Backup software does a lot these days, including frustrating the hell out of users.
I was going to refrain from writing about backup this month because we have the subject pretty well covered in this issue with W. Curtis Preston's article on backing up SharePoint and the results of the latest Quality Awards survey on backup applications. But while digging through that survey's data and compiling the results, I was struck by the comments made by some of the respondents. Approximately 65 of the 350-plus survey respondents took an extra minute or two to add a little narrative to their response, and of those 65, I counted fewer than 10 that were unqualified endorsements of a product. The rest were either flat-out pans of the app ("A royal pain in the __ to use" and "Never seems to work right") or tempered praise ("Good product; however, it requires more staff to manage well than I have on the team").
There's no question that backup keeps getting tougher for storage managers, with most companies adding tens of terabytes (or more) of data each year and changes to the data center environment -- like virtualized servers -- having an impact as well. Storage environments are growing more and more complex, and they can vary tremendously from one company to another. So, it's hardly reasonable to expect backup application vendors to write software that can address all conditions in all environments. But there are some things that are driving data storage managers and backup admins up a wall that vendors can address; and, in some cases, the solutions can be relatively simple.
But some backup application vendors still seem intent on trying to meet everyone's needs by building out huge, multifunctional backup applications that are designed to be all things to all users. It's a nice idea, but it rarely works out well. Users end up grappling with big, unwieldy apps as they try to pick their way through to find the features that could be useful in their shops. And bigger means more updates for users to deal with ("Too many patches and updates; very bloated software") and the likelihood for more programming miscues ("Upgrades are always a problem").
To be fair, vendors build in new functionality because their customers ask for new capabilities. But there should be a better process for upgrading apps, one that's not so disruptive. And I'm sure that some new features are shoved out the door before the code is fully baked -- an age-old issue, for sure, but one that deserves some attention.
The problems of big apps and confusing operations can be debated, but the biggest bones of contention among our survey takers are (or should be) the cut-and-dried issues of licensing and support. Users are fed up with complex and often exorbitant licensing schemes, as well as inadequate support. How fed up are they? "They are damaging the industry [with] their licensing model and general mafia attitude," wrote one respondent. That might be a little extreme -- I don't think backup software vendors are going around wearing shiny suits and breaking the legs of backup admins -- but it certainly suggests that there's an awful lot of frustration out there. Another respondent noted that his backup app's "licensing model is very restrictive and expensive." Still another lamented that the "license model, license costs and annual maintenance are all too complex and costly for a business our size."
On the support side, storage pros struggle to learn these complex products and then feel cut adrift when they seek help. One respondent likes his backup application but said it was "a bit hard to learn"; another said his company needs "some training to use it better." Even after climbing that learning curve, help seems hard to find. "I've contacted support twice in the last five years and neither time were they able to help resolve my issues." And this one's my favorite: "Their support is good when you have just started out and don't know how to do things, but very poor when you have an actual problem."
C'mon, backup vendors, it's time to address the user issues that you, and only you, control: licensing and support. Fix those problems and you'll have a lot more satisfied customers..
BIO: Rich Castagna (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.
* Click here for a sneak peek at what's coming up in the July/August 2010 issue.