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SME backup products in the spotlight

Backup software vendors BakBone and CommVault share the same code base — both platforms came out of work done at the Unix Systems Laboratory when it was owned by AT&T. But in the past week, I’ve heard different stories from both companies.

CommVault reported strong earnings on its last call and says it’s looking into expanding its product into adjacent markets such as data deduplication and records management. There’s also some evidence it’s winning converts from its larger rivals Symantec NetBackup and EMC Networker, and winning more deals over $100,000 as well as over $1 million. That move upmarket isn’t by accident, either: CEO Bob Hammer said on the earnings call that building higher-end business is CommVault’s goal for the remainder of this year.  Wall Street analysts are still dinging them over operating margin issues, but that’s neither here nor there for those of us more concerned with the technology side of things.

According to analysts, there are a few things making CommVault hot right now – a transition to disk-based backup, the rising popularity of VMware, and a Windows Server OS refresh. CommVault’s got a pretty good story in each of those categories, but the real trump card according to industry observers is its unified software platform that integrates backup with archiving and replication.

It would seem Bakbone shares several parts of that story as well, but they have been a much quieter company. Like CommVault, they have an integrated platform, but have chosen to focus on data protection rather than expanding into adjacent markets. From a business standpoint, they’ve gone in different directions: while CommVault has completed an IPO and had success in the public markets over the past two years, BakBone got booted off the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2004 for accounting issues it still hasn’t solved. But BakBone has continued to move forward with its product line, and in the last couple of weeks it added support for SharePoint archiving (something many competitors rolled out last year) and new integration with VMware’s consolidated backup (VCB).

BakBone previously offered integration with VCB, according to senior product marketing manager Gary Parker, but like many of its competitors in data backup, required scripting based on a publicly available API from VMware. With version 8.1 of its software released today, BakBone has packaged up those scripts into new software agents that sit on the client and VCB proxy server, allowing VCB management through the Bakbone Netvault interface.

Pretty nifty, and according to Taneja Group analyst Eric Burgener, not necessarily something everybody’s doing (TSM, for example, and EMC Networker don’t do it). But plenty of competitors have beaten them to the punch, including Netbackup and CommVault (Symantec’s Backup Exec still has no VMware client. What’s up with that?). And according to Burgener, “there is some value to it, but it’s not rocket science.”

According to Bakbone VP of marketing Jeff Drescher, Bakbone’s goal isn’t to be the first to market but to do right by its customers with what it does release. And it does have some blue-chip customers to its credit, though they’re either shy about talking to the press or Bakbone hasn’t noised them around much – customers like Yahoo! and GE Capital.

“These customers are using Bakbone to deal with departmental issues, in smaller environments,” Burgener said. “Their pitch is simplicity and covering a broad swath of backup functions.”

But right now I have to say my reporterly curiosity is piqued when it comes to these fraternal twins in the backup market. It’s hard for me to tell right now whether or not Bakbone has truly fallen behind CommVault or if it has just been quieter.

Drescher also pointed out the lag between announcement and adoption of emerging technologies, saying Bakbone is following other vendors with some product features, but getting them to customers right on time.

At least one customer I’ve talked to, though, said he’d been waiting for the VCB integration Bakbone has just added. “We’ve waited a little bit longer than we would have liked,” said Bryan Vonk, technical specialist for the Vancouver Police Department. But he added that he watched admins at the City of Vancouver’s main data center wrestle with the scripting for VCB and was content to wait for Bakbone. Furthermore, he said, now that that issue has been addressed, he has no pressing items remaining on his wish list at the moment. So we’ll just have to wait and see how this tale of two backup products plays out from here.


Meanwhile, another product marketed to midsize companies or departments, Atempo, also made incremental updatesl based on a desire to branch out its product, much like CommVault. In Atempo’s case, however, it has added a Mac and Linux backup client to its LiveBackup PC and laptop CDP software, support for more granular administrative roles than just “admin” or “user,” support for a group management console, and more scalability thanks to a change in how the product’s underlying database arranges data.

Like CommVault, Atempo is looking to take this product further upmarket than it has played in the past. That’s especially interesting when you think about how storage giant EMC and others are trying to figure out how to take their products downmarket at the same time. Which way is the market heading? I’m so confused.

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