Cloud-first backup on the rise, but large pockets of MSP holdouts remain

N-able, which has a very strong cloud-first backup strategy, recently polled some of their more engaged resellers, and found that while a majority agreed that traditional on-prem backup had its limitations, many are still reluctant to switch.

Stefan Voss, VP, Product Management at N-able

A new survey of N-able’s MSP partners shows a move towards greater use of cloud-first backup to both save money and remove obstacles to efficient storage caused by on-prem facilities. For example, 57% agreed that their backup retention policies were constrained by local storage capacity. On the other hand, slightly more than half, 55%, did not agree with the idea that backup appliances, including tiering to the cloud, indicating that significant resistance still remains to making major changes to the way that things have always been done. The survey was conducted in early March 2022 among more than 100 N-able partners attending a series of Head Nerd bootcamps and office hours.

The survey found that almost 75% of MSPs said that their backup services are profitable, although the services that actually make money have changed over time.

“Standard backup is flat to declining, but where the market has shifted is to scale- out appliances,” said Stefan Voss, VP, Product Management at N-able. “BaaS [Backup as-a-Service] and DRaaS [Disaster Recovery as-a-Service] are now posting double digit growth. Growth comes in pockets and is a disruption game.”

“The costs of service delivery are an important nuance in determining who is in the 75% and who is in the 25%,” said Chris Groot, General Manager, Backup / Data Protection, at N-able. “The technology you are using is important, and for MSPs specifically supporting many locations, appliance-based backup is one element that adds to costs. The biggest part is the work that’s involved in supporting backup applications and storage, By changing the architecture so that all you have to do is deploy an agent, it takes the hours down from 40 to 4 for a service provider. That in turn helps them become a lot more profitable.”

Both Voss and Groot stressed that the optimal strategy here is cloud-first, not cloud-only.

“Our primary target at N-able is the cloud, but you also have to have the capability to have them local as well,” Voss noted.

Chris Groot, General Manager, Backup / Data Protection, at N-able

“There are more and more hybrid that customers are working with, where some infrastructure needs to be protected on-prem,” Groot added. “What’s important is moving beyond traditional local backup that hits the limitations of local networks.”

That conclusion was reflected in the survey as well. 57% of survey respondents agreed that their backup retention policies were constrained by local storage capacity, which can increase costs or break service level agreements.

“Traditional backup solutions in market are bound by the physical limits of the storage,” Voss said. “The amount of storage consumption is how much data is involved and how long you keep it around. You can scale it out and keep growing, but that is costly, or you can move it to the cloud. We don’t have any storage tiering or storage management there, so that’s one less thing that you have to worry about.”

Voss said that cloud-first with a single on-prem backup is also more efficient against ransomware.

“When you have infrastructure for the sole purpose of backing up, you are exposed to ransomware,” he indicated. “I do think having an offsite copy by default provides a side benefit, but that old way you have all these copies, but you needed more people to manage it. This way, you don’t.”

The most surprising – and most problematic finding in the survey is that only 45%, agreed with the idea that backup appliances, including tiering to the cloud, are an expensive approach to data protection. That means that a majority disagreed, and given that the survey base was not random MSPs but N-able partners who would be much more inclined to be aware of the company’s strategy and guidance here, the number is something of an outlier.

“I was surprised at this myself,” Voss said. “I think it’s a reflection of the mentality that they have always done things a certain way, and it tends to be hard to uproot an operations process that you have fine-tuned.”

“Cloud-first can be difficult for some MSPs because it really challenges their  fundamental beliefs,” Groot added.

The good news, Voss indicated, is that MSPs who do make the move tend to be delighted by the bottom-line results.

“The feedback is how shocked they have been by how few people they need to monitor and maintain backup,” he said. “That feedback from customers who have migrated to cloud-first is consistent. We also save them time and money by doing all the upgrades and patching.”

“You can certainly do this with traditional approaches, but at what cost?” Groot asked. “Cloud-first delivers convenience and services you no longer need to manage. It’s a light bulb moment for folks that embrace it.”