With a few enhancements, such as tape support and improved reporting capabilities, backup appliances could become the perfect solution for consolidating data protection.

George Crump, President, Storage Switzerland

November 5, 2012

4 Min Read

I spoke at several sessions at SNW Europe last week, and one session was about next-generation data protection. Attendees asked an interesting question, which ties into my last column on challenges with backup software consolidation: How do we consolidate the data protection process?

Most agree they can't get data protection done with one backup application. It may turn out that the most viable option is for consolidation to occur at the backup appliance.

As discussed in my last column, there are three basic ways to consolidate data protection. First, you can centralize on a single enterprise backup application, which might not give the best protection possible for every application but provides a single point of backup management. Second, you can purchase a management application that provides management and monitoring of multiple backup applications. Third, you can have multiple applications back up to a single device. In this column, I'll discuss the idea of consolidating backups to a single appliance.

[ Patchwork backup systems are all too common in many enterprises, making data protection more expensive and time-consuming than it should be. Read more at One Backup App For Enterprise: Not Here Yet. ]

Most backup appliances today are disk-focused systems. Historically, the value of these systems has been to provide deduplication and drive down the cost of disk-based backup, striving to offer parity with tape. They also allowed multiple backup applications to write to them at the same time. Now they are expanding their value by including integration to specific backup applications.

This gives the backup application greater control over the disk backup appliance. For example, the backup application can control the deduplication appliance's replication function. This allows it to trigger which backup jobs are replicated to the remote site and when they are triggered. In some cases it can also pre-seed the indexes at the DR site so that a preconfigured backup server is instantly ready to begin restoring data.

Another valuable feature is the ability to distribute the deduplication function, as discussed in my recent article, Beyond The Backup Window. This allows the backup application to perform a pre-flight check of data before sending it over the network to the disk backup appliance. In most cases, the backup application does a lightweight redundancy check prior to sending the data. Essentially it eliminates the obvious duplicates and lets the disk appliance do the lower-level redundancy check. This makes the backup server work a little harder but lightens the load on the network and on the disk backup appliance.

An increasing number of enterprise backup applications and product-specific backup products support these capabilities. This allows them to leverage the technology that disk backup appliances already have so they can focus their development resources elsewhere. For the data center, it means that the disk backup appliance can become the consolidation point, allowing each group to select its own backup application.

An important step for these disk backup appliances is to support tape. This would allow the disk backup appliance to directly move data to tape for offsite vaulting. While this may seem like an odd move for disk backup appliance vendors who have lived by the "tape is dead" mantra, it is actually the more pragmatic strategy. As I discussed in a recent blog post, large enterprises have continued to use tape alongside disk, while smaller data centers are returning to tape in order to curtail the growth of their disk backup appliances. I discussed this concept some time ago in my article, Backup Virtualization, and now we are seeing tape support become a common item on the disk backup appliance vendor's roadmap.

The final key step is for disk backup appliances to improve their reporting capabilities, reaching out to backup applications in order to correlate what the appliance has stored and what the backup application says it sent. It could then present a single "success/fail" report for the enterprise. While some disk backup appliances have basic reporting now, most need significant improvement.

If backup appliance vendors embrace these concepts, they could end up developing the backup consolidation solution so many users are looking for.

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About the Author(s)

George Crump

President, Storage Switzerland

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one the nation’s largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection. George is responsible for the storage blog on InformationWeek's website and is a regular contributor to publications such as Byte and Switch, SearchStorage, eWeek, SearchServerVirtualizaiton, and SearchDataBackup.

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