Cloud storage demand drives growth for Toronto firm

It’s not part of the company’s official corporate slogan, but “here we grow again” has a nice ring to it at Asigra Inc. these days.

The Toronto company is on a hiring blitz, looking to boost its employee base of about 120 people, which has already grown by about 20 per cent annually in recent years. It’s just not enough for Asigra; the firm has to hire more people if it hopes to satisfy the growing appetite for cloud-based storage and backup systems, which allow users to store data on remote servers and access them over the Internet on a subscription fee basis.

As more businesses look to the cloud to safeguard their data, the global market for cloud backup is exploding. Research house Gartner expects worldwide revenue from cloud services to hit nearly $150 billion in 2014.

The cloud market is growing. That means more competitors are joining the fray. As the space starts to mature – and gets more crowded– how does each cloud backup company stay competitive?

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Asigra is just one beneficiary of the global adoption of cloud technology. The company’s flagship product is its Hybrid Cloud Backup and Recovery software solution, a software-free backup and recovery platform that allows users to move data into and out of the cloud. Asigra sells its backup and recovery software solutions 100 per cent through the channel. Its cloud-based offerings are now protecting over 400,000 customer sites, up 60 per cent from a year ago.

The biggest traction for its solution so far has been with banking and financial services providers, business and professional services companies, and the health care industry. Asigra will soon reach the milestone of 1,000 partners, more than double the amount it had last year.

That kind of breakneck speed growth – which prompted IDC Canada analyst Krista Napier to tout Asigra as one of the top 10 Canadian cloud solutions to watch in 2009 and 2010 — is pushing Asigra to take on more staff. Again.

“We’re actively trying to hire as many people as possible for our development, sales and marketing teams,” says Eran Farajun, executive vice-president at Asigra.

Asigra’s search for sales and marketing brawn – not just development brains — is key, proving that the cloud backup wars won’t be fought solely with technical prowess. In this throwdown, the players are beefing up their marketing muscle, a sure sign that the cloud is getting more crowded with competition.

As a 25-year veteran of the backup space, Asigra could be forgiven for resting on its laurels in the business, which evolved from the firm’s original solution providing backup and recovery over telephone lines. But the company is showing that as the cloud market heats up, it’s up for the competitive challenge.

“We want to work with our partners to create solutions and a cohesive place where end customers can hear a voice that represents the (cloud backup) industry,” Farajun says.

Although Farajun names EMC, IBM and i365 as some of Asigra’s cloud backup competitors, he says the biggest hurdle for his and other cloud firms is still sometimes a lack of customer knowledge about what the cloud is and what it’s possible for them to do with it.

To remedy that, Asigra hired ad and marketing firm Blammo Worldwide to collect partner stories of how Asigra’s cloud solutions are being put to use. The campaign should be ready for release this fall, Farajun says.

LOGiQ3 is a customer that’s happy to spill the goods about its Asigra experience now. Asigra’s backup solution has already come to the rescue for the Toronto firm, which provides consulting and other services to the global insurance and reinsurance industry. In the 18 months since LOGiQ3 started using Asigra’s platform for cloud backup of all its local laptops, two serious incidents have occurred. In one, the laptop of a key LOGiQ3 employee was lost or stolen while he was on a plane.

“We were heading out to a meeting with a new client,” recalls Ian Sanderson, vice-president of technology at LOGiQ3. But “we were able, in one day, to replace and restore all the data to the laptop so the meeting went as it should have.”

Another time, a virus couldn’t be removed from a LOGiQ3 laptop “so we formatted, rebuilt it and restored the data,” Sanderson says.

“It’s turned into a very robust, trustworthy solution for us. No matter what policy procedures a company has, there’s always going to be some data you’re working on locally that you haven’t had time to save to your repositories. So that’s the data we always have to keep backed up,” Sanderson says.

Since many of LOGiQ3’s staff travel a lot, he likes the fact that Asigra’s solution allows data to be backed up in small increments several times a day versus once a day in huge chunks that put more stress on computer systems.

“Road warriors don’t ever have a predictable schedule. And you don’t really want to be taxing their network or hard drive while they’re working because it slows them down,” he says.

The initial cost of adopting cloud backup will be worth it in the long run, Sanderson says.

