Made in SA

Mission: save everything

Backup. Restore. With this home-grown software, it cannot get easier.

1 November 2009
Richard Dewing, CEO of Cibecs, believes there is massive opportunity to work with managed services companies that take over IT functions for entire corporates.

A little-known South African start-up operating out of northwestern Johannesburg wants its application running on millions of computers worldwide.

Cibecs, headed by Richard Dewing, wants to be synonymous with backups and restoring data. “The major selling point of our product is the ability to restore,” says Dewing. “People don’t buy backup.”

Cibecs Continuity ensures that organisations can protect and back up their data without relying on users to work in specific folders. Dewing sketches the scenario: “Typically what happens is you’ve got a notebook or PC and there’s a fileserver somewhere. Your home folder is the ‘H: drive’ and the IT guy tells you to copy your stuff in there.

“No one does it.

“Sure, you do it when your mate’s PC gets stolen, but people just don’t do it.”

And when the machine gets stolen, the user blames IT.

Existing policies are a problem too. Information is synchronised to the server, but there’s no optimisation of storage. More often than not, this information is unsecured, yet corporate governance dictates that you need to encrypt the data. “We all know what goes on the server: your holiday photos and music files,” says Dewing.

“Here’s another problem,” he ventures. “Take a 500-user company. Imagine if at 16h00, everybody goes, ‘You know what, we should follow policy’ and they start copying all their information into their home folder. Your network would go down, your server could never handle it. It’ll run out of space.”

This is where Cibecs Continuity comes in. Like other enterprise-grade software, it has three components: a server platform, control centre and user agents. “We define a policy centrally and this plugs straight into Active Directory,” says Dewing.

The system sets up encryption keys for each user, there are “includes” and “excludes” for different filetypes, matched to different user groups. On day one, users log on and Cibecs automatically installs. It runs in the background, encrypts the user’s files at 448bit encryption, compresses them and transfers them to the server via an SSL connection.

Here’s the clever bit: the Cibecs software scans through the data to identify which files have changed, and then only backs up the altered part of those files. “It does a binary patch and actually goes into the file,” says Dewing. “If you’ve changed a fullstop in a document, it takes just that fullstop, encrypts, compresses and uploads just that change.

“I’ve got 24GB of data – my backup takes two to three minutes, and my daily backup size is anywhere from half a megabyte to 10MB. Now, backing up 10 000, 50 000 users is no problem.”

From a server point of view, Cibecs’ software archives each of these versions so users’ PCs or desktops can be restored to a specific day.

For example, a user’s laptop is stolen and a new machine provisioned. It’s as simple as clicking “restore latest version, with all of the data in the original location”.

Dewing has been there. His laptop was stolen from his offices a while back. “Twenty-seven minutes later I was working without having lost anything.”

File-level recovery is also possible, meaning that users who saved over a document or deleted something by mistake are able to restore just that file.

“This is great from a backup and recovery point of view, but where it’s really adding so much value and where we’re achieving massive success is when companies replace their PCs,” says Dewing.

“Normally, a technician comes out. He copies your stuff somewhere, then he copies your stuff back. A week later you phone him and say, ‘Where is that file?’ He asks, ‘Where did you save it?’ You go, ‘In Microsoft Word’.” This is not out of the ordinary. “Here, you put the machine down, ‘recover’ the data and a process that used to take four hours now takes 30 minutes.” He laughs at the suggestion that this is like Apple’s Time Machine, but for the enterprise.

Family ties

Dewing started Cibecs, a partnership between two family companies, in October 2004. The first version of the product was designed and coded and it launched a year later. “We had some great quick wins,” says Dewing, but “it’s really over the last two years where our business has taken off tremendously.”

Imagine if at 16H00, everybody goes, 'You know what, we should follow policy' and they start copying all their information into their home folder.
Richard Dewing, CIBECS
Cibecs “went the channel route” while building the business, but that didn’t work as well as management had hoped. Nowadays, it’s focused on the direct-touch business. The team of 20 to 25 people includes some developers, but Cibecs will use the best skill available. From time to time, components get outsourced to developers in other countries, and the outfit is willing to pay for quality. Cibecs Continuity is recommended by Business Connexion, Gijima AST, Unisys and Fujitsu, while Dimension Data is a client. Cibecs also counts Sita, National Prosecuting Authority, Gauteng Department of Education, Fedics and the University of the Witwatersrand as customers.

Dewing adds that it services anything from small companies – 20 people – right up to the big banks. Cibecs has customers in Dubai, Canada, the US, the UK, Belgium and Spain, but the bulk of the base is here.

Further, a recently signed deal with GijimaAST, worth an estimated R250 million, will see Cibecs’ data backup and recovery licences offered to all Gijima’s clients. Obviously there are other local and international solutions in the market, but Cibecs says it provides the only pure desktop/notebook backup application. “We only do desktops and laptops. You can back up our server with one of the server-specific products,” jokes Dewing.

Earlier this year, the team sealed an investment from VC-fund Hasso Plattner Ventures Africa.

HP-Ventures Africa invested with a view to globalise the business and Dewing is excited by what lies ahead.

Right now, Cibecs backs up a couple of hundred thousand PCs and laptops. The current global “backed-up market” is around ten million machines, with the market leader on between four to five million of those.

By means of comparison, Dewing points to anti-virus software Avast, which has around 80 million users.

“We haven’t scratched the surface,” he adds. Some research says there is triple-digit growth per annum in the back-up market.

“Every day, your employees walk out the door with their laptops. How do you protect that?” he asks.

There is massive opportunity with managed services companies that take over IT functions for entire corporates. “They look after everything except the data on the desktop/ notebook,” says Dewing. It’s not hard to see the potential.

Cibecs is also working on releasing a completely free version for up to ten users. The company’s secret?

“We’re relentless,” laughs Dewing. Yes, the company has a good team and it builds partnerships it really invests in, but perhaps most importantly, it’s extremely focused.

“We could have gone into the server backup space,” says Dewing. “But this is all we do. If we’re not the best in this, then we have a problem.”