An Open Letter To Scott Guthrie About Azure Backup

Oh baby, it’s one of those posts where Aidan Smash! I think Azure Backup has amazing potential to OWN the online backup market, but thanks to the leadership of that group, Azure Backup is irrelevant. Read on to find out why.

[Update]

Microsoft modified the below announcement and details were confirmed to me. Read here to learn more.

What’s Online Backup and What is the Market?

We all know what on-premises backup is:

  • Something like DPM, Veeam, Altaro, Commvault, ArcServe, etc runs a job to backup files, folders, system state, VMs, or whatever
  • Data is sent to a disk and/or tape archive
  • We restore data from there when it’s corrupted or lost

An old saying in IT goes: you don’t have a backup if you don’t have 3 copies. In IT we know that we should keep off-site copies of data. In the old days, Iron Mountain would pick up a bag of tapes and courier them off to some place. If we needed to go back more than a week, then we’d have to call those tapes in (cost + delay) and that sucked. Plus tapes are fragile.

Some folks implemented site-to-site replication of backup (DPM, Veeam, etc) to counter this. Data is sent off to another location so the data is available no matter what happens to the primary site. But … there’s a cost to keeping an archive.

This is where online backup is meant to come into play. A hosting company can offer huge amounts of cheap storage. An agent is deployed to required machines (roaming user devices, servers, hosts, VMs) and does an online backup. Data might be proxied/stored locally with a short retention period, and stored in the cloud with a long retention period. There’s lots of variations in the offerings so don’t get caught up in the details here.

The Challenge with Online Backup

It’s simple: Price. The dominant service in Ireland (based on reseller-friendly Ahsay) costs anywhere from €0.30 to €1.00 per GB stored per month. So when Microsoft came along with Azure and offered a cheaper alternative you’d think that they’d wipe the floor with the competition, right?

What’s Wrong with Azure Online Backup?

I break up AB into three offerings, to try clarify the mess that Azure Marketing/Branding has created:

  • Azure Backup for IaaS/VMs: Backs up VMs running in Azure to block blob storage
  • DPM + Azure Backup: DPM backs up Hyper-V, files/folders, SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, etc, and an AB agent on the DPM server forwards selected data to Azure block blob storage
  • Azure Backup: An agent (called MARS) is installed on each machine that will be backed up, and it can only support files and folders, only files and folders, and nothing but files and folders, and if you ask about anything other than files and folders then you are a complete moron that should walk onto the street and ask to be hit in the head with a baseball bat (it might improve your IQ)

The market for Azure Backup is not the large enterprise. It’s SMEs … as I said it was quite some time ago with Azure Site Recovery (the ASR team has since acknowledged that I was correct). When Azure first went on sale via Open licensing (SMEs) I talked to Microsoft partners about this. The price then was around €0.25 per GB, which then dropped to €0.149/GB and now sits at as little as €0.0.17/GB (approx – I’m too lazy to Google it) plus “instance” charge. So Azure Backup completely took over the Irish market, right? Uh, not so fast, my friend! Anyone selling the incumbent is still selling the incumbent, and that’s because the AB leadership continues to ignore overwhelming feedback. Instead, they focus on scenarios for System Center customers, and although “sales” of System Center to SMEs might be green on the scorecard, that’s because of some “clever tricks” that various news sites have alluded to and the occasional large customer that refuses to buy Select/EA. In the real world, SMEs do not use System Center, so focusing on System Center customers is ignoring the huge breadth market that currently uses online backup solutions that cost much more than AB.

Note: Any Redmond-ites that think SMEs are  just single-server companies are free to step off of their ivory tower and visit the real world outside of insulated and misinformed bubble.

What feature blockers are there to using AB?

  • Centralised management: There is no centralised management for AB. All management is done on a per-machine basis – which sucks. Customers hate this, and the resellers that are the IT department of those customers detest it because it’s unmanageable.
  • Backup support: Ab only does files and folders. Customers always ask about SQL Server, Exchange, Hyper-V and more. The Microsoft answer is: Use DPM. However, SMEs cannot afford DPM because it’s hidden in System Center licensing.
  • Pricing complexity: Have you met instances? Go on – google the pricing for Azure Backup and see what you think. We’ve actually lost Azure deals because of this BS that was introduced on April Fool’s Day.

