Enterprise backup: Software product upgrades in 2010 surveyed

Enterprise backup software product upgrades in 2010 included advancements in source data deduplication, unified recovery management, virtual server support and automated agent management.

Enterprise backup software products change constantly as improvements are made in backup-related technologies and as the environment in which they must operate also evolves.

In this article we survey the key new features in upgrades to the main enterprise backup software products in the past year, namely, Symantec (NetBackup 7), IBM (TSM 6.2), CommVault (Simpana 9), HP (Data Protector 6.11) and EMC (Networker 7.6).

What we’ve found is that the key new features broadly fall into five main areas: source data deduplication, backup appliances, unified restore features, enhanced support for virtual server backup and automated agent management.

Source data deduplication

One of the biggest trends in enterprise backup software over the past year has been the introduction of source deduplication.

Source data deduplication carries out its work at or near the backup server and therefore reduces data volumes before transmission to the backup target. It’s a natural fit with backup products as deduplication can be carried out as data is drawn from source devices and sent to the target.

CommVault Simpana 9, Symantec NetBackup 7 and IBM TSM 6.2 all introduced support for source data deduplication in the past year. CommVault claims the source deduplication now included in version 9 of its Simpana product reduces network load from backup or replication by as much as 90 percent. It can reduce backup windows by a third, the firm also claims.

HP also launched its own deduplication software in the form of StoreOnce, which had languished in obscurity as an internal product for years. The company announced it would integrate the technology -- which also provides source deduplication -- into the next major release of its Data Protector backup software, due this year. The software is also being included in its own backup appliance, the HP D2D4312.

Backup appliances

HP isn’t the only company to be integrating more features into backup appliances. This is becoming a new direction for enterprise data backup vendors. In the networking world, we have seen the uptake of appliances that consolidate multiple functions into a single piece of hardware, and it is logical for backup vendors to explore the same concept.

With a backup appliance, administrators can take advantage of backup, data deduplication and remote replication in a single unit. Putting these functions in a piece of dedicated hardware brings multiple benefits.

Firstly, they are easy to manage and configure and put everything needed for backup into one box, which makes appliances particularly suited to remote branch office use. Secondly, dedicated hardware adds processing power for backup and data deduplication, which reduces the load on application and backup servers.

In January, Symantec launched an appliance-based NetBackup product. NetBackup 7 was previously available only as a software package, but the company then packaged it into hardware and included data deduplication capabilities.

IBM doesn’t offer a TSM backup appliance directly, but TSM 6.2 is available bundled into a hardware form factor from StorServer released last year. Meanwhile, CommVault partnered in 2010 with Dell to release the Dell PowerVault DL2200, which comes bundled with Simpana 9 software, data deduplication and up to 306 TB of usable disk capacity in a product targeted at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Unified recovery management

Managing recovery across multiple systems using a single interface is a clear direction for enterprise backup software. In TSM 6.2, IBM included support for its FastBack backup recovery software from the TSM interface. This makes it possible to manage backup and recovery of servers and workstations from a “single pane of glass.” Features include the ability to share policies between the two products and to define them at a single point.

This is a catch-up move for IBM, which has a habit of rolling significant features into point releases to keep up with the competition and with customer demand. Symantec's NetBackup has featured centralised recovery management and backup since version 6.5 launched in 2007. CommVault rolled this into Simpana 8 in early 2009. EMC NetWorker now also integrates this feature into its NetWorker Management Console, which supports third-party snap-ins for technologies like continuous data protection (CDP).

Enhanced support for virtual environments

Virtualisation support was making its way into enterprise backup software at the start of last year, but since then, support for this concept has matured. TSM 6.2 is able to auto-discover new virtual machines on the network, pulling them automatically into the backup process so that they don’t get lost. This is an important development, because virtual server sprawl is one of the biggest bugbears for administrators in virtualised environments. Virtual machines have a habit of sprouting up like orphaned socks in the laundry, and keeping track of them and backing them up can be an administrative nightmare. Having a backup product that discovers these machines automatically can reduce management headaches considerably.

Backup storage economy is an important part of these new enhanced virtualisation backup features. Tools such as TSM are now capable of identifying entire system images or the applications and file systems inside virtual machines. This mimics user state virtualisation in virtualised desktop environments, where administrators back up user profiles rather than entire operating systems. Omitting system files and concentrating on user data can create significant storage capacity savings.

EMC NetWorker includes specific support for VMware and Hyper-V and is particularly strong on the former. It integrates with VMware management products such as vMotion, to track virtual machines as they are moved around the infrastructure.

In version 6.11 of Data Protector, released in September 2009, HP introduced more support for virtualisation, including volume shadow copy services for Hyper-V (using Microsoft VSS) and VMware. It also features zero-downtime backup technology, which HP says eliminates the computational load on ESX servers during the backup process.

In Simpana 9, CommVault integrated a version of its SnapProtect snapshotting software designed specifically for virtualised environments. It auto-discovers VMs, before pausing them and then creating a snapshot of all the images as a single job.

Symantec's NetBackup 7 extends the product's support for virtualisation by adding off-host backup for Hyper-V and block-level backup technologies for VMware.

Automatic deployment of agents

Automating virtual machine backup is one part of a broader move toward backup automation. Vendors are making efforts to automate as many parts of the backup process as possible -- even down to client-side management. For example, CommVault’s Simpana 9 transparently installs agents on targeted clients without requiring administrators to do it manually or alter back-end policies. TSM was also updated to support automatic client management in version 6.2.

In many ways, then, developments in enterprise backup software in the past 12 to 18 months have focused on consolidating and refining existing features. Vendors have fleshed out these features with more functionality while taking steps to make them more accessible. The result is a more comprehensive set of enterprise backup tools that will relieve busy administrators of stresses.

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