What does a globally distributed provider of backup services for any business data look for in a data center? Datto’s goal is to back up anything and everything and to help MSPs do the same for their customers.
Datto (not to be confused with Dato, the recently renamed GraphLab) has about 400 employees and counts over 8,000 resellers around the world providing backup and disaster recovery services to some 5 million customers. The company is powering its business out of several data centers across the country, offering customers an alternative to setting up their own DR data center infrastructure.
It operates its own private cloud in these data centers, holding over 100 petabytes of data and quickly growing. Datto recently extended its Software-as-a-Service backup capabilities with the acquisition of Backupify.
Running its own cloud means it’s not too worried about pricing pressure in the storage space affecting the backup and DR business. It’s more cost efficient to build and run the cloud in house, the company's executives said. By using colocation, however, it can focus on data backup and not worry about managing the data center itself.
Distributed Footprint With Center in Utah
Datto's data centers are located in Reading, Pennsylvannia, Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as in Canada, U.K., and Australia. It uses several colocation providers, but one of its large locations is with C7 Data Centers in Utah.
“They do a ton of environmental stuff, such as recycled cold air,” Datto's vice president of infrastructure engineering George Bedocs said. “They have a new a la carte design for energy consumption. We like that it’s N+1 all the way down to signal failure."
Utah is considered a DR data center hotspot, thanks to its proximity to key West Coast markets and a relatively disaster-free geography. Given Datto’s business, it’s a logical choice. All of their data centers are in markets conducive for backup and disaster recovery.
Datto's provider-selection criteria are fairly standard: compliance, security, room to grow, infrastructure redundancy, fiber availability. The company prefers smaller regional data center providers, because they tend to be more hands-on with their customers than the big global players.
“From my experience, at smaller hosting facilities you have more preferential treatment in terms of on-the-ground support,” said Bedocs. “At the larger global providers you get your standard wire pluggers and rack-and-stack, but no one seems to have a personal investment. Smaller providers step up and have ownership; they’re right on the floor and receptive to all kinds of ideas.”
Optimizing Server Cooling
Some of those data center ideas range from big, overarching changes like implementing hot- and cold-row isolation to working on custom server fans.
“We’re playing with fan shields right now,” said Bedocs. “Each chassis has seven fans in it. These fans obviously eat up electricity and we’re trying to turn them all off but two."
It is 3D-printing different designs to see what works best. 3D printing allows Datto to tweak and customize the design, and to experiment with different shapes and sizes like different fan blade curvatures.
They’re hoping to come up with a configuration and design that will allow them to use fewer fans that better move the air around. Fewer fans means lower electricity costs. A byproduct of having fewer fans would mean a reduction in vibration, which reduces hard drive failure.
The company is also looking at different chassis designs. Currently, its storage nodes are 36 drives each, front- and back-loaded. This means that some of these hard drives are on the exhaust side, so the engineers are looking for ways to address that problem.
Differentiating in a Crowded Space
With several commercial offerings extending into business capabilities (and often bringing the lower price point along), the competitive landscape can appear crowded. Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox, SugarSync, Box, all offer backup in some form or another, and have growing enterprise cloud DR plays.
However, Datto’s mission of serving local needs, protecting all the data in SaaS applications, and serving the channel means it’s positioned somewhat uniquely. More firms are using SaaS for mission critical applications, according to Gartner, which means a need to backup this data is growing. This was part of the rationale of the Backupify acquisition.
“The way that we think about it is, our job is to protect business data no matter where it lives,” said Datto CEO and founder Austin McChord. “Now, when you think about business data, it’s all over the place. “A lot of businesses see a tremendous amount of value in what we offer.”
"The hot news is the SaaS backup and getting it totally integrated," said Bedocs. "We're also excited about all the new technology we’ll be learning about on the backend. Google and Facebook are doing interesting things in the data center (open rack designs etc.), so we're interested in examining that."
Edit 1/21/15: Article incorrectly stated that C7 was Datto's largest location. The customer count is 5 million, not 2 million.