Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/06/acronis_acquisitive/

Acronis on the prowl?

Out to become bigger dog in backup yard

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 6th February 2009 09:02 GMT

With a brand new CEO, established revenue stream and neat technology, you could be forgiven for thinking that privately-owned Acronis was looking to be acquired.

Jason Donahue has sold three previous companies he ran to Oracle, IBM and Veritas (now Symantec). So why, four months ago, did the Acronis board replace its previous CEO, who increased its revenues by more than 400 per cent in his three and half years at the helm?

That put revenue, according to Donahue: "Well north of $100m," and it had grown by 20 per cent calendar 2007 to 2008, with the final 2008 quarter being the firm's highest-grossing ever.

Donahue says the board was looking at what was needed to take the business up to a billion dollar a year run rate and he has also led a company into public ownership. He reckons Acronis is well-positioned to grow. It has some 3.5m customers providing recurring software licence and support revenues and a strong presence in the mid-market providing backup and bare metal restore, the delivery of a complete server image: operating system; state information, applications and disk data to the same server or a different one. The bare metal restore provides the differentiation from other backup and restore software products.

OK - but where is the potential for growth in a general backup software market that has a large number of suppliers, with big dogs such as Symantec and EMC barking all over the yard, and deduplication and cloud computing looking to be major influences? Yosemite has just been acquired, and the pack of backup suppliers looks well set for consolidation.

The Acronis story is that the mid-market does not have a good deduplication offering. CommVault's Simpana is high end, as is the Symantec offering. Although Symantec is a major factor in the mid-market backup area, Donahue says it does not have a good combined backup, bare metal restore and deduplication offering there.

Also, the big deduplication players such as Data Domain, EMC and NetApp are focused firstly on enterprises and secondly on secondary file storage as well as backup. They do not major on bare metal restore and have their own hardware products to sell. We are talking big enterprise bucks here. So, if Acronis was to add an in-house sub-file-level deduplication feature to its mid-market offering then that would be tempting, yes? Well, yes it would.

If this deduplication technology covered both physical and virtual servers - meaning VMware, Hyper-V and Citrix - then that would be interesting, yes? Well, OK.

What about the cloud though, with EMC and Mozy offering cloud backup and restore based on EMC data centres and Google and Microsoft offering online and protected disk storage in the cloud?

Donahue argues that anyone who offers an online cloud-based backup and restore product that competes in the consumer and very small business market against ad revenue supported services from Google and Microsoft better figure out a way to be profitable when their service price is zero.

As for business cloud-based backup and restore, there is a pipe problem. Bandwidth is limited and bulk data transfer will be far from immediate. He reckons Acronis can use its deduplication technology here to shrink the amount of data flowing through the pipes.

But it also has an app-aware restore feature, Active Restore, that can restore, say, the basic Exchange server O/S and app plus messages selected as important by users. Then they can get up and running with a restored Exchange server without having to wait for every last bit of data to be restored to the server's disk drives before it becomes available.

Combine that with a deduplicated image data store and the restore time to system availability looks more acceptable. Also, Acronis mid-market customers are unlikely to have their own disaster recovery data centres and facilities so an Acronis deduplicated and cloud-based offering would provide extra DR cover for these customers.

It is unlikely, extremely so, that Acronis would build its own data centre infrastructure for this. Instead, it would look to hire server and storage resources in hosting service facilities.

Donahue adds that the Acronis business has an element of counter-cyclicality to it because, in these straitened times, customers look to extend the lives of existing servers, and so take out additional backup and restore insurance in case their ageing servers break.

We should think of the Acronis technology roadmap evolving along these lines but we should also think of Acronis acquiring other companies. Donahue reckons the valuation of companies with negative cash flows is becoming quite low because of the recession and venture capital/private equity backers wanting to stop pouring cash into what have become drains with no upside visible for several quarters, possibly years.

Donahue suggests that a potential purchase could offer a significant channel capability in a geography where Acronis is less well represented, and could also offer products and/or technology that complement the existing Acronis ones.

Acronis wants to bulk up and become a bigger dog in the yard; a David wants to join the Goliaths. Donahue says success comes from good execution and, as far as he is concerned, he can see an achievable transition ahead to becoming top dog in the deduplicated and cloud-enhanced bare metal restore and backup market.

EMC's Mozy, Carbonite and other cloud data protection providers can see the same things as he can and, like him, they probably reckon there is going to be a lot of displacement, meaning consolidation, in this fragmented market. They too will be aiming to counter the same cloud pipe bandwidth limitation that Acronis has in mind.

Donahue seems clear that Acronis' ace in the hole is the bare metal and app-aware restore. Let the others try and duplicate that. ®