Can the cloud remake the SMB backup market?

Everyone needs backup yet its still a widely underutilized service that is often poorly understood. Can cloud vendors educate their consumers and still offer the level of service that used to be the domain of enterprise-only facilities?
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

Backup is one of the most common topics of conversation I have with my SMB clients. If there is a backup mechanism out there targeted at SMB customers, one of them is probably using it. From heavily advertised services like Carbonite backup and file sharing service Dropbox, to mixed cloud/hardware appliances, you would get the impression that there is already a very clearly identified market for the SMB customer to find their solution in the cloud.

But you would likely be surprised by the lack of understanding in this space about what it is they are actually using to back up the data that is their business' lifeblood. Few, if any, have ever tested the ability to restore on a large scale, the term SLA is meaningless to most, and their data protection rarely fits their needs completely, instead being a situation where a popular one-size-fits-all solution has been adopted.

This isn't true with all my clients in the SMB space, but I have found that is almost universal in one small, but significant segment. That segment is the small, high-revenue business. With usually fewer than 5 employees these are businesses whose revenue streams exceed $1,000,000 per employee. They don't have complex IT environments, but depend on computers and a particular data set to keep them in business. They want solutions to their problems, not IT departments, and in many cases have absolutely no IT support other than what was offered by the vendor that sold them their computers or an industry specific application.

They need solutions that just work, so the cloud seems like a perfect match for them, but it's not quite that simple. When you look at cloud backup solutions, from an IT perspective, they for the most part look pretty good. But perspective is everything.  Where an IT guy looks at an application and says to himself "Wow, their web interface looks really good, gives me the information that I need, and lets me manage my backups" , but these types of users could care less what the web interface looks like, don't want to actively manage their backups, but would be really happy to simply get a daily status email that told them that everything was working fine and that their data was being backed up as specified.

These customers aren't the home user; their business depends on those backups being up to date and available. But they also aren't computer techies, who understand the nuances of the issues they are likely to face. A few these clients called me for recommendations for backup solutions not when they had suffered a catastrophic failure, but when some condition occurred that brought to their attention that their backup process wasn't working, and in most of the cases, hadn't been working for an extended period. These clients were on the edge of panic with the sudden realization that they could have been put out of business had a local drive failed while their backup vendors wasn't backing up.

I'm not selling these clients any sort of backup service; most of them are connected to me because I was involved in some very narrowly focused technical project they had needed outside assistance with. So when they call me they get a quick lesson in what to look for in a backup services, how to find a solution to meet their needs, and most importantly, what questions they absolutely need to ask the solution vendors before they commit their business to these cloud -based services.

The cloud has changed the game for SMB customers, especially in storage and backup, but there is still a lot of education that needs to be done to make sure that customers are making the proper choices for their business.

Editorial standards