Thinking of deploying a backup and disaster recovery (BDR) solution? Then be prepared to do some homework. The market for BDR products and services is a crowded one. As new players and offerings pop up regularly, finding the right solution can seem like trying to catch a moving train. There are some basic guidelines that can help make sense of this dynamic market.
The reasons for the explosion in BDR solutions include the cloud and reduced cost. “The barriers to entry that existed five years ago are gone due to virtualization and the cloud,” says Dave Simpson, a senior analyst of storage at 451 Research LLC. Gone are the days when BDR required disk arrays from the likes of EMC, HP, or IBM, as well as expensive replication software, Simpson says. With the cloud, backup no longer has to take place on a backup server on-site, and then be copied to tape for storage off-site. And the cost of storage has decreased significantly over the past couple of years. “For vendors, it is relatively easy and inexpensive today to get into this space,” he adds.
Virtualization has also added complexity to IT environments, which in turn is propelling the introduction of BDR tools that can back up virtual machines. “Backing up a traditional physical environment was straightforward,” says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst with the Server and StorageIO Group, a technology advisory and consulting firm. “Now there are virtual environments, physical environments, and hybrid environments involving the cloud that need backup services,” he says.
Then there is the BYOD trend. With data no longer physically contained in a secure data center or corporate office, BDR is more of a technical challenge. Vendors from both ends of the spectrum—those that have traditionally targeted enterprises as well as those that have gone after the lower end such as consumers or SOHO customers—are now jumping into the SMB market. “The common place all these vendors are converging is at the SMB,” Schulz says.
THREE CATEGORES OF BDR
To make sense of the market, Simpson recommends grouping BDR offerings into three broad categories: straight to cloud services, software-based products, and a hybrid approach that combines on-site hardware and software. By segmenting the market this way, Simpson says you can quickly assess which approach will work best.
“Straight to cloud online backup is typically used by consumers and very small companies,” Simpson says. These options are most appropriate when performance and recovery times are not as critical as cost or simplicity. “Doing backup and recovery completely online in the cloud will run into recovery problems for anything more than a couple hundred gigabytes of data,” Simpson says. “For those SMBs that don’t have expensive Internet connections, backup will take a long time.”
Still, such low-end, consumer-oriented products can play a role in BDR strategies, particularly given the rapid pace of change in the industry. Schulz for one thinks products from the likes of Carbonite and Mozy, while aimed squarely at desktop environments, will continue to evolve and add more robust capabilities. With low barriers to entry, these products can allow channel partners and their customers alike to test the BDR waters with little initial investment.
For scenarios that require business-class performance, the software-only BDR solutions involve purchasing off-the-shelf packages to back up data that is then typically sent to a data center off-site for recovery purposes. The hybrid model includes sophisticated software that runs on an on-premises appliance where data is backed up locally; data is also sent off-site for recovery in the event of a natural disaster.
“All the software and hybrid solutions basically do the same thing,” Simpson says, “although each vendor claims to do it better or faster than the next.” However, from a business-model perspective, there are pros and cons of software- versus appliance-based BDR solutions that channel partners need to take into consideration. “The software-only approach can be less expensive to get started, and there is not as much management required,” Simpson explains.
The downside of the software-only approach is what it doesn’t offer. For example, an appliance-based option enables channel partners to tune hardware specifically for on-premises and cloud-based backup and recovery. That is, a hybrid approach can include enabling technologies such as compression, data deduplication, and WAN optimization.
In addition, an appliance can offer better performance and reliability in certain situations. “An appliance will have all the software to do backups locally,” explains Mike Semel, president of Semel Consulting in Las Vegas and a certified business continuity professional. “If you lose a file, it’s easy to get that from the local appliance, and if the server goes down, many appliances allow you to recover the server on the appliance itself.”
PCs that are linked to a file server can then be redirected to the BDR appliance and run off that until the server is fixed. “If you have to run off a remote server or deal with traffic issues of an Internet connection, performance will be noticeably slower and less reliable,” Semel says.
APPLIANCES AND THE CHANNEL
As Schulz sees it, an appliance approach can provide backup services and help fix the underlying issue of data growth. Enabling technologies such as deduplication can be a critical component of such a strategy.
Schulz cautions, however, that deduplication is not suitable for every environment. Too often, he says, dedupe is recommended without first evaluating whether it is appropriate. “Data like documents, email attachments, and other things that are copied are good candidates for dedupe,” he says. “Other data such as audio files, video, and pictures don’t dedupe particularly well.”
So if data reduction capabilities are not required or applicable, an appliance approach to BDR may not be the best choice. Keep in mind that on-premises options also often mean more costs.
In addition to the deployment model, BDR solutions should be considered based on how the backup software fundamentally works, according to Semel. “When evaluating BDR systems, it’s not the backups that are important,” Semel contends. “It’s the ability to recover.”
In general, file-based backups can take longer to recover, but they tend to have more integrity. In the case of a full system restore, image-based backups can be faster.
Understanding the basics of how the various BDR options work provides a solid footing in the market. When considering vendors to investigate more fully, Simpson advises focusing on established players with an installed base of end users. “There will be a shakeout in the next few years that makes going with a no-name vendor based solely on price an issue,” he says. If your vendor goes out of business, it may take considerable time and effort to migrate your data to another BDR solution. Also, make sure that a vendor has solid security measures in place. Encryption for data in use, at rest, and in motion should be baseline considerations.
Then there is the question of hosting a BDR solution or not. Evaluate whether hosting solutions makes sense, or whether it is better for vendors to take this on.
WHAT YOU NEED
Ultimately, decisions about specific BDR solutions need to hinge on your needs.
For environments that rely on physical servers, focus on the tools that protect a physical server, and likewise for virtual servers, Schulz says. While this assessment is straightforward, Schulz says there are tools that provide backup across all environments, making vendor selection less clear-cut.
If this is the path you wish to pursue—that of receiving more advisory-type services in addition to technology implementations—it pays to look at how your environment may evolve. This requires examining your environment—how it looked two years ago and how it looks today.
A general rule of thumb: The faster the response and recovery time, the more automated and expensive the solution will be. Another factor that affects costs in the midterm is the scale of the solution. “Looking out two to three years is also important so your client doesn’t outgrow the solution in a year,” Boone says.
Also, take advantage of free downloads and demos. Make sure to test whatever solutions you’ve chosen in both backup and recovery scenarios have been tested prior to deployment.