We kept hearing that the AB team was going to fix all of this. And then yesterday, I read a post about Operations Management Suite (OMS) Add-On for System Center. There you will find this piece of text:

image

 

Here’s what you need to know first: The OMS Add-On can only be bought by System Center customers: 1 Std Add-On for 1 Std SML, 1 DC Add-On for 1 DC SML. And the new features of AB are only available to OMS Add-On customers:

  • Adding DPM technology to the AB agent: I don’t have OMS and I tested the latest agent that I can download. I still can only backup files and folders. It appears that this new agent for AB to solve the issue that AB can only backup files and folders, is only available to customers with DPM licensing. Some genius thought that to solve the lack of DPM, you need to buy DPM, to use a backup agent that isn’t DPM. Friggin’ Einstein, right? Give that person a job running the economy for Greece or Zimbabwe!
  • Centralised management: Only available to DPM customers, the sort that don’t do much online backup, while ignoring the breadth market that will and does backup to the cloud with more expensive alternative vendors that do offer what those customers need.

It’s quite clear that the AB group either doesn’t understand the feedback and/or refuses to listen.

A Request for Scott Guthrie

Scott, I know you’re a smart man. Why do you and how can you tolerate this continued failure? I know you could sell a lot more Azure storage if you opened up Azure Backup to the SME market with improved backup support and centralised management. I could probably have half of the Irish market switched over by now if someone in Microsoft was actually acting on the feedback that they’ve been getting since last summer. Ireland is a tiny market in the grand scheme of things, but the nature of our market is the same across the entire EU and I doubt the USA is much different. That’s a lot of money you’re leaving on the table for competition to take.

I know that someone in Microsoft (probably Dublin) will complain about “that loud MVP” again, and I’ll have the usual conversations. But I know I’m right and I’ve repeatedly given the feedback via forum, direct emails to relevant PMs, and Lync conversations. Give us the product we need, and we’ll sell the heck out of it to people that will use it. So, Scott, I’m imploring you to make the necessary changes. Stop focusing Azure Backup on System Center customers; it’s a waste of dev/test time. Focus on SMEs and resellers and you will take over the online backup market in a year with customers that are actually adopting or using Azure.

9 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Scott Guthrie About Azure Backup”

  1. Spot on. We would LOVE to sell Azure Backup….Sadly MS seem determined to make it impossible to sell into the SMB marketplace. They may eventually sort this out, but by that time we’ll most probably be nice and warm in bed with another provider…

  2. Couldn’t agree more! As it stands now, I can’t sell this to any of my 50+ customers since they simply don’t have/use/want/afford System Center. And some of them are even large enterprise…

  3. DPM is not the only thing that can leverage Azure. Veeam can also use it as a remote storage and can easuly backup exchange, dc, sql, etc…. as ling as its inside a VM backed up from hyperv host.
    But apart from that – could agree more. All of my customers would buy AB to protect their standalone servers offsite… If only it wouldnt be files and folders only…

    1. Using Veeam is much more expensive – you must (obviously) license Veeam, but you must also access the storage via page blobs and disks, rather than block blobs, and that’s twice the cost. Plus remember – my point is that many SMEs want to use ONLINE backup, not on-premises backup with an add-on.

      1. Agree in full. There are different scenarios where AB could be “more usefull”. Now with small virt environments Veeam is a good product – not that expensive that can backup on- and offsite at a considerable price. Though a prerequisite – virt environment.
        Can’t wait for the features in the NEW announcment – all standalone servers without designated backup software will be able to leverage AB in full

  4. Enjoy your blog, and we have been looking at OMS for our company as we are trialing out Operational Insights. We don’t have SC, and I was talking to one of my Microsoft contacts just now after reading your blog and they were saying all the components can still be bought standalone, and we can use the Azure Backup standalone and all new features too. That good news, which I hope they clear up there message on. He was saying the OMS add-on is for existing SC customers, but that wont block anyone that wants to use the new Azure Backup features if they don’t have it.

    1. Interesting, but I don’t believe anything said by someone working in a subsidiary when it comes to licensing or packaging. They’re usually the last to know; there was evidence of this when Azure changed the pricing structure of Backup.

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