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Backup apps: More choices beyond the big three

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Complement or replace?
The role of backup software is changing. As organizations consolidate, expand or introduce new applications, there's a growing need to support numerous applications and sites running various underlying hardware and software platforms. As a result, a single enterprise backup software product may not satisfy every application requirement. This is forcing some organizations to reconsider and re-evaluate the role and scope that other backup software products should play in their shop (see "How SMB and enterprise products differ," at right).

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How SMB and enterprise products differ
As backup software products evolve, the differences between those targeted at enterprises and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) start to blur. Adding to the confusion, vendors like BakBone Software Inc. and CommVault Inc. offer SMB versions of their enterprise products, while others like Computer Associates International Inc. have merged SMB and enterprise products into one product line. Here's how to distinguish between the two classes of products.

Sophisticated management options. Enterprise products will include more powerful ways to manage backup jobs, such as by department or site, and allow policies to be applied to those groups with different administrators getting various levels of control. SMB products generally display all servers on one panel and allow administrators to set policies on only one server at a time, with only one administrator role for all of the servers managed by the backup product.

Tape library and vaulting. SMB products generally provide only basic tape library management functions.

Ease of management. SMB products are easier to manage because they manage less. Backup software vendors recognize that the individuals who manage backup in small shops are usually IT generalists who don't need all of the advanced management functions required by enterprise users.

Platform support. Enterprise products offer a wider array of operating system, database, e-mail and application platform support than SMB products, which generally support only Windows and Linux operating systems and limit integration to Microsoft Corp. products like Exchange, SharePoint and SQL Server.

Expanded product suites. Enterprise backup software products are usually part of a suite of integrated products. Users shouldn't expect third-party integration with SMB backup products.

For example, shops with Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. filers may want to consider adding another backup product that complements their big three backup products. In instances where users are attempting to do snapshots of dense file systems--file systems that contain millions of small files--Syncsort Inc.'s Backup Express might better satisfy snapshot requirements than products from major enterprise backup software vendors.

Backup Express allows users to overcome the inability of NetApp's native SnapVault snapshot feature to quickly execute snapshots on dense file systems. Executing a native SnapVault snapshot on a dense file system can take 24 hours or longer to complete. Using Syncsort's Backup Express, which includes hooks into NetApp's OS APIs, allows users to complete the same snapshot in seconds.

Another instance where users may want to consider using a lesser-known backup product is remote-office support. Rik Un, a TSM administrator with a Houston-based oil and gas company, is often called on to fly to remote sites to help administrators set up the corporate TSM product. Though Un works with TSM on a daily basis and is a certified TSM administrator, he likes CommVault Inc.'s Galaxy because it takes less time to set up and is more intuitive to manage, even though it lacks some of TSM's features. "TSM's setup and management interface is horrific," says Un.

Shops that make the wholesale switch to another backup software product usually cite multiple reasons for the change. Becky Berg, a system administrator at Farm Credit Services of America in Omaha, NE, was tasked with backing up her company's 47 remote offices to the central office. The firm's existing product, Symantec's Backup Exec, didn't provide her with the ability to accomplish the task at that time. She looked at Symantec's Veritas NetBackup product but found it to be out of her price range.

Berg chose CommVault's Galaxy, which offered all of the features she required and, she says, cost quite a bit less than NetBackup. One feature she particularly likes is the round-robin media agent, which identifies the least-busy tape drive on the firm's Spectra Logic Corp. T10000 tape library and sends the backup job to that tape drive. Berg also plans to use CommVault's QiNetix DataMigrator software, which moves files according to age and last use from primary to secondary storage.

Some backup products geared to SMBs are being enhanced with enterprise-class product features. For example, Symantec made the following improvements to Backup Exec last year:

  • Version 10d allows users to do Web-based file recovery.
  • Administrators can manage all Backup Exec media servers from a central interface.
  • A continuous data protection (CDP) option backs up a server at a remote site and, using a filter driver that runs continuously, sends all file changes to the central office on a schedule set up by the administrator to optimize WAN usage.

This was first published in July 2006

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