Backup is an interesting bird. There’s no shortage of technologies available (such as replicating snapshots to the cloud) that would seem to diminish the need for on-site backups, but user interest in backup continues. For VARs, backup is still a source of customer “pain” that drives appointments and projects. Storage Switzerland was briefed at VMworld by Arkeia CEO Bill Evans and CTO Tamir Ram, and we were intrigued by their product offering and by their technology. A couple things to mention:
Deduplication: Arkeia offers client-side dedupe and its technology does some interesting things to optimize the process. This is a good discussion opportunity for a VAR when the conversation turns to dedupe.
Platform support: Arkeia supports more than 150 platforms. According to its website, it supports “virtually all Linux and Windows platforms, as well as AIX, BSD, HP-UX, Irix, Macintosh, NetWare and Solaris.”
Implementation: Arkeia Network Backup software can be installed on a traditional server, or it can run as a VM. But it can also be purchased on an appliance, a 2U box with as much as 10 TB of disk capacity and several tape connectivity options.
Virtual servers: Arkeia’s VMware agent can back up VMs without using a proxy server or agents on the VMWare host. It also supports VMware’s Changed Block Tracking technology to reduce the overall volume of data backed up.
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Part of the problem, ironically, has been complexity, the thing that drove the need for all that integration (and profit) in these projects. As data grew, buying more tape drives, larger libraries and more software got less attractive, especially with an alternative that seemed so simple. Disk-to-disk backup was simple — at least in concept. In reality, companies still needed help implementing it. Virtual tape libraries weren’t the answer, but dedupe was. With a single appliance, companies could eliminate the backup library; it was the beginning of the end for backup as a business model for storage VARs.
While backup software was still needed to get data to the disk backup appliance, the spell had been broken, even though most organizations eventually put data on tape and sent it off-site. A lot of the mystery that complex backup software-based systems held for users was fading and, with it, their willingness to pay big dollars for those professional services-rich projects.
Virtual servers and their ability to encapsulate the entire server’s data set and its “identity” into a single file would seem to be one more step toward the end of backup as a viable VAR product. But ironically, the opposite may be true. The technology to create the VMDK file and use that image to provide restores of files and other data objects could be the thing that puts backup back on the VAR line card.
Taking an image backup is not a new idea, but now it can be used to support file-level restores from virtual machines and physical servers as well. In some cases this technology could replace traditional backup applications and simplify backup software like dedupe did for backup hardware.
Products available from independent software vendors, virtualization vendors and some existing backup vendors are providing a variety of functionality through the use of image backups. And, with snapshots, these backups can be taken in a fraction of the time required by traditional methods. Finally, the issue of backup windows can go away.
VARs that have stopped talking about backup now have a reason to bring the subject up again. While image backup may not be a return to the “good old days” of big backup projects fat with PS dollars, it is a technology that customers will need help with and something they’ll certainly want to schedule a meeting around.
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Sure, big enterprises often do have IT organizations that only look at very large-scale solutions — and often don’t bother with VARs. Some even have dedicated storage architects who know more than the “product experts” you can bring in from the factory. But they also have a lot of peripheral data centers and IT groups that look surprisingly like the medium-sized companies I mentioned above. As a VAR, be careful not to ignore an opportunity to show a point solution to a smaller department in a very large organization just because your factory rep for those products won’t go in. These shops think and act like most other smaller IT organizations — except their credit’s a lot better.
For example, how about an alternative disk solution, like iSCSI (Dell/EqualLogic, HP/LeftHand) or a software product that leverages commodity disk to make a SAN (StarWind Software, DataCore, FalconStor). These smaller IT groups probably don’t participate in the corporate-standard disk solution and may not need the same functionality anyway.
Another example is backup. It’s often a local decision, best served by a point solution, maybe a dedupe appliance that sits on-site (Nexsan, Exagrid). Their pain points can be the same as the four-man IT shop up the street running backups to tape and hating life.
Finally, another reason to take solutions that traditionally fit with smaller organizations into larger ones is expedience. Everyone has a need for a point solution at one time or another, especially IT and especially when budgets are tight. If buying another EMC or NetApp system takes too long (or costs too much) for a quick project, a plug-and-play disk solution designed for a smaller business may be just what the doctor ordered.
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