Midrange data backup solutions surveyed

Upgrades in 2010 to midrange data backup solutions included data deduplication, unified archiving, enhanced virtualisation support and centralised management.

Organisations in the market for midrange backup software demand the same types of technology features included in enterprise backup products. Over the past couple of years we have seen the leading backup products in this space cater increasingly to these needs. What features have midrange data backup solutions vendors included, and how do they measure up against one another?

According to Rachel Dines, analyst at Forrester Research, midrange backup product customers should look for “broad platform support, a choice between disk and tape target options, granular recovery capabilities, and advanced backup options such as array-based snapshots across diverse hardware.” Data deduplication is also an important and evolving area in midrange backup. There are other technology marks for these products to hit, too. Let’s examine how the top five products in this space – from Acronis, EMC, Symantec, CA and Microsoft -- are building in this functionality.

Virtualisation support

With server virtualisation now mainstream even among smaller organisations, it is perhaps unsurprising that the lion’s share of activity in midrange data backup solutions concerns virtual server backup.  

Acronis’ Backup and Recovery 10 Advanced Server Virtual Edition has replaced the company’s previous virtualisation-oriented offering, Acronis True Image Virtual Edition, and includes agentless and agent-based backup of virtual machines. It is also VMware cluster-aware, meaning that it can back up all virtual machines in a VMware cluster from a single virtual appliance. It also supports VMware VMotion as well as VMware’s High Availability software, which monitors virtual machines to detect failures and restart them.  

EMC Avamar also hits all these marks, having introduced support for VMware’s vSphere product in release 5.0, which shipped in 2009. This was among the first midrange backup solutions to offer integration with vSphere 4. It can handle backups of an entire VMware virtual machine image as a single entity, along with block-level incremental backups of an ESX host. It can also handle file-level restores within VMware images.

Symantec also has a well-rounded product in this space; it improved support for server virtualisation in Backup Exec by introducing integrated backup and deduplication functionality for both VMware ESX 3.5 (Update 2) and vSphere 4.x releases. Administrators can recover virtual machines from a single backup, the company says. It also supports Microsoft Hyper-V.

CA has supported server virtualisation backup in ARCserve since at least release 12 in early 2008, although with release 15 last year it also shipped ARCserve Replication with support for replication and failover of entire servers (including virtual ones) rather than just applications. However, unlike Acronis and EMC products, it doesn’t support server-based snapshots of data on the virtual machine or hypervisor-assisted backup.

Microsoft Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2010 now includes enhanced virtualisation protection, including Hyper-V R2 Live Migration scenarios. The product also boasts single-file recovery from within Hyper-V virtual machines that have been backed up.

Better reporting and management

Better reporting, along with management from a single interface, is a trend in midrange data backup solutions as they become more sophisticated. Microsoft DPM 2010 includes a backup service-level agreement (SLA) reporting function. This feature automates daily reports regarding backups -- to ensure the backup is going as the SLA says it should -- and emails them to a designated recipient. The backup SLA report is also available in the protection view of the DPM user interface. The biggest advantage for storage administrators is that they won’t have to write custom scripts to ensure they meet their backup goals.

CA ARCserve Release 15, launched last year, features a “global dashboard” for the first time. This provides graphical reports detailing the environmental situation in all offices being backed up. Administrators get access to a network diagram view of the entire environment.

Acronis has attempted to simplify management in version 10 of its Backup and Recovery product by including policy-based centralised management of distributed servers and workstations. It also features a “single pane of glass” interface for centralised management.

Data deduplication

Data deduplication has been a mainstay of enterprise backup software for a couple of generations now, and it’s finally making its way into the midrange data backup solutions space. Acronis Backup and Recovery 10 includes this feature, enabling both file- and block-level data deduplication during backups. Symantec Backup Exec 2010 includes integrated data deduplication for the first time, using Veritas NetBackup PureDisk technology. The backup software includes client/source deduplication and integrates this feature with OpenStorage data deduplication appliances. Both of these products have caught up with EMC Avamar, which has featured integrated data deduplication capabilities since 2007, a year after EMC purchased the product. Microsoft still has to step up to the plate, having omitted data deduplication between machines in DPM 2010, which shipped in April 2010.

Bare-metal recovery

Bare-metal recovery allows restoration of data without the need to have an operating system already installed before restoring data. Such functionality is making its way into midrange data backup solutions with Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 and Microsoft DPM 2010 including it. Avamar 5.0 includes the recovery of Windows Server 2003 32-bit and 64-bit systems from bare metal. CA includes bare-metal recovery in ARCserve D2D and claims a differentiator in its ability to recover dissimilar hardware. However, Symantec also offers bare-metal recovery to dissimilar hardware with the Windows Server version of Backup Exec 12.

Granular recovery

Historically, restoring data for some applications has been an arduous process requiring multiple backup copies. For example, recovering an Exchange email server required access to a full database backup, a “brick-level” backup and incremental backups of each mailbox. Granular recovery enables organisations to recover data in a single pass as opposed to multiple-pass restores, reducing the recovery time. Symantec was first to market with this feature in Backup Exec Version 12, released in 2008. CA introduced granular backup for ARCserve last year, specifically targeting Active Directory and SharePoint. Acronis has also chosen to include abilities to recover individual emails in application-specific products such as Acronis Recovery for Exchange.

Unified archiving

This feature allows the product to archive data from the backup copy rather than the original. This cuts down on redundant data and improves backup and recovery times. Symantec included unified archiving in the latest version of Backup Exec by rolling technology from its Enterprise Vault product into the package. It unifies content from file servers and Exchange servers.None of the other products included in this article feature the same integrated unified archiving function.

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