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Head Start provider achieves SaaS backup with Spanning

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project selected SaaS backup through Spanning in order to protect its Google Apps, Salesforce and Office 365 data.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project migrated to cloud-based SaaS applications nearly four years ago to reduce complexity and cost of hosting data on premises. That move left the project needing simple and cost-effective backup for those SaaS apps, with few available options.

The East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP) switched over from a completely on-premises environment to using Google Apps (now G Suite), Salesforce and Office 365 in 2015. Andy Pederson, the director of technology at ECMHSP, said he pushed for the cloud because he was concerned with the growing complexity of ransomware and cyberattacks, as well as the costs of hosting everything on premises. During the transition, he also went shopping for SaaS backup, and discovered Spanning.

"As a nonprofit with a limited budget, it made more economic sense to migrate these workloads into the cloud," Pederson said. "We wanted to make sure as we transitioned from on-premise Exchange, SharePoint and file servers, we had a good third-party solution to back up that data."

ECMHSP provides Head Start education services to the children of migrant farmers. The project's SaaS applications feature payroll and compensation data for its 1,000 employees, educational background and certification info on its teaching staff, and information on the 3,057 children the organization served. Given how sensitive and critical that information is, Pederson stressed the importance of finding a third-party SaaS backup provider.

Photo of ECMHSP Angier Center facility
ECMHSP has education facilities in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina (above), South Carolina and Virginia.

In 2015, Pederson didn't have much to choose from for SaaS backup.

Aside from Spanning, which Pederson ultimately purchased, he could only recall Backupify as a vendor he considered. He chose Spanning because he said he liked its "small company feel." That's an interesting characterization of Spanning, considering it was part of storage giant EMC at the time.

Pederson has since looked at new SaaS backup products as they emerged, but he said cost was a major factor in why he still uses Spanning for SaaS backup.

"As we looked into that market, there wasn't as much available then as there is now," Pederson said. "Last year, Veeam offered backup for Office 365, and we evaluated that product. And we also looked at Acronis. From my perspective, they were a little too expensive for us."

Attacks from within

ECMHSP's migration to the cloud was meant to gain some added defense against external bad actors, but the organization eventually suffered some attacks from within. Luckily, Pederson said, Spanning was able to help them recover each time.

We wanted to make sure as we transitioned from on-premise Exchange, SharePoint and file servers, we had a good third-party solution to back up that data.
Andy Pedersondirector of technology, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project

Just because data is on a cloud instead of on premises doesn't mean it's safe. In cases of data loss due to human error or unauthorized deletion, it's not always convenient or possible to recover data through the SaaS provider without paying considerable recovery fees. This is where a third-party SaaS backup vendor is needed.

"We've had some employee separation issues where folks tried to go in and start deleting their emails, and Spanning has been there to recover all that," Pederson said. "We've had some SharePoint and OneDrive incidents where folks have deleted stuff and then realized a while later that they need it back."

Pederson and his five-person IT team do quarterly fire drills to test Spanning's recovery capabilities. So far, they've been able to hit their recovery point objectives, and Pederson said his recovery times only took a few minutes.

Pederson does not see himself switching to another SaaS backup vendor anytime soon. Since ECMHSP is a nonprofit, Pederson said he has to be very mindful of cost. Spanning has helped him recover data through multiple data loss incidents and hasn't changed its price, so it would be difficult for him to argue for another product to his superiors.

Spanning has gone through several changes as a company since ECMHSP signed up for its services. EMC acquired the startup in 2014, but Dell spun Spanning out to Insight Venture Partners in 2017 after it acquired EMC. Insight then sold Spanning to IT management software vendor Kaseya in 2018. Through all of these changes, Spanning has always operated as an independent business inside the large companies.

Another thing hasn't changed for Spanning.

"The pricing has remained the same since we started in 2015, so it's been really easy to justify to my supervisor and our finance department," Pederson said. "If you have something that works every time, it takes a lot to want to switch it."

When asked if he might consider purchasing some of Kaseya's other products, Pederson said he was only vaguely aware of Kaseya's acquisition of Spanning -- it had no impact on his dealings with Spanning at all.

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