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ISPs dipping into data storage to stay ahead

A recent flurry of computer virus attacks has renewed attention to the area of data backup and recovery, as well as to ISPs' emerging role in providing this technology as a service.

Internet service providers looking for new sources of revenue are moving into the data storage and security area to stay competitive.

A recent flurry of computer virus attacks has renewed attention to the not-so-glitzy area of data backup and recovery, as well as to communications providers' emerging role in providing this technology as a service.

Some online data backup and file recovery companies are targeting their products specifically to ISPs to gain quick exposure to a large audience. ISPs benefit by having an additional service to offer in an effort to capture more sales.

"Consumers are simply far more comfortable with their ISP," said Malcolm Edgar, a founder of 3-month-old ExpressBackup, an Australian backup and recovery software company targeting Internet service providers. ISPs "are uniquely positioned to provide this service. They have the customer base and technology infrastructure already in place."

ExpressBackup said it is leasing its product specifically to ISPs, primarily those serving the consumer audience. In turn, the ISPs can re-brand the service and sell or offer it to their customers as part of a bundled offering that may include Web site hosting or managed network security.

Other online data backup and recovery companies include Connected, SkyDesk (formerly @Backup), Ontrack Data International and Stac Software.

Connected, whose clients include Cisco Systems, IBM and General Electric, last year unveiled its iPartner Program, which lets ISPs and application service providers (ASPs) offer their customers Internet backup software from Connected. Members of the program include US West, Concentric Networks, GTE Internetworking, CenterBeam, HarvardNet and PeoplePC.

"We've seen more ISPs approaching us," said Glenn Gaudet, a spokesman for Connected. "They are looking for the ability to add value to something that, quite honestly, has become a commodity."

Offering backup and recovery technology is a smart move by ISPs, analysts say. Even industry leaders such as America Online, US West, Concentric Networks and Verio need to build on their existing services to survive in what has evolved into a highly competitive industry.

"Those ISPs that offer a broader portfolio of services are the ones that will survive," said Brownlee Thomas, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "In this highly competitive market, most (ISPs) will not survive. They all need to increase the number of services they offer, type of services they offer, and strike deals with others."

Data storage and file recovery services "will become increasingly important" as more consumers and businesses rely on their PCs to store a wider scope of data and more complex information, Thomas said.

"Most of the ISPs don't offer data backup and file recovery" services, she said.

Concentric, an ISP that provides Web site hosting and managed network services, said it began offering a data backup and file recovery feature because of client demand. The company offers its customers Connected's online data backup and file recovery product.

"The most important thing is to get a message out there that we have this feature to our customer base," said Cynthia Dihn, a marketing manager at Concentric. "It's not just an issue of revenues for us...(ISPs) need to look at what the customers want, especially with all of the various virus attacks (recently)."

Security on the go
Giga analyst Mike Adams, who follows the data storage industry, said demand is increasing for storage services, especially among businesses that have multiple mobile users.

As a growing number of executives work from the road, more key data ends up residing on corporate laptops. Workers are away from their local data centers, so to have an online data backup tool could be worthwhile for some of these companies, Adams said. That could open the door for additional revenues for ISPs looking not only to boost their subscriber lists but to forge relationships with large corporations as well.

By adding a data storage service, "it makes ISPs' solutions more viable and robust," Adams said. "Storage services are generally offered in the background or as part of another service...Storage isn't the sexiest topic (when it comes to technology), but it's the most necessary."

Bob Levy, who see CNET Software: Protect yourself from a virus attackheads Chicago-based Advanced Technology Solutions, said he had to shut down his business for a week after he was hit with last year's infamous "Melissa" virus. Though Levy had a sufficient data backup system in place, he spent most of his time manually recovering data that had been contaminated.

"With the Melissa virus, it took a week to recover all of the data to the point where the system was usable," said Levy, who uses online backup and file recovery software from Connected.

Levy, who noted that most of his data consists of competitive analysis and research that has remained in the archives for years, said that by using some of the more "smarter" file recovery products, the manual process of recovering contaminated files can be cut to less than a day.