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December 15, 2010

‘There will always be appetite for backup technology’: Q&A with Jason Donahue, CEO of Acronis

CBR talks to the boss of backup and recovery specialist Acronis about whether it is still an issue in 2010 and what role the cloud is playing in backup technology

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Jason Donahue, Acronis CEO

So I understand you guys are a privately-held backup and recovery software firm?
We sure are, dedicated to helping firms protect the data on their workstations and servers to cope with disaster and also recover from that disaster very quickly. Our software is sold in more than 180 countries and is available in 13 languages and our customers include the Eurofighter project, Brighton College, BT Ireland and Oxford University, among many others.

And your role in the firm – are you the founder, or what have you?
No, Acronis was actually founded in 2000, originally focused on disk partitioning and boot loader software, we then moved towards backup and disaster recovery by turning to disk imaging technology. In terms of my own resume, I have been CEO here at Acronis for two years, prior to which I was president and CEO of ClearApp until it was acquired by Oracle. Before that, I spent time at IBM [and has also been the CEO of a number of start ups, including two virtualisation firms, as well as working for firms like CapGemini; he got his education from Ivy League stalwart Stanford in Northern California].

I know you don’t have to tell me this as you are a private company, but just to get some idea of your presence in terms of scale, roughly what kind of run-rate are you at fiscally?
You’re right; but I can quote IDC that has estimated our revenues are over $100m.

You mentioned disk imaging, which went over my head a bit, sorry. What is that all about?
What we do – what is in fact unique about the Acronis approach – is that we offer what’s called bare metal recovery, or image-based, recovery. What that means is that we have the ability to restore not just your files but the whole state of the machine as it was before the crash – the whole personality of the machine comes back as it was. We also can recover if it’s more convenient for you to recover on to another machine, too, so you can fail on a Lenovo but recover on a Dell.

You need to put all this in context for us, I think. So backup and recovery is still an issue in 2010?
Very much so. Gartner has put the entire global backup and recovery market at about $7bn – of which I’d say the majority is the legacy, file-recovery, sort, so we are unique as a bare-metal player in the midst of all that opportunity.

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You know that journalists always get a bit twitchy when vendors claim to be "unique"…
Well, fair enough, it’s true that Symantec has something in this area, but it’s not a primary product for those guys or as invested in as our technology is. So the fact is that the majority of backup today, from players like an EMC, a CommVault or a CA, is the more traditional, file-based.

I also have to wonder where the cloud leaves all this. Does it make it "go away"?
The reality is that very few people are looking to the cloud for backup. If you are relying on network connection and have lots of data, the way most organisations tend to, you’re looking at possibly two weeks to put a reasonably large hard drive on to a cloud. Which might be fine, of course, for storage, but may not suit you for recovery, in fact in most cases simply wouldn’t be seen as acceptable.

Therefore – the cloud is not part of your market.
Actually, it is. Best practice around backup and recovery around the cloud is to use local software and the network to back things up regularly, every ten to thirty minutes perhaps, but then look to do an off-site, third party cloud backup on, say, a weekly basis. So that way you have some secure off-site storage in case of fire and flood. We have in fact just released what we think is the first bare-metal recovery option for both local and cloud usage.

Do you see your approach becoming more popular?
I’d argue that we are beginning to displace the older, legacy model, for sure. I’d also have to say that we haven’t been impacted in our growth by the recession. What we’ve found is that people need to backup – they may choose to do so on fewer machines, but data protection is always going to be something CIOs aren’t prepared to take risks with. Another reality is that one in two organisations can expect a data loss of some sort over a 24-month period, so to avoid that becoming a disaster, there will always be appetite for new technologies like image recovery.

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