You are here

IT Services, Interviews

Interview with SkySync

June 10, 2016
Clutch spoke with Steve Woodward, CTO of Portal Architects (creator of SkySync), about the results of our 2016 Cloud Backup Survey. Learn more about SkySync at www.SkySync.com.

SkySync logo

 

Background

Describe your company and your role there.

My name is Steve Woodward and I’m the CTO here at the Portal Architects. We’re the creators of a software product called SkySync, a cloud backup migration and sync tool. It’s essentially a middleware that allows customers to connect any number of disparate platforms from their on-premise network shares, SharePoint, and other ECM repositories to each other, and up to various alternatives in the cloud – all the major cloud backup and storage vendors, EFSS vendors, Office 365, Box, Dropbox, and their competitors. 

We put them on stock to all those different systems and allow them to interoperate with each other, so in the end we can migrate data from system to system, perform backups from system to system, or just help them change providers if they decide later they’ve adopted a cloud that doesn’t work for them. From our perspective, we enable customers to make the choice of how much they want on-premise, how they want to move to the cloud, and anything in-between.

I run the support teams, the development teams and all the technical sides of the business.

Online Backup Adoption Timeline

63% of SMBs began using online backup in the past two years. What is your reaction to this timeline?

It’s not really surprising. These tools have been around for a while, but within the last few years, they really started reaching what you might call critical mass of adoption. The market has been maturing. 

What factors or events caused more SMBs to begin using cloud-based backup services in the past two years? 

Like I said, part of it is the market’s becoming more robust. These tools have been growing in adoption and I think a lot of the early adopters were the “crossing the chasm” type. We’re moving to the point now where most of the early adopters have had some level of success, and now, later adopters are saying, “Hey, this is the right time and place.” So for applications that makes sense, people are moving to the cloud.

What advice would you give new users to help them migrate to and use online backup services effectively?

I think the biggest regret we find when working with folks is that they didn’t understand their data. They don’t know enough about it. They don’t know enough in detail about what they have, what they need, which parts are important, and which parts are less important. Many times the justification for migrating is simply saving costs, among other things, so you don’t necessarily want to take everything over here and move it all to a different service. So, people looking back sometimes have told us, “I wish we had more control or more visibility,” or “I wish we understood the challenge at the detail level better before we jumped into the migration.”

Online vs. Offline Backup

84% of SMBs use both online and offline backup solutions. What is your reaction to this finding? Did you expect it to be more or less?

Actually it seems about right to me. If you’d asked me my opinion on whether people use cloud or online or both, I would say – well, most small businesses probably do use both in some capacity, because there’s still different types of data that they care about, right? Your file data, your collaborative content, and that kind of stuff – you want that accessible to more people, including external people, or even for it to have flexibility between people in the organization. Other types of data, like backups of operating systems, operational type files that make servers run and back-end systems – many times they don’t necessarily want to back those up to the cloud.  

So there’s a combination even in organizations that have embraced the cloud. Many of them are still feeling their way and deciding what data is appropriate in the cloud with all its advantages, and what data do they want on-premise, where it can be controlled more closely by the user.

Do you see SMBs’ reliance on on-premise backup options increasing, decreasing, or staying the same in the future?

I think it will probably decrease over time, only because people will see the cost savings and justification. They’ll be doing it for some of their data so that will make it easier to then adopt the cloud. But there will be some – and especially in highly regulated industries, or privacy-related things, like financial records – who experience a very large friction they have to overcome to get that industry to say, “Yeah, this data is appropriate for the cloud.” And I think the decrease of on-premise backup will happen even in small businesses as more governments and more financial institutions adopt the cloud. It will kind of trickle down.

I think on-premise will still be there for a while, but it will become less popular over time.

Importance of On-Premise Backup as Opposed to Online Backup

42% of SMBs say on-premise backup is more important than online backup, while 46% say both are equally important. What is your reaction to this?

It might also depend on who the person was and what was their role was when they answered the question, because people have different needs. All of their data is important, but different data is more important to different people with different roles.

IT people might think that on-premise is more important because that’s the stuff their focus is often on, whereas users might think their online backup is more crucial because that’s their operational data and their day-to-day life.

Overall, I think it just shows the significance of backups in general, since both on-prem and off-prem were equally important.

In your opinion, why do SMBs have so much faith in on-premise backup systems?

  • Control aspect 

I think the control aspect is a big one because whether warranted or not, people still feel like they have control over their data when it’s local, if for no other reason than it’s my procedures and my policies. In many cases, people have been thinking this way since computers first existed. Giving some control to a cloud vendor or third party, in their mind, is a lessening of control.

