February 2014 Archives

Why don't backup products protect mobile/BYOD?

Antony Adshead | No Comments
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It's a contemporary mystery. Why, when the trend towards ever-greater mobile device use is such a prominent one, do the mainstream backup software suppliers almost all fail to provide for such use cases?

You'd need to have lived in a cave (without a broadband connection) for two years not to have seen the rise of mobile, tablets, smartphones and the BYOD phenomenon. And even if you had dwelled in such a place you could still learn that, for example, of the top 5 IT projects planned by ComputerWeekly.com readers in 2014, three of them are "tablet PCs", "smartphones" and "mobility".

Of course, there's a huge need for these devices to be protected, and for a variety of reasons. They may contain data that's valuable in business terms or sensitive for data protection reasons. Meanwhile, many types of data held or generated on mobile devices can be the subject of legal e-discovery requests.

Businesses go to great lengths to ensure virtual and physical server data is protected and a relatively small number of backup software suppliers make a healthy living from it, but curiously, almost none of them includes mobile device support in their products.

You can, if buying enterprise or midrange backup software from Symantec, CommVault, EMC, IBM, HP, Acronis, CA or Microsoft, ensure various levels of granularity of backup with at least the two biggest virtual machine hypervisors, probably integrate with their management consoles and with numerous applications as well use the cloud as a backup target.

But one thing you won't be able to do with most of those products is to backup tablets, smartphones, and possibly not even laptops.

There are specialist suppliers, however, such as Druva, that do make specialised backup products for mobile and laptop devices. Meanwhile, midrange backup supplier Acronis has indicated it wants to travel in this direction with the purchase of file sharing and collaboration tool GroupLogic, but this is more a DropBox-type tool than backup. In this space too HP has its Connected Backup (that's not integrated with HP's Data Protector backup product).

There are also of course DropBox itself and Box and other file sharing and collaboration tools aimed at mobile users.

So, we have a yawning chasm. On the one side we have the backup products aimed at virtual and physical server estates and on the other we have some specialist mobile/laptop backup products and the file sharing tools.

That can't be good for users. It is surely preferable to be able to deal with backups for all devices from one product that covers fixed and mobile.

And you would think vendors are missing a trick too. After all, with the proliferation of mobile devices that's a huge potential pool of licence sales to be tapped.

Perhaps it boils down to the nature of backup and data protection in the two spheres. On the one hand larger SME and datacentre backup needs an application that can schedule, manage and monitor the movement of large amounts of data on a regular basis. Meanwhile, mobile device use patterns dictate more atomised, individual levels of service on an irregular basis and of relatively small amounts and simply don't require the need to deal with scale in the same way.

So, perhaps never the twain shall meet and the world of backup is destined to remain a fragmented one. For me, it's a puzzle. If you have any clues what's holding the world of mainstream backup products back from sweeping up all those new mobile/BYOD users then please feel free to comment.

Startup watch: Gridstore targets Hyper-V storage market

Antony Adshead | No Comments
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This week I spoke to Gridstore, a startup that offers storage arrays that integrate with the Microsoft Hyper-V virtualisation environment and with on-board smarts it claims boosts I/O for Hyper-V traffic.

Gridstore is delivered as a hardware appliance with its software configured on Dell servers it calls nodes. You can get two types of node - in a minimum of three - the H-Class high performance version with a mixture of PCIe flash and 12TB of spinning disk and the C-Class, aimed at less-demanding I/O applications that comes with spinning disk only. Building out these nodes can take you to a maximum capacity of around 3PB.

So far so box-standard array, but where the smarts come in is that Gridstore applies intelligence to the I/O queues. Normally, of course, virtualisation traffic creates the so-called I/O blender effect, which is when numerous virtual machines try to access disk and the potentially large number and random nature of the calls overwhelms the media.

What Gridstore does is to examine I/O coming in from different VMs and put it into queues and make that access sequential rather than random. The user can define the priority of access to storage for different VMs in a quality of service (QoS) gold, silver, bronze approach.

George Symons, CEO at Gridstore, says it "cleans up contention", and agrees its something like what Virsto (acquired by VMware in Feb 2013) does, but at the storage not the host.

What's also interesting is that Gridstore's controller software is integrated with Hyper-V at the level of its operating software, working like a driver specific to that OS, so can't be used with VMware.

"To be able to clean up I/O we need to operate at that level. When Hyper-V goes to write to the drive, we intercept it and deal with it. Hyper-V thinks it's dealing with a local drive," says Symons.

Due to this tight integration with Hyper-V, Gridstore can use advanced features such as data deduplication, thin provisioning, replication and snapshots in Windows Server 2012 that are usually the preserve of high-end storage hardware.

But being so tightly integrated into a specific hypervisor also means that a VMware ESX version is some way off, at least 12 months, says Symons.

The company (California-based) is making its first European push with the appointment of former NexSan man Andy Hill to VP for EMEA sales. The company is at B round in its funding cycle and late last year held a beta product programme of the block-based Hyper-V storage hardware with around 20 customers after switching its focus from scale-out NAS.

All of which means it's early days yet for Gridstore, but it's certainly bringing an interesting product to market, although tightly targeted at users of the, for now, minority hypervisor.

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