its managed services.

Kaplan said managed storage and recovery makes sense. The more automated a process becomes, the more regular it is, and ultimately the more reliable it becomes, he said. And that means end-user customers get better protection for their data.

N-able’s Stewart said he expects partners will see a lot of value in the company’s backup and recovery offering, called StoreIT Online, because it is simple to manage. Partners don’t have to make an infrastructure investment to offer the service because the data is handled by a third-party.

N-able is partnering with two companies to handle the actually backup and recovery, but Stewart said he wasn’t yet ready to divulge who the partners are.

From a customer’s standpoint, Stewart said, N-able’s managed storage and recovery also is easy to manage. Rather than having to deal with backups to tapes that must be sent off-site for safekeeping, he said, the customer needs only decide which data to back up and when.

At the scheduled time, the backup of such files as e-mails, spreadsheets and data from other applications takes place automatically. The data is encrypted and sent to a vault, which itself is backed up by a redundant facility, Stewart said. The vaults are guarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week by on-site personnel and through video surveillance.

The backup process is mostly invisible to the end user, but should it fail for whatever reason, the customer receives an e-mail notification so that whatever problem caused the failure can be addressed.

When the loss of data from a laptop or desktop occurs, recovery is quick. However, in cases of large amounts of lost data, a customer can pay to have the needed data copied into disks and shipped in, said Stewart.

The Kaseya service incorporates Acronis Inc.’s True Image backup technology. Managed services providers have the option of doing backups using network-attached storage devices on customer sites or at off-site locations.

In most cases, said Kaseya CEO Gerald Blackie, the provider is doing backups on site that are copied elsewhere. The provider charges a setup fee that includes the storage equipment.

Subsequent full backups take place at one-, three- or six-month intervals, he said.

Peter Sandiford, president of N-able competitor Level Platforms, said he views storage as primarily a midmarket and enterprise opportunity. His company focuses more on the small and midsize business market, he said.

“We are building monitoring templates for leading storage solutions now but, quite frankly, do not anticipate high interest in the short term in the SMB market sector,” he said. “As prices drop, these technologies will migrate into the SMB space.”