  • Regulatory concerns

I think the flip side of that coin is the regulatory concerns, because many times, COOs and CFOs have to sign actual legal papers to the government that say our data is protected and we’ve done everything we could.  So when people have to put their literal signature on that line, they’re concerned now because it’s out of their control. It’s a third party. If they make mistakes, I’m still on the line. That’s how they feel, warranted or not.

  • Different types of data require different systems

Again, there are these different types of data and if it’s an operating system backup or something similar, you may want that local so you can immediately bring it back up. If it’s user collaborative data, you’re backing up for somebody who’s in San Francisco anyways, so the whole cloud question changes.

I think there are multiple concerns that help you make that decision of which data should be on-prem and which data should be on the cloud. It depends on the organization. It depends on the rules in the type industry they’re in.  And then they have to kind of make their own judgment. I think over time, that will lean more towards the cloud, but we’re still kind of in that transitional phase. 

What is something that comes to mind that would make small businesses afraid of using online backup?

One we hear is the control factor, especially when it comes to vendor lock-in. We hear, “Hey, I really like this idea, but if I choose vendor X, what if I don’t like it? It’s harder for me to switch to vendor Y.” They may be interested, but they feel like they’re locked-in and that they may not have as many choices in the future.

How Often SMBs Backup Data Online

49% of SMBs back up their data online on a daily basis. What is your reaction to this?

It’s fairly common. Most traditional backup best practices would would recommend doing a full backup initially, and then doing a "delta backup" at least every day. If you were to lose one day of data (and this is truly mission critical data), at a minimum, you lost one full day. Do the math – out of 365 days per year for your business, plus all the fallout that would occur, it can be very disruptive. I’m not surprised that people are doing it every day, because if it is truly mission critical data, one day of data loss can be quite a bit of data, even beyond the fallout of getting back and in fixing. If it’s invoicing, or any crucial external data, it can be a very big concern.

How often would you advise businesses to back up their data online?

It depends on how often the data changes. If, for example, it’s the library or somebody with very relatively static data, maybe one day’s data loss isn’t that big of a deal. If you’re a high volume internet retail shop or something, one day is going to be huge. I think businesses are way ahead of me. They’ve known these challenges for years and they know how important data backup is and, especially in the world we live in now, with hacking and security concerns and just normal data loss (whether it’s on cloud or on-prem), backups are crucial. 

Automated vs. Manual Backups

Automatically scheduled backups are the way to go for 60% of SMBs. What makes automated backups so appealing?

It depends on the data. I think automated backups are very appealing, because it takes one human factor out. It takes one potential area to make a mistake out because it just happens. Computers are much better at following routine and schedules sometimes than people are.

What scenario would small businesses default to going backups manually only?

It also comes down to the types of data. You might find your automated backups are more your traditional user collaborative content stuff that’s always changing. People are editing documents together. They're trading around this data that’s always growing and changing. You need to backup this data consistently in an automated fashion because you’re going to need it every day, or every 12 hours, or 4 hours or how often they automatically do it.

For some of the back office IT stuff, they might only change the setup and the OS once a week or whatever, based on operating system patches and upload schedules. They may decide, based on those, to do a manual backup once a week. So I think that the type of data chooses where backups come from. 

Primary Benefits of Using Online Backup Services

Online backup improves data security (31%), opens up more space for data (21%), makes backing up data easier (21%), and enhances the efficiency of managing data (16%). Are you surprised by these top benefits?

The one thing about it that surprised me was the fact that small businesses did recognize that online backup can improve their data security. That’s actually one thing that we hear quite a bit – how people are concerned about the level of security. We have this discussion with folks many times and again, it depends on the small business. Some small businesses – they’re potentially better protected and better organized than even a Fortune 500 company. Other small businesses might run with what many times we call shadow IT – where there’s a desktop or sever or something under a desk or in a back room, and it’s not really being “maintained” in a lot of ways. That obviously can be much less secure than an online system that has levels of certification and everything.

I think the one thing that jumps out at me is that small businesses are starting to realize – hey, your online data can be very secure [in the cloud] because we have data center security where people can only come in if they have proper badges. You can’t have a guy walking in off the street and downloading your server on a USB drive. 

This survey shows that small businesses are noticing that these cloud people are vetted, that there is data security and levels of rigor and encryption, and that this security can be improved.

What would you say are the top benefits of using an online backup service?

  • Cost savings

The fact that I can begin to not provision another server every year is a benefit, just because we’ve got more file data coming every year because data sizes are almost always growing, never shrinking. So not needing to continually expand your storage needs would be up there.

