I was fortunate enough to attend the #TechFieldDay roundtable by Asigra yesterday at VMworld 2013 in San Francisco.

Asigra is a cloud backup provider and has been around for a long time. They tick all the regular boxes: they’re agentless and can backup a multiple of source platforms, such as vSphere and Windows (including VSS) but also various cloud platforms such as Google Apps and Salesforce.com. I was amazed by the sheer size of this company. They’re the largest backup vendor you’ve never heard of, apparently.

I did not know Asigra before this session, and thus have little knowledge of the company and their products. I expected a technical deep dive on the technology. Instead, Asigra took a different approach at this #TechFieldDay session: they gave their perspective on licensing in the (virtual) backup world. This took the delegates by surprise, but I think they had a compelling story to tell.

The licensing issue

Usually, backup software is licensed by the number of agents deployed, number of source hosts or amount of data being backed up. However, it’s not the backup or data itself that should actually matter to you. It’s the recoverability of data, the time it’ll take and the complexity involved in restoring. Asigra makes the point that licensing (based on the backup-side of things) and actual value of any backup product (based on the restore-side of things) aren’t aligned, and might seem unbalanced for organizations that don’t do restores all that often. The capacity-based or agent-based licensing model isn’t sustainable in the long run, said Eran Frajun, Asigra’s EVP. The amount of data ingested by the backup infrastructure is simply growing too fast, adding to the cost of maintaining a healthy and valuable backup infrastructure.

Recovery License Model

To even this imbalance out, Asigra created a two-fold licensing model focussed on recoverability. The new Recovery License Model delivers on this new license focus by metering ‘recovery performance’ which decouples backup and recovery licensing. The backup part of this new model is actually based on (deduplicated) backup capacity and includes all historical data ingested into the system over a whole year. The fee for this part of the license has been dramatically reduced, however.

The recovery part of the model is based on the percentage of the backup capacity mentioned above that is restored during a year (or six months during the first year of your contract). This relationship is called the Recovery Performance Score. The bandwidth of this score is between 5% (minimum fee) and 25% (maximum fee). This bandwidth ensures Asigra stays in business while preventing the customer having to pony up large amounts of money in the event of a disaster or very large restore. Even better, Asigra won’t charge you for your single largest restore in an effort to filter out isolated peak events.

Recovery Tracker

A piece of software, called the Asigra Recovery Tracker will measure the number of  (succesful) recoveries per year, amount of data recovered, source of the data loss and the reason for the restore. It also includes the ability to benchmark your Recovery Performance Score against other organisations across industry verticals, geographies, company or IT environment size.

One cool feature of this Tracker is actually the ability to gain insight into the reasons of data loss, effectiveness of the restores, etc., giving the backup administrator a tool with which he can improve on his service and focus.

Check out the Recovery License Model Calculator to get an idea of the nitty-gritty of this new license model. TechTarget has published a couple of good examples on how the licensing model works out for customers:

Asigra provides an example of a company backing up 10 TB. Based on list price, its recovery license is 50 cents/GB (the maximum) for the first six months for $5,120, and its backup license is $0.166 per GB for $1,699 per month. That totals $6,819 per month for six months. If a company recovers only 5% of its data over those six months, its recovery costs drop to $0.167 per GB for the next six months. That comes to $1,710 for recovery — counting drills — plus the $1,699 backup license for a total of $3,409 per month.

A company that recovers 25% over the first six months would stay at the $6,819 per month rate for the second six months. Even the worst-case pricing is roughly the same as the current industry list price average of 66 cents per GB, Farajun said. He claimed the new pricing model will bring customers savings of around 40% immediately and 60% in the long term.

asigra_rlm

What about DR testing?

So does this mean you’re going to pay big time if you’re doing a large DR test? Thankfully, no. Asigra offers cheap ‘DR Drill’ licenses to accommodate this use case. These licenses must be bought about a month or so in advance and have a very limited lifespan to prevent abuse.

Conclusion

I like the fresh look at this age-old problem, and this shift in licensing might actually be good for the backup market; it’ll keep the vendors on their toes and keeps the innovations coming. That being said, I’m not sure if this variable cost model is actually attractive for customers. It means that they’ll be uncertain of the actual cost until the invoice drops in your inbox, although you do have insight into the cost via the Recovery Tracker. I do like the weight shift to recoveries, since this will usher users and backup administrators to take a good look at what and why they’re recovering. This will improve the efficiency of operations in the long run.