Kathy Gibson reports – A new push into Africa is on the cards for global cyber protection company Acronis as it looks to new markets and an expanded technology portfolio.

Acronis has received more than $250-million in a funding round from CVC Capital Partners VII and other investors, which it plans to use in expanding its portfolio of natively integrated cyber protection products. A significant portion of the investment will also be used to further enhance Acronis’ go-to-market initiatives by expanding its partner network – most notably managed service providers (MSPs) – to help them better serve the cyber protection needs of their clients.

The investment values the company at more than $2,5-billion.

In an exclusive interview with IT-Online, Ezequiel Steiner, business president of Acronis, says the cyber threat is growing all the time. “If you are using a metaphor of a traffic light, it is at dark red. It’s pretty bad.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has had a major part to play in the new risks, he adds. “Organisations used to think about securing the network and assets, with a VPN to let people in. But the situation has changed, and now people are working from home and sharing networks, so the number of weak links in an organisation’s security posture grows exponentially. This offers a lot of opportunities for bad actors to access critical information.”

Acronis predicted at the beginning of 2021 that data protection and security challenges, amplified by the shift to remote work at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, would bring aggressive cybercrime activity as criminals pivot their attacks from data encryption to data exfiltration, or crucial data being copied or illegally transferred.

In 2020, Acronis’ analysts found evidence that more than 1 000 companies globally had their data leaked following ransomware attacks, and is seeing this trend continuing into 2021. This is evidenced locally by numerous cyber attacks being made public in South Africa.

The new funding round will allow Acronis to invest further in its vision of holistic cyber protection.

“When we think about security, we think about it in a holistic way,” says Steiner. “We don’t think cybersecurity solutions are enough to guard our clients and their data from bad actors.

“So we take an integrated approach, with cybersecurity, data protection and accessibility to data managed in a controlled and secure way.

“And we do this in a way that is easy to manage, because we recognise that adding complexity increases risk.”

Acronis aims to provide an integrated platform that is easy to use, where all digital assets are secured and protected, Steiner explains.

For this platform to be useful, its important that it’s completely integrated.

“First of all, it needs to be integrated at the code base,” says Steiner. “Just putting things together doesn’t work, so we believe in integrating everything at the code level.”

This integration is vital to Acronis’s solution, and the company’s development teams have been working on in since 2015. “We believe that a cyber-security and data protection solution can only be achieve if it is on the same platform.”

At the same time, Acronis complements the platform architecture with a new approach to securing the data and applications, with artificial intelligence (AI) identifying new threats.

“For example, we use AI to understand what data could be compromised and to ensure that it’s protected and secured,” explains Steiner. “And this is integrated into our platform solution.”

As part of the new investment, Acronis will continue to grow its staff resource, expanding its global sales, partner account management and partner success teams, and hire new technical talent for its research and development centres.

A key focus will be on growing the partner network, with particular emphasis on managed service providers (MSPs), which Steiner points out is central to Acronis’s expansion strategy.

“MSPs are out preferred route to market,” says Steiner. “Although we work with a variety of partners, we realise that customers prefer MSPs, and our goal is to reach the customer via the route they prefer.”

Indeed, MSPs are growing at four-times the rate of the overall IT market, he adds, demonstrating the popularity of this channel.

“MSPs are taking an increasing market share, so we need to make sure we support them and provide them with the tools they need.”

The R&D team has invested significant resources in developing an innovative cloud-native ‘MSP in a box’ solution, with integrated backup, disaster recovery, cybersecurity, remote management, and workflow tools.

In addition, Acronis Cyber Protect is the first unified cybersecurity and data protection solution that is natively integrated, so service providers can operate these critical functions through a single pane of glass, delivering comprehensive cyber protection at a lower cost, Acronis says.

Acronis is actively working with new and existing MSP partners to understand their business needs and customers’ requirements. “We then see how we can help them to them to meet these needs,” says Steiner. “Once they install our platform and start offering services, we offer further assistance in helping them to be more efficient and effective.

“We are in constant contact with our MSP partners, and work with them as true business partners.”

Acronis has been particularly active in South Africa where recent investments include the acquisition of its long-time distributor, Synapsys, and the appointment of Tarsus on Demand and Rectron as distributors.

Steiner explains that Acronis’s relationship with its distributors is very close. “We don’t have a Chinese wall between what we do and what they do.”

Acronis works with its MSPs through the distributors but also maintains a close relationship with the MSPs. “We take a personal approach to working with MSPs to ensure they have everything they need to grow their business.

“We believe that education and enablement needs to come from the vendor.”

The company also works with a more traditional IT reseller channel, also served through the distributors.

“The reseller channel is a very well-oiled machine at Acronis,” Steiner says. “This is something we have been doing since the early days of the company, so it is a mature market with stable run-rate business.”

New investment will go into helping traditional resellers evolve their business into an MSP model, he adds.

“We are working with the channel to see how they can build MSP capacity. The resellers own the relationship with the customers, with trust built up over the years. But today, the customer no longer wants to buys boxes, they want services. And some resellers need help from the vendors to help them manage the required change in their business models.

“So we are investing heavily in training our resellers and reaching out to resellers who want to talk to us about transitioning to an MSP model.”

Acronis is investing in tools to help its partners. In February, the company launched the #CyberFit Partner Program to support the development of cloud-focused resellers and service providers. In March, Acronis made available a new version of Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud – enabling partners to deliver comprehensive cyber protection for all workloads for little to no upfront cost. And in April, Acronis introduced a new partner portal, providing easy access to content, tools, and training for partners.

With the new funding, Acronis will also expand its support for cloud partners, providing them with additional sales and marketing resources, faster and localised technical support, dedicated partner success managers, and local data centres in 111 locations worldwide.

Geographic expansion in Africa is very much on the cards as part of the Acronis’s new growth plans. Last year the company acquired Synapsys as its vehicle for African growth.

Steiner says Acronis is conscious of the challenges in tackling the African market, so it is addressing this expansion on three fronts.

“The first is our go-to-market strategy, where are looking to increase our distribution capacity in Africa.

“The second element that we are building up is our team. We didn’t have an internal team focused on the continent, so the first step was acquiring Synapsys and now building them up.

“The third focus is on the cloud and MSP market. We believe the new markets in Africa will transition to the MSP model faster than the traditional market. So we expect to be able to leverage the model to quickly become a significant player on the continent.”