  • Convenience/accessibility

Even though small businesses might not have a huge number of employees, we are a more global market, so many places have branch offices, remote offices, teleworkers, and all those things – that starts to make the cloud very attractive.

Please provide an example of how online backup services can benefit a SMB. 

We’ve got several different case studies on our website. The one I can recall just off the top of my head is fairly common. Again, a small business, but they’ve got multiple locations – they’re a construction company, they do field operations, they have a home base, but they might have three or four project teams out doing something in the field that have their own temporary IT organization. They need to share files and content. They need to back that up, and they chose a cloud to help them because everybody was remote. So one of the advantages there was the accessibility. It’s always there. You can tap into it from multiple places.

We have multiple other examples on our website of people who thought – it costs us X amount of dollars every year to maintain our storage needs on-premise and we could save Y percent by moving to the cloud.

Security of Online Services vs. On-Premise Services

56% of SMBs say online backup is more secure than on-premise options. But, there’s room for improvement. 32% say online backup is only ‘somewhat more secure.’ What factors make online backup more secure than on-premise systems?

We have these large cloud alternatives available – your Microsoft Office 365, your Dropbox, your Box. These big players have hardened their data centers. There’s physical access security in all these things.

While some data people still won’t trust to the cloud, I think people are recognizing that – hey, these people in Microsoft’s Office 365 data center can put in a lot more resources and pay more attention to patches, physical security, maintenance and backups than my staff of two or three IT guys can.

But, again – and I hate to keep beating the drum – other organizations with either more traditional outlooks or more regulated data will say at the same time, “No, I know these ten specific things I’m required to do on-prem to be secure and I’m not sure these other alternatives are doing all of that yet.”

Challenges of Using Online Backup Services

Most SMBs don’t have problems using their online backup services (37%). But, 36% say they encounter downtime and bugs with the services and 22% say limited data space can be a problem. Are you surprised by this?

Yes, and I think the one that jumped out at me is the limited data space. Most of these people were new adopters mainly over the last two years. In that time, all of these services have essentially started offered unlimited data or really, really large data caps. I guess I was just a bit surprised to see that people were having limited data concerns, since all the vendors themselves are more or less saying, “Come get all you can eat.” Maybe that was more of a marketing message and less true when they actually signed up – I’m not sure.

Another point that surprised me is a full-third saying they have down times and bugs, because most of these services have very high tenancy and performance, so they put a lot of effort into making sure they can serve lots of people and documents very quickly. I would be interested in seeing what types of issues they’re having and if there was a better breakdown there. 

 

Do you have any guess as to what the issues would be that they’re encountering?

One issue could originate in the difference between a cloud service and an on-prem service. An on-prem situation is essentially like a fire hose. It will take everything it can deliver all at once. It might still be slow if your on-premise server was old or not maintained, but you could look at it the other way – with cloud services, they have a different set of challenges. They can’t just accept everybody sending them everything at full speed all the time, because as a cloud vendor, I’m servicing you and, as part of the cost savings, I’m also in theory servicing hundreds of other small businesses with the same infrastructure. So many times, these cloud services institute what they call rate limitations. Essentially, they put some throttling on every interaction with their service so that everybody gets a very small piece of the pie and no one person uses too many server resources.

One of the downsides to this is that, with very popular services and especially during migration time (when you’re dealing with the heaviest initial uploads), you can get these rate limitations where you are essentially throttled back by your service provider and it can be slow. Many of those heavy loads can often take some time because all of those services are more designed for the long-term, slow collaboration of documents, where things are coming in and out, as opposed to the giant import of the first set of migration data.

How Often SMBs Test Online Backup Services

34% of SMBs test their online backup services on either a weekly or monthly basis. What is your reaction to this finding? 

I guess it would depend on how thoroughly they’re testing it. Whether that means I just looked at my logs and everything was still green so I’m assuming everything’s fine.  Or whether that means – hey, the IT guy who monitors the backups did a manual copy or looked at the time stamps. So depending what that test is, I’d say that’s good.

For some people, it probably a situation where they test more when they’re less comfortable and then, obviously, test less as they feel more comfortable. So I’m a little surprised that more people aren’t doing some level of testing at least daily or weekly. For that 10% [who test daily], it’s probably more like – hey, just make sure things are up and running and you haven’t seen any errors. I don’t know if I’d call it testing or if I’d just call it monitoring.

Now, if it’s a full-blown dry run (in the IT industry, what we call a lot of the times a “disaster recovery exercise”), you essentially, on a weekend, pretend that you had a disaster and go through and update everything from your backups to make sure all the procedures are working. Many companies do that about once a year. 