“The upfront cost is really building out the process with your staff,” he says. “I think the cloud is going to offer us a lot of value even after the cost metric is breached.”

It’s the kind of firsthand story Asigra no doubt wants to gather when it’s spreading its version of the cloud gospel to land more channel partners, mainly in the U.S., China and India. Its platform is now also available through Intel’s AppUp Small Business Service, where it’s being promoted as a backup solution for SMBs who can pay to use the Asigra software on a monthly or per-user basis.

Asigra is trying to stay focused on improving its partner relationships. In 2009 it launched its Hybrid Partner Program, offering partners various tailored levels of support and incentives. It recently teamed up with MSPexcellence, a consulting firm to the MSP sector, to offer the Cloud Backup Business Acceleration Program. The program gives Asigra’s partners a ready-to-use template for building and marketing a cloud services business using Asigra backup software.

One partner that’s been working with Asigra for seven years is E-ternity Business Continuity Consultants Inc. of Mississauga, Ont. It uses Asigra to power the cloud backup service it provides to clients like. Asigra-based business at E-ternity has doubled in the last 12 to 18 months, partly due to Asigra’s juiced up marketing efforts.

“They’re done a spectacular job of rebranding themselves in the past couple of years,” says Greg Onoprijenko, president and managing director of sales at E-ternity. “Along the way Asigra got serious about their marketing and the last couple of years have brought awareness up in their market place.”

Another factor in the growth seen by Asigra and its partners is the education of customers, who now understand the cloud more, Onoprijenko says. “It was certainly harder to close deals four years ago. Now all of them (customers) understand the concept and are somewhat comfortable with it.”

Customer understanding of the cloud will likely increase even more with what Asigra’s Farajun calls the “consumerization of IT,” a blurring of the line between people’s business and personal lives as they use the same mobile devices at work and home. Asigra addressed this phenomenon head on by recently launching Cloud Backup v11, its next generation platform that extends data protection to handheld devices like tablets and smartphones.

Aside from marketing might and next generation technology, Asigra feels one of its main competitive trump cards is security. After an exhaustive two-year process, its solution earned the U.S. government’s Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 certification. The program certifies products from private vendors as secure enough for use in U.S. government departments and regulated industries (like banking and healthcare) that collect, store and share sensitive but unclassified information.

“The security of the service that’s powered by Asigra is second to none,” Farajun says. “Not only do we have a lock on the door, the U.S. government has said that the lock installed on that door has been installed securely.”

If Asigra is the cloud’s 25-year veteran, who are the upstarts on the scene? L.A.-based dinCloud Inc., for one. dinCloud was spun off less than a year ago from En Pointe Technologies Inc., an IT services and hardware and software VAR with 1,200 global staff serving large and medium sized clients. dinCloud offers hosted virtual desktops (HVD), hosted virtual servers, and cloud storage. Most of its revenue is now coming from HVD.

The company has under 50 employees but is “growing rapidly,” says dinCloud’s chief strategy officer Saad Shahzad. The young firm has added 10 people to its team in the past month alone and plans to hire an extra five to 10 staff per month for the foreseeable future, focusing new hires on engineering talent. dinCloud may be new but its customer base has doubled month over month since January.

dinCloud won’t name its customers yet but Shahzad says “business is out of control.” His team met recently with a large Hollywood company, a big pet supply firm and a sizeable financial firm.

The cloud market is expanding rapidly as more businesses buy into it. But is that growth rate sustainable at current levels as the market matures?

“The percentage growth will slow down, absolutely,” Shahzad says. “(But) the entire cloud market is so nascent. The entire market is a green field of opportunities. We are a long, long way away from a stabilization in the growth curve. I would say north of five years.”

Beyond that point, dinCloud’s future lies in extending the cloud to consumers as well as businesses, Shahzad says.

“We don’t want to own the desktop. We want to own the desk and the office. Ultimately we want to own the desk for the consumer at home,” he says.

dinCloud plans to focus on the desktop within the enterprise at the start, then expand its footprint around the entire desk to include phones and VOIP before taking the cloud to consumers “so you’ll never have to carry a laptop around again when you’re on vacation,” Shahzad says.

Sounds like a dream for now. But with the cloud expanding possibilities every day, you never know.

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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at and is now a freelance contributor.

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