Image representing Axcient as depicted in Crun...

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With apologies to Zanussi for the corny title, I had an interesting conversation with Axcient CEO Justin Moore and HP’s VP for Channel Strategy & SMB Meaghan Kelly about the issues of helping small and medium businesses cope with backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity.

Yesterday’s conversation was taking place in the context of today’s announcement from HP and Axcient; Axcient’s US data centres are moving to HP servers, networking and storage, and the appliance that the company puts on-site with customers will be an HP ProLiant server moving forward.

According to Moore, most SMBs use “4 or more” vendor solutions to “cobble together” a data protection solution. Basic application and data backup, disaster recovery from off-site backup, and business continuity in the event of hardware failure are all addressed separately, and it can be difficult to stitch the pieces together without dedicated — and expert — effort. I wonder how many companies, especially at the ‘S’ end of ‘SMB,’ simply give up on attempting anything but the most rudimentary on-site backup… and hope that nothing goes wrong?

Axcient’s solution is different, as the company offers a single appliance (an HP server, running Axcient’s applications) that can be deployed locally. There is no up-front cost for the appliance, with both it and the ongoing service being billed on a recurring monthly subscription. Software on the appliance handles backing up applications and data on servers, desktops and laptops across the business, and securely replicates changed data to one of Axcient’s US data centres for backup and disaster recovery. Should critical hardware fail within the business, a virtual machine can be started on the appliance to fulfil the role of the failed equipment until it is repaired or replaced. Indeed, Moore suggested that the ProLiant server they’ve selected would be capable of taking the place of up to seven servers if required; presumably with a perceptible loss of performance. Slow responses from a straining appliance are no doubt preferable to no response at all from seven dead servers.

Axcient’s data centres are currently in the United States, raising the spectre of PATRIOT Act, European Data Protection legislation, data territoriality and more for those of us outside the US. Moore recognises this issue, and says that the company is in the process of opening a Canadian data centre. Sites in Europe and elsewhere may well follow.

Both HP and Axcient are pitching this solution to the entire SMB market; that’s everything from the lone consultant operating out of a home office up to businesses employing 1,000 staff. They’re certainly right to address the whole market and the top end is probably more lucrative, especially for HP’s channel partners. I was particularly interested, though, in the value that this might deliver to small businesses struggling to do much more than replicate core data to an external hard drive under their desk. Here, the $150 per month ballpark that Moore mentioned is expensive, but perhaps a sound investment if data and systems are key to business success.

With their reliance upon asynchronous data connections and effectively consumer-grade connectivity, one significant issue for small businesses is the practicality of trickling all of their on-premise data slowly up to an Axcient data centre before they can begin to reap benefits. With their ‘rapid seeding service,’ Axcient appear to have thought of this. If connectivity issues mean that network-based methods to replicate all your on-premise data are going to be too slow, it’s possible to transfer the data to a storage device attached to the appliance, “ship that in a locked container” to an Axcient data centre, and have the data loaded there to be available within 48 hours. The incremental backups of new and changed blocks then take place over the network without causing issues. Simple, obvious, but a sign that Axcient appears to be considering the needs of their smaller customers.