So depending on what we’re calling out here, I would recommend some low-level monitoring and testing fairly frequently – monitoring your logs, watching your status indicators, getting automated reports. And then do the deeper kind of disaster recovery-type testing quarterly or semi-annually, when you’re first adopting it, to make sure everything’s right. And then annually is probably what a lot of people do going forward after that.

Please describe the process of testing your online backup services. What do you look for?

Different people have different levels of rigor. Part of the equation is whether you could call it testing or monitoring. I know a lot of these services provide automated logs and things where they can literally say – here’s all the problems that have been encountered. That’s something to keep on top of fairly frequently.

And the other half of the test I was mentioning is what they call the disaster recovery-type testing and that’s a lot more involved. Usually it’s all hands on-deck – they shut down services from users over the weekend or off-hours, so they don’t impact operations too much. They literally test what would happen if this server with mission critical data went down and if could we bring it back up with our cloud backups from scratch. That’s a lot more rigorous, in-depth testing. In many ways, it’s not so much even testing the cloud service. You’re testing the cloud service as part of your entire disaster recovery process.

Yearly Spending on Online Backup Services

Annual spending on online backup has a wide range. Most SMBs spend between $250 and $5,000 yearly. What factors affect the cost of online backup services?

  • Size 

Some vendors offer levels or tiers of their service – they’re unlimited, but many times there are limitations and again, that comes back to understanding your data – how big is it, and how much of that is important? If 50% of your data is important, you could save a lot of money if you don’t pay for extra storage.

  • Amount of users

Sometimes you can do better if you are larger, because you can get less cost per user.

  • Type of service

Some services are more “premium” or offer others things in addition to backup, like collaborative file portals or vacation calendaring. Other services are more basic – you backup your files, you restore your files and we don’t touch any of your email or anything.

So it depends on the feature sets of the vendor, the needs of the customer and then, frankly, any kind of niche concerns. Some of these more highly regulated industries might go to a vendor that is more focused on governmental entities or financial entities – something that has higher levels of encryptions. Those additional features cost extra. 

Most Popular Online Backup Services in SMB Market

Apple iCloud (47%), Google Drive (36%), and Dropbox (35%). These same services were the top three cloud storage providers in the SMB market, according to another survey conducted by ClutchDo you have any insight into these three services’ popularity over the other options?

I think most of it comes from the fact that they were, or still are, in many cases, very focused on the consumer market. They offer free products. Many times, they bundle with mobile devices. You have Apple, and then Google doing the Android side. I know Dropbox has a lot of bundled deals with different vendors and PC vendors. So those three in particular have been very big on pushing their consumer product and offering free basic file backup and storage to, essentially, anyone with an email address.

Why are businesses adopting now? Why is some of that happening now? One part is because the market is more robust and ready. Another piece of that is people are bringing their own storage strategy. People have been using iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox on their personal devices and accounts for a while. When they needed to start doing things at work, they started using those, with or without authorization. Or there was enough usage that the organization said, “Hey, we’ve got this challenge and we’re going to at least embrace the cloud in some fashion. Which service should we choose? And they already had familiarity with these – people were using them, so it was an easy adoption. They took the path of least resistance. I think that’s why these guys stood out, because they followed that bottom-up strategy. In many cases, the needs of small businesses are closer to the needs of the consumers than to the big enterprise ECM multi-million-dollar stuff at the other end of the scale.

What are three things that a business should consider before selecting an online backup service?

  • What is the cost? 

We talked about the cost, and a lot of that comes down to features. What features do you need?

  • Do you understand your data and the platform?

If you’re going to embrace this service, it’s going to be a relatively disruptive change potentially, so you want to make sure you do it right. Understand your data and what’s important. What can we potentially put on a lower-cost storage or archive and what needs to be actively moved into our new online backup? We can find that some of our data isn’t mission critical and we can save money by not transmitting it, by not paying for it in extra storage, by not manipulating it or testing – all of those things that go along with it. So understand your data and your platform. What are the advantages and limitations of your chosen platform? Am I going to get email? Am I going to get additional features and do I even care about that?

  • What is your tolerance for risk?

Are you going to change your mind again? Do we want to keep our options open?

  • How are you going to get there? 

That’s the piece sometimes we don’t see people embrace. They think, “Okay, I’ve made my decision and I’m going to choose platform X.” Then they need to think, “Okay, great. What about all the stuff we still have? How do we do that?” There’s so many ways they can do that and we think a tool like SkySync – a cloud migration tool – solves a lot of problems you’ll encounter.