Twelve years ago, Dan Robinson was working for an MSP in the state of Washington. He was unhappy with the lack of connection that the company had with its customers. Pledging to do better, he started Robinson Tech..
Recently, Robinson decided he could do backup and disaster recovery better as well and adopted the Unitrends MSP solution to replace a faltering tool from StorageCraft.
The Evolution of an MSP
In 2006, Robinson Tech was just Dan alone in a garage. Now, there are seven full-time staffers that interact with roughly 70 clients each month, with about 20 of them on full remote monitoring and management (RMM) contracts and the rest on break/fix support.
“Starting Robinson Tech was a combination of necessity and curiosity. I was working for some other MSPs. They did not take care of their clients very well — did not have the people connection. I was just a technician at the time so I said, ‘Shoot. I think I can do better than that.’ It has been great. We do not do any marketing, it is all word-of-mouth. We have organically grown over the years,” Robinson said.
The Evolution of the Data Recovery Business
Every company needs backup, which means every Robinson Tech client has the same requirement. When Robinson Tech started doing backup, it focused on data recovery. “That is a reactive response. We do data recovery when the hard drive is completely dead,” Robinson said. “But we want to emphasize uptime.”
That means the language of backup moves from data recovery to business continuity – with a splash of disaster recovery. To get to this level, Robinson went through two tools.
Five years ago, Robinson wanted to move into services and bought an existing MSP. It also started to work with a backup tool from Zenith. Unhappy, Robinson moved to Datto. “We had some issues with them such as response time. We spent so much time on support calls with Datto,” he said. So, Robinson built its own backup boxes, and ran software from StorageCraft on top.
It was even more complex than that. “We had to physically build our own BDR [backup/data recovery] to do the backups. We also had to install and configure the software. There were two instances with StorageCraft where we tried to do a recovery and could not do it. We called StorageCraft. They said, ‘It’s your box, so good luck.’ At that point, we started shopping for a better solution,” Robinson said.
Making the Switch to Unitrends MSP
That led Robinson to Unitrends MSP, whose secret sauce in a Linux-based storage appliance tied to another tier of backup in the cloud, which the vendor also provides and controls. This way Robinson can install pre-made, thoroughly vetted boxes and a complimentary proven cloud layer. When we spoke, Robinson was in the early stages of rolling out the Unitrends-MSP-based business, with three boxes already deployed at customer sites and two more on the way. The plan is to roll appliances out to another 20 clients, all of which are on the existing StorageCraft platform. From there, Robinson will embark on recruiting new business continuity clients.
“We are deploying the boxes individually per client. We are backing up on-premises, then migrating or duplicating out to the cloud. If you have an event that renders your current location unusable, we can easily fire those machines up in the cloud and keep them going. A simple thing like a server failing, we can fire them up using the Unitrends MSP box,” Robinson said. “We are a big fan of the three-pronged method. You want your data on your server, you want your data on a backup locally, and you want your data in the cloud.”
As an MSP, Robinson has the added advantage of monitoring clients’ servers with the Unitrends MSP boxes. “If there is an outage, if the server goes down, it alerts us. Most of the time it is us calling the client to tell them that the server says it is out. That’s when we start the process. If the server really is down, we can fired up on the Unitrends MSP box or move across the hypervisor and get them up and going,” he explained.
The three boxes are working great, Robinson reported. “Because we are kind of new to this, Unitrends MSP has been great with training and teaching us the best way to roll these out and implement them. We are working on our implementation and documentation, so it’s easy for our technicians to roll them out quickly,” he said.
Clients really need the uptime. One is an insulation company that is backing up three servers — a database server, file server, and an Active Directory server that manages passwords. “Uptime is very important. They have about 40 people in the field who rely on 20 people in the office who are scheduling, maintaining, and selling —keeping the field people busy,” Robinson said.
Another client is a funeral home. “They take care of people. When they are down, they really need to get back up,” Robinson said.
The Efficiency Angle
The move to Unitrends is a great efficiency boost and massive man-hours savings, not to mention it reduced technician frustration. “We had to constantly monitor StorageCraft. It was very manual to make sure things worked, and when it broke it took several man-hours to get it working again,” Robinson said. “With Unitrends MSP, it’s much better. Our engineers are very excited. It is not manual babysitting all the time. It is very proactive with alerts — letting us know what is going on. It’s so seamless and far less painful to set up and maintain.”
This changes how these engineers work. “Instead of babysitting and managing backups, we are able to be more proactive with our clients.”
One of the biggest security scourges these days is ransomware. While backup is part of the answer, Windows-based backup systems can inherit the ransomware encryption, destroying the extra set of data. Unitrends MSP appliances are Linux-based and impervious to ransomware. “Being hit by ransomware is painful for clients, and time-consuming for us. Usually at the end of this process, the client who was on break/fix wants a contract because the potential to lose everything with no backups is there. That can really damage the company,” Robinson argued. If those backups are on Unitrends MSP, the backups are safe and the appliance actually detects a ransomware attack as soon as signs appear.
With StorageCraft, Robinson charged clients for the box, the cloud backup, and his services. With Unitrends MSP, it is all in one – simpler for the MSP and client alike. “The cloud portion of the backup comes with the subscription, which is great and makes it really easy. When we plug in our device to the cloud, it’s all under one company (Unitrends MSP) and their support has been amazing,” he said.
“The reason we went with Unitrends MSP is because we didn’t have to sell a piece of hardware. With all the other vendors, you have to talk a client into buying this big expensive box, then a monthly subscription for it to. I like Unitrends MSP’s model because you pay one price,” Robinson said. Adding, “I put a markup on it depending on the time it takes to manage it.” He noted that pricing is terabyte-based.
Unitrends MSP is integrated with Datto’s Autotask PSA, so customers of that tool can monitor the appliances and cloud layer from an interface they already use. “The ability to effortlessly set up a new Unitrends MSP appliance and then easily view and manage backup alerts all within our Autotask dashboard is a huge boon to our productivity and scalability. With this integration, we can respond to an alert or outage even faster, dispatch a technician, track hours, and manage every aspect of our workflow all in one place. This kind of added efficiency is priceless,” Robinson noted.
“It’s nice to have a single pane of glass interface. We do not have to log into the Unitrends MSP boxes to see how things are going. With the Autotask PSA integration, it will see if the box has an issue and open a ticket. We can easily plug that into our standard workflow and work the ticket accordingly,” he added.