Read our other posts on this subject here and here. For a quick overview check out this short video: Data Retention Best Practices for MSPs

Recent headlines have propelled cloud-based data protection and recovery into the international spotlight and, concurrently, surfaced troubling issues managed services providers (MSPs) could encounter unless they conduct proper due diligence when choosing partnerships and implementing solutions. As the FBI probe into the Clinton email scandal drags on—and the fate of the MSP or cloud provider in question hangs in the balance—there’s no better time than now to review backup and recovery best practices. Below are the 7 deadly sins MSPs must avoid when it comes to cloud-based data protection:

Sin #1: Thinking all clouds are the same

Many vendors today offer some sort of “cloud” data protection product. As an MSP, you need to understand how the cloud in question actually works. Is it a public or a private cloud? Is the vendor’s cloud just another appliance replicating data from the client’s site, or is it a scalable cloud that allocates compute power, memory, and storage as needed? Ask the vendor whether a client would be able to failover their entire IT environment in the cloud, or if there are limitations on the number of devices that can failover simultaneously. Knowing a particular cloud’s capabilities and restrictions is the most important aspect of signing up with a cloud-based BC/DR vendor.

Sin #2: Getting stuck with cloud-only providers

Sending data offsite is a great way to ensure you can fully recover after a major IT disruption or outage, but be wary of the data protection architecture your vendor provides. Is it a cloud-only solution? Is it primarily a local data protection solution? Or is it a hybrid approach? MSPs should look beyond the immediate needs of a few clients and think about their entire managed client base … and the best data protection approach overall. Look for a vendor that offers a data protection architecture that allows for a combination of local, cloud, and hybrid—and that also offers flexible deployment options (e.g. virtual and physical appliances). You don’t want to get stuck with a vendor that is great at cloud-based protection, but that lacks a good local-appliance solution for fast recovery and failover.

Sin #3: Mixing and matching providers

It might be tempting to jump at a “best of breed” approach, and select different vendors for different clients. But if you’re like many MSPs, you probably don’t have the bandwidth to manage 6 different backup and recovery providers. Look for a vendor that has achieved proven leadership (customers, analyst reviews, etc.) —one that can give you a “one-stop-shop” for data protection, encompassing local, cloud, and hybrid deployments; as well as granular recovery, system failover, and cloud-based server failover. Also: Look for a centralized, web-based interface that can consolidate all your clients within one screen, so you don’t have to log in to multiple products, or manage dashboards through different interfaces. The centralization of protection and recovery operations into a single easy-to-use interface will save you thousands of dollars per month in administrative tasks. And that savings adds up to better margin for your business.

Sin #4: Looking for low-cost, white-label appliances

One of the most expensive parts of a hybrid data protection solution is the local physical appliance. It is tempting to deploy a solution that uses a white-label box, because it lowers the overall cost for your client. The problem is, vendors leveraging low-cost, white-label appliances may also skimp on costs in other more crucial facets of the solution. There’s a reason why branded appliances (e.g. HP ProLiant Server) can boast the highest levels of uptime in the market; they are backed by extensive research and development and quality assurance. A purpose-built branded appliance tends to last longer and give you fewer problems than a white-label box. In the end, a slightly higher appliance price point is usually well worth it for you and your clients.

Sin #5: Not looking under the hood

As tempting as it may be to just take a vendor’s word for the integrity of the technology that powers their solution, it is definitely worth the extra step to understand how a BC/DR vendor is powering their offering. Are they white-labeling another company’s technology? Have they developed a new screen on top of a legacy backup engine? How many different products are actually pieced together as part of the vendor’s data protection solution? There are two important reasons for understanding what lies under the hood. First, the level of technical support may vary; certain issues may have to be escalated to another vendor — meaning extra time for resolution. Second, if the vendor doesn’t own the technology, but is “OEM-ing,” they don’t have much control over the product roadmap. Consequently, they don’t have the ability to add feature requests to help you and your clients get the most out of the solution.

Sin #6: Putting backup, replication, disaster recovery, business continuity in the same basket

Vendor messaging about—and the technologies used within—different solutions can seem very similar. Many MSPs put them all together in the same ‘data protection’ basket. After all, isn’t each geared towards copying data and recovering it? Not so fast. Understanding how each technology works can help you select the best one for your client, and also save you time when it comes to recovering data or spinning up failed servers. Local backup products typically only help you create copies of your data, but can’t help if a server crashes. Server replication technology helps you ensure that if a critical server goes down, another one can take its place in seconds — but also requires you to set up a separate location if you want a true DR architecture. Knowing exactly how one technology differs from another is important so you can choose the best one for your clients, and also know what you are getting into with each.

Sin #7: Selecting a partner based on the product—or the relationship—alone

Certain technologies require little to no support—or for that matter, commitment to an ongoing relationship with its vendor. But that’s just not true for data protection and recovery. Identifying the best solution for your customers is the first step, but understanding the type of relationship you will have with the vendor should also be top-of- mind. MSPs that establish true partnerships tend to sell more and get more out of their solutions. Customer references, analyst reviews, and awards are just a few of the initial elements to use as you evaluate your next BC/DR vendor. The vendor’s partner program support for your business, their solution’s underlying technology, and their overall service and support are critical aspects to evaluate. Make sure you conduct your due diligence so that you know what you will get when you truly need a partner to help out in a difficult situation — whether it involves deploying a new installation, troubleshooting an issue, or having to deal with regulatory requirements.

We hope this simple guide helps you avoid committing a sin or two the next time you decide to evaluate vendors for data protection and recovery solutions. For an essential guide to crafting a holistic business recovery plan, download this eBook.

Steve Noel