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Unitrends marches to different data reduction drummer

Unitrends Inc. has put its own spin on data reduction for small and midsized businesses (SMBs) that use its backup appliances.

Previously, Unitrends has offered file-level compression and post-process subfile data deduplication with its products, but said the CPU overhead of doing subfile level deduplication on its customers’ relatively small data sets resulted in the need for beefier processors and appliance hardware. This in turn might be more expensive for some small customers than just buying more disk, according to Unitrends COO Mark Campbell.

Unitrends today announced what it calls Adaptive Deduplication, and Campbell says the goal is to offer users the best storage utilization possible without compromising performance. Adaptive Deduplication adds a light content-aware algorithm that evaluates the type of data (structured or unstructured) as well as its size as it comes into the system, and determines how the best data reduction ratio can be achieved. All files are compressed as they come into the system, but only larger data objects will be pulled apart for sub-file dedupe later.

“Typically structured data is better served by the compression ratio — files almost always dedupe pretty quickly,” he said. Now, if a user is making small incremental changes to a database, the system won’t have to pull apart every small block to look for additional data reduction beyond compression — it can just compress the data and move on.

While the high performance overhead of doing data deduplication has been a major issue with the technology since its inception, users at midsized and larger companies have been willing to pay the price for processors in order to contain unmanageable backup capacity growth.

But Campbell brings up an interesting challenge to dedupe-as-panacea: Unitrends customers are often in small shops that require as little as seven days data retention, and “they don’t get great ratios with traditional block-level deduplication. When disk drives are so cheap, it’s not necessarily a no-brainer to purchase next generation hardware to push subfile dedupe.”

The compression and file-level dedupe will be included with the software that comes on all Unitrends appliances, and current customers will be able to download it beginning next month. For customers still looking for subfile dedupe, Unitrends will also come out with a new appliance heavier on processors than capacity later this year, which will make subfile deduplication more likely under Adaptive Deduplication.  “It sounds funky and weird and why not just put [a new appliance] out there, but it’s a price-performance issue,” Campbell said.

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