New life for CDP

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Before data deduplication turned white hot, continuous data protection (CDP) was supposed to be the next big thing for disk-based backup. But CDP never truly caught fire with users. They liked the idea of being able to roll back to any point to restore data, but not enough to purchase and manage a standalone product to do it. However, organizations are using CDP as the underlying technology for specific applications such as Exchange, and data protection vendors are building it into their products as a feature.

Now CDP is being recast from an overall backup platform to a tool to facilitate replication for disaster recovery (DR). Double-Take Software's December acquisition of early CDP player TimeSpring is the latest example of an established vendor picking up CDP to aid replication. EMC acquired Kashya and CA bought XOsoft for that reason in 2006.

Backup vendors Asigra, Atempo, BakBone Software and CommVault have CDP baked into their software as a feature to facilitate DR. Symantec acquired the intellectual property of CDP pioneer Revivio in 2006, but has yet to integrate it into Veritas NetBackup as promised.

Regardless of how they package CDP, storage companies resist calling themselves CDP vendors, says Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA. "I think everyone has abandoned the association with CDP because it's confusing to end users," she says. "You're seeing vendors buying CDP companies, but when talking to customers they're not saying 'We have CDP.' Double-Take is talking about DR; now they have the capability to offer an operational recovery solution by recovering from a previous point in time."

That's the way small vendors incorporating CDP have survived. "For the last four years, we've said CDP is simply an add-on capability," says T.M. Ravi, president and CEO at Mimosa Systems. "Customers have embraced some of the ideas behind CDP, but they haven't embraced it as a different category."

Mimosa uses CDP for one specific application: Exchange. Its NearPoint application copies organizations' Exchange databases and stores them on a separate server. NearPoint continuously updates the copies, so users have an up-to-date copy in case they have to restore due to a server failure or other catastrophe.

For the City of Lenexa, KS, business continuity means keeping email up even if a tornado destroys its main facility. Michael Lawrence, the City of Lenexa's CISO and network administrator, would expect to have email back within 15 minutes if he lost his primary Exchange server. When he installed Mimosa NearPoint last November, Lawrence was looking for DR for Exchange, not CDP.

"I have a hard time keeping up with all the acronyms," says Lawrence. "Basically, we had to have something to let us recover from hardware failure or from our building being blown away, so we could still have email."

The Gilbane Building Co., Providence, RI, implemented CommVault's Continuous Data Replicator (CDR) for CDP last August. According to Lance Osojnicki, Gilbane's CTO and director of applications, the key driver was being able to use CDP as part of the replication process to a DR site in New Jersey. Osojnicki says CDR will let him replicate data in near-real-time in case of system failure.

Osojnicki says Gilbane turned to CDP because "we were manually copying data and backing up to tape, and restoring from Providence to our DR site. We wanted a more automated way to get near-zero data loss if we had a disaster."

Osojnicki says his team was aware of CDP long before implementing it, but found early CDP products weren't ready for prime time. "We had been following the technology for some time," he says. "We waited for somebody to get it right and so you don't have to jump through hoops to manage it. Before, you had to do so much work to keep your system up and running that it wasn't cost effective."

--Dave Raffo

This was first published in March 2008
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