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February 5, 2010

Q&A with Acronis CEO Jason Donahue

CBR talks to the boss of backup and disaster recovery firm Acronis

By Steve Evans

Q. What separates Acronis from the other backup and recovery firms on the market?
A. We have a unique way of doing helping customers protect their critical information, which is using bare-metal recovery. It’s image-based rather than the traditional way of backup, which is taking a capture of the files on a laptop or workstation or server and then backing them up to another machine. What we do is capture a full image of everything on the machine, from the operating systems up to the applications, it includes all the settings and configuration and of course includes all the data.

We also have some technology that allows us to recover off one of our images remotely over the network. So if your machine goes down and you need to be back up in business quickly you can access and remotely boot off our image and be running as you’re pulling your data back over the network to rebuild the machine. You can rebuild much faster by reloading an image on the same or different machine – if you lose a Dell for example, you can restore to a HP device.

Our image-based approach is really displacing a lot of the traditional file-based backup, which has really fuelled the growth of our company.

Q. Does image-based backup take longer than the traditional approach?
A. The initial backup over the network takes a little more time because it’s capturing a whole image. But we have compression technology that makes us very efficient. One of the features we’ve implemented in our newest product, Acronis Backup and Recovery 10, is deduplication, which allows you to identify common data and files across various machines and only back it up once. We do that at the file level and the block level. That reduces the amount of data stored, so it’s very efficient.

Q. Symantec recently revamped its storage line to include deduplication. What do you make of their technology?
A. Our deduplication is very flexible, relative to our primary competition. We offer both source and target deduplication. Which you use depends on how much bandwidth and computing capacity you have. We can also do file- and block-based deduplication. Uniquely we allow our customers to configure their specific deduplication approach using our technology depending on their configuration and network environment.

Q. How do recovery speeds compare between image-based and file-based approaches?
A. We can typically get someone up and running in half an hour to an hour, it can take longer depending on bandwidth and distance over which you’re recovering data, but generally it’s measured in minutes. If you’re using traditional file-based backup and have to rebuild a machine the first step is to reinstall the operating system, then applications, then all the settings and that process can take two or three days, and that’s before you begin to bring data back onto the machine.

Q. You’re currently growing at a faster rate than a lot of your rivals. Why do you think that is?
A. We over-invest in engineering; we have about 40% of our employees are in engineering. That’s a very high ratio for a software company. We’re heavily committed to R&D. While we’re smaller than Symantec or EMC, the size of our engineering team keeps us competitive on the key checkbox functionality. For example, in virtualisation we have the ability to support instant backup and recovery of virtual machines in a VMware environment. Our deduplication is more efficient. We released our deduplication support a year ago and Symantec has only just announced it, 12 months later. We’re already moving on to our next generation technology.

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Q. What role is virtualisation playing for Acronis now?
A. Virtualisation is really an opportunity for us; we’ve been aggressively going after it as a business. We did a recent survey of our customers and over half of our SMBs are using virtualisation and we expect within two or three years that number will be pretty close to 100%. That doesn’t mean that everything is virtualisation – we’re seeing a hybrid of dedicated non-virtualised computing infrastructure and applications and virtualised environments within businesses. Certainly it’s increasing in prevalence in space we’re going after.

Q. And what about cloud computing?
A. We believe that cloud will be disruptive for SMBs and consumers; it’ll be less adopted in large enterprises. The reason for that is that today if you’re a large business and you want to backup your data, you are going to backup files to a storage device and you may have a local copy. But you also probably have multiple data centres, so you’re going to replicate your data so if one site goes down you can failover to another. SMBs and consumers don’t have that luxury. They can backup on to a storage device but off-site storage involves physically carrying the tapes home. What the cloud enables is a virtual data centre capability for off-site replication for disaster recovery. Our vision of cloud computing is that it will basically enable SMBs and consumers to have the true replication capability that large enterprise have.

Q. How many of your clients are using cloud-based backup?
A. It’s a very small number today. The same holds true across the industry, the cloud business from a revenue perspective is well under 1% of what software represents.

Q. Why do you think that is?
A. I think the products that have been brought to market to date have really just been file backup, just storage in the cloud. I think there is a lot more potential from the standpoint of building richness of features. I think there is going to be a cloud storage business that is and will stay commodity but then there is also going to be true disaster recovery in the cloud. Within two years we want to be able to give clients the capability to actually recover their computing environment into our cloud. So if they lose a site the can run their applications in our cloud while they are rebuilding their infrastructure locally.

Q. What’s the future roadmap for Acronis?
A. We’re going to be introducing products during 2010 that will broaden our focus by moving into some adjacent areas. We’re going to position ourselves as the de-facto solution for information protection. That includes backup and recovery but there are a lot of other areas and problems that businesses and consumers have around information protection that we think we can address very well. Security is an example of that. We’re going to be launching a suite of security products that will initially be targeted at consumers but will have firewall, antivirus, spam, the whole thing. We’ll have bundles that people can buy that will include bare-metal recovery-based backup software, the cloud-based backup and disaster recovery, and a full security suite.


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