Masters of Disaster

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina alerted companies of all sizes about the need for reliable disaster recovery (DR) capability. Now ISVs specializing in DR are leveraging that newfound awareness to drive sales.

Take, for instance, Neverfail Group Ltd., a DR vendor and Gold Certified Partner with U.S. headquarters in Austin, Texas. "We're tracking over 100 percent growth per annum over the past three years," says Nick Harmer, Neverfail's VP for alliances and channels. "The market really picked up after 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks reminded people about the need to have backup."

At the very least, the two national tragedies dramatically raised awareness about the importance of having an effective DR strategy. Morgan Edwards, president and CEO of UltraBac Software, a Bellevue, Wash.-based Gold Certified Partner, said that for his company, "9/11 didn't have an immediate impact, but it brought DR to the forefront of every IT manager's and IT auditor's thoughts. But 12 to 18 months after 9/11, we saw a significant increase in disaster recovery sales."

Using incidents such as Katrina and 9/11 to make sales can be tricky, acknowledges Eric Dougherty, director of channel sales for Burlington, Mass.-based Acronis Inc., a Registered Member. There is "a little bit of an internal guilt meter," he says, then adds: "But you're helping them, so the next time [a disaster] happens," those companies will be better prepared and protected. (For advice on developing comprehensive disaster-preparedness plans, read the May 2007 Best Practices feature, "Before the Storm.")

Frank Jablonski, director of product marketing for XOsoft, a Gold Certified Partner now owned by Islandia, N.Y.-based CA Inc., says vendors can boost sales by selling DR capability the same way they sell customers on other products or services. "We're selling an insurance policy [that ensures] that data will be protected, that they'll be able to keep their business going, and remain in [regulatory] compliance," he says.

Jablonski hits on another major DR driver: keeping the regulators happy. Being audited by a government agency can be almost as unpleasant as having your data center swamped by a hurricane. The Sarbanes Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Payment Card Industry Compliance are among the laws requiring businesses to safeguard private data. Thanks to those mandates, many companies must not only implement adequate backup and DR systems, but also verify that those systems are working properly-possibly as auditors look over their shoulders. These days, Jablonski says, "some regulators threaten to put you in jail if your data isn't protected and recoverable."

But while disasters and compliance requirements have increased interest in DR solutions, those sales haven't necessarily gotten any easier. Cost remains among the biggest hurdles.

Many prospects don't understand DR technology, and its ROI can be especially difficult to calculate, Jablonski notes. "There are always budget challenges," agrees Ellen Rome, vice president of sales and marketing for STORServer Inc., a Gold Certified Partner with U.S. headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Customers "want a solution that will sing, dance and make coffee at the same time for $2." But DR specialists note that cost complaints tend to vanish quickly after a company experiences its first real data disaster.
Virtualization, which can also help address the cost issue, is quickly becoming a primary tool in selling DR.

"In setting up a DR site, you have the expense of hardware, cooling, connectivity- huge expenses that you're not getting a return on," Jablonski says. Virtualization can both justify and reduce some of those costs. "You might have six production servers in the data center, but you only need one for DR, so you can have six virtual servers on one server," he says. That kind of consolidation can make costs much more palatable.

The best way to sell DR solutions and services, in Jablonski's view: Have prospects ask themselves: "What will happen to my business if I can't access my information?" Then be ready with solutions designed to ensure that customers never learn the answer to that question.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.