Opinion Pieces

The Lonely IT Adminstrator

Building loyalty with the lonely IT Administrator

For many IT Administrators, even those in large organisations, they are operating within a small, fragmented IT infrastructure. How do you address the challenges they face and meet their complex needs in backup and DR?

Some history

Up until recently backup meant putting an appropriately labelled tape in the backup drive and hoping that an incremental copy of the target machines is safely copied to the tape. DR involved sending one backup tape a month to an off-site location for secure storage. IT Administrators in both large and small enterprises became very familiar with this approach and whilst the technology could be erratic, it provided a measure of reassurance that if the worst should happen there was a fall back option. As regards home users, well, they had limited options beyond keeping copies of critical files on floppy disks and hoping for the best.

Today the options backup and DR are many and varied with the pace of innovation at an all-time high. Even so Backup and DR is sometimes regarded as a dark art, often the poor relation when it comes to IT budgets in small and medium enterprises.

What is driving change in the backup and DR space?

Over the past 10 years the main innovation drivers in the backup, recovery and DR sectors have been; massive growth in storage capabilities and with it stored data, server virtualization, imaging technologies, and IT Systems Management frameworks. A new wave of creative technology companies have grasped the opportunity to leverage these innovations to build increasingly capable solutions. Because of the rapid change the market has fragmented somewhat into focused niche players, established generalists and framework based solutions.

Virtualization in particular has, for the past 8-10 years, fed a string of very successful niche players in the VMware ecosystem. This, at the same time as VMware is strengthening their own backup and DR offerings in direct competition to their ecosystem partners! How this competition will end depends on the penetration VMware makes with their management frameworks vs. the likes of Microsoft and System Center.

While the virtualization move has been getting a lot of attention, many business are still only partially virtual or not virtualized at all. The traditional, physical, Windows backup and DR sector has seen less hype, however, the pace of innovation has been almost as great.

Backup to the cloud is a more recent phenomenon and is currently getting the most hype and focus from established and traditional vendors alike. The growth of cloud backup appliances, hybrid of software and hardware tailored for backup, has seen a number of new entrants in the past five years. These days it seems that almost every VAR, VAD, MSP etc. is offering some kind of hosted or managed backup service for small and medium enterprises. However, the level of adoption and trust in cloud based backup and DR is more difficult to measure.

Large and fragmented

When considering the backup and DR requirements of different organisations, the usual approach of vendors and their channel networks is to segment by size, then by level of server virtualization. Resellers in particular have this approach down to a fine art and have learned to tailor their sales pitch very effectively. There is however an alternative approach for assessing and positioning backup and DR needs and that is based on the size of the “local” IT infrastructure. Many large organisations have quite fragmented IT infrastructures because of branch offices scattered across countries and continents. While these branch offices may be part of a very large enterprise, often the needs of the local IT administrator are more closely aligned to those of a SME than a typical HQ centric large enterprise.

Looking after the local IT Administrator

As previously alluded to, backup and DR needs are quite often not directly addressed in IT budgets or policies and procedures. There is a growing awareness, especially in SMEs, of the need for effective backup and DR, however, when faced with a choice between a “one size fits all” and a niche product, the result is often both are used. The needs of the local IT administrator who is often isolated from HQ, or is managing multiple SME estates, can be distilled into four key areas. The solution must be very easy to deploy, be fast, have exceptional reliability, and provide recovery/restore utilities that take minutes not hours. To understand this one must look at the requirement from the perspective of the local IT administrator. They will typically be working by themselves without the support of a large team or out of hours support. They will be wearing many hats, covering all the IT needs from jammed printers to firewall security, and backup and DR. Anything that removes complexity from their responsibilities and provides peace of mind for backup and recovery, will win their loyalty.

Because backup and DR is often a low priority in IT Budgets, the buying decision is pushed down to the IT administrators in small or fragmented infrastructures. If vendors pay attention to their needs (simplicity, speed, reliability, recoverability) then that solution will be favoured. Typically IT administrators are likely to share their experiences with peers, through online forums or blogs, therefore good news (and bad) about backup and DR solutions will reach the wider community.


IT administrators need backup and DR solutions that address their needs directly. Simplicity, speed, reliability and trouble free recovery are what they are desire most. By building such solutions and then addressing them as a unique market segment vendors and partners can build loyalty and grow the customer base.

Stephen Macpherson

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