Business Continuity: Email Backup for SMBs - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell
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Data Backup Cost Advantage: Online vs. On-Site

Even Teneros’s appliance-based, on-site solutions are too expensive for most small businesses. The company found that only certain verticals — mainly law and financial services — could justify the capital expense required, which Kalia estimates at between $10,000 to $30,000.

Since Teneros began in 2003, two trends have converged that make cloud-based solutions more viable, Kalia explains. Companies, especially small businesses, are now comfortable with the idea of storing their vital business data at an off-site location managed by another company, which they were not initially.

The other trend: server virtualization — which allows one powerful server to function as several virtual servers. It allows companies such as Teneros to put multiple subscribers on one server without any security or privacy compromises. It means they can provide service to a relatively large number of subscribers with much less computing and connectivity infrastructure.

In effect, cloud-based email continuity providers over-subscribe their facilities. They can get away with this because they know that only a small percentage of subscribers will ever need to access mail services and data from their facility at the same time.

“Providing email continuity in the cloud makes sense because there are significant advantages from over-subscription and virtualization,” Kalia says. “And that helps us keep rates down.”

Teneros’s cloud-based email backup solution, which is priced per employee or mailbox per month, is by no means the least expensive. Kalia estimates the minimum cost at $500 a month for a very small company. A more typical cost: $1,000 a month.

The Teneros service, though, has advantages over cheaper solutions. It uses “application-aware disaster recovery technology,” Kalia says. This means it can act just like an on-site Exchange server, and allow employees to continue using their Microsoft Office Outlook client software to access mail, and still see their entire database of saved messages, contacts and calendar items.

Teneros, like some other email continuity service providers, also offers integration with and backup of other types of messaging systems, including BlackBerry Enterprise Servers for mobile email — at an additional cost.

The MessageLabs service Roythornes uses is less expensive — the firm pays about $8,650 a year — but in the event of an outage, lawyers and support workers would use a Web mail system similar to Gmail to access their mail. And that will be an unfamiliar experience for many.

Ease-of-Use Comparison

Kalia argues that letting employees continue to use the familiar Outlook interface is a "crucial differentiator" for Teneros. Roythornes' Swan admits that, “This perhaps is an area where MessageLabs could and should put a little more effort — into making the user experience as intuitive as possible.”

Roythornes also did not implement the "automatic fail-over" option. If an outage occurs, Swan makes a decision about whether to switch to the back-up system based on the expected length of the outage.

As he points out, if you switch to a backup system, when you go back to the main system, you need to re-synchronize all the sent and received messages (and new and changed calendar, contact and task items) to the main system. “That can actually extend the length of the outage,” Swan points out.

With the Teneros service, subscribers can choose whether to fail-over automatically —Teneros can tell as soon as the subscriber’s main mail server is down — or manually, and if automatically, how soon after the outage begins.

Due Diligence

Small businesses need to secure their email service and data with a business continuity and disaster recovery solution, if they haven’t already. Most of these services, whether for larger SMBs with their own mail servers, or smaller companies, will increasingly be provided over the Internet…in the "cloud."

If you worry about sensitive, mission-critical data being held on a remote server outside your direct control, insist that prospective service providers explain their security and privacy provisions in detail. A reputable company will easily provide better security than most small businesses could ever hope to buy, install, update and maintain on their own.

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte

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This article was originally published on February 25, 2010
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