Users tame backup systems with reporting tools

Third-party backup reporting tools are gaining popularity among users, and are even beginning to expand into new markets.

As many users know, there's a fine line between a helpful tool and just another thing to manage. And so it may seem to some that a third-party tool to report on backups is redundant at best -- but for users with large or complex environments, the tools have already caught on. Meanwhile, as data grows everywhere and backup environments grow more and more difficult to manage manually, many enterprises are seeing the value in a separate reporting tool.

"We have over a petabyte of storage all over the world," said Pethuraj Perumal IT manager for backups for semiconductor manufacturer Synopsys Inc. The firm has been using Bocada Inc.'s backup reporting tool for two years; the Bocada product monitors Veritas Software Corp. NetBackup jobs that draw from a diverse series of systems, including EMC Corp. Celerra, Clariion 700, and Symmetrix DMX 1000 and 8000 arrays, as well as a 450 terabyte (TB) Network Appliance Inc., (NetApp) environment at its central headquarters. The backups are sent to dozens of StorageTek tape libraries, in models ranging from the L180 to the SL8500.

According to Perumal: "We have way too much data to manage manually anymore. Bocada gives us a single place to get all of our data about which backups were successful, and we're able to give our customers detailed backup review reports quarterly."

Previously, the company's engineers had been using homegrown scripts and open source programs to monitor backups, according to John McCracken, Synopsys' senior IT manager, who was part of the initial decision to implement Bocada.

"But there came a time that we just didn't have the manpower to look at the server logs and check the backup jobs," McCracken said.

The company evaluated Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM), NetBackup's own product, Veritas Storage Reporter and a product from Aptare Inc. in addition to Bocada, and it chose Bocada because it was the most mature third-party product at the time.

"We had ROI [return on investment] right out of the gate," McCracken remembered -- one of Synopsys' branch office managers had requested that the company double the number of tape drives in his office, since backup jobs weren't being completed.

"We ran a simple report on tape drive utilization and found that the utilization was very low -- 20% to 30% -- during the week, which told us he was trying to push all his backups through on the weekends."

"We told him, 'we can't just give you $60,000 in new tape drives because you scheduled backups poorly,' reconfigured the schedules and didn't have to make any investments in new hardware."

McCracken said the product has also helped the company with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance on its financial systems by allowing it to show that its backups have been completed successfully and helping to keep track of backup tapes for data retrieval.

The only quibbles he said the company has had with the product have been that it won't manage PC backups made with a product called DataProtector/PC, by Connected Corp., recently acquired by Iron Mountain Inc. He also said it took time to get going -- one full man-month was his estimate -- but since then, it's been "a huge time saver. In addition to monitoring our backups, the trending helps us make management decisions and prevents us from making stupid mistakes."

In future iterations of the product, McCracken said he'd like to see the Bocada product expand to offer forecasting and warnings. "Right now, there's no heuristic intelligence in the software that says, 'warning, Will Robinson,' if a backup job looks like it won't finish or might go bad," he said.

Historically, the typical backup reporting user has had either a very large environment, like Synopsys, or a very complex multivendor one, like the one managed by Charlie Pardue, network and storage manager for the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Pardue went with Profiler software from Tek-Tools Inc., rather than continue with his cobbled-together system of individual reporting tools from SyncSort Inc.'s Backup Express, TSM, Veritas' Backup Exec and NetApp's SnapShot product.

"We had four different data protection products for different applications in our environment, and since we expanded two years ago, our backup environment has grown dramatically," Pardue said.

The SyncSort product's backup reporting capabilities came closest to Profiler's, he said, but fell short: "It was difficult to figure out what we were working with. With a large number of jobs, a task might fail, but the only way you find out about it is to wait till the backup finished."

With Profiler, according to Pardue, "If a task fails, it shows up immediately on the Web interface." The product, he said, will also show partial failures and allow him to drill into the backup logs to see when and where the task failed and troubleshoot the system.

"The best thing about it is that it's vendor neutral," Pardue said. "Now we can see at a glance what we're working with in our entire backup environment, and jobs are color-coded in green, orange and red, according to their status."

Pardue said it saves him at least an hour per day to have the system at hand. And it has also allowed systems engineers monitoring critical systems overnight to troubleshoot backup errors themselves, rather than calling him in.

"That's another time savings," Pardue said.

There are still some things Profiler won't do, according to Pardue, and chief among them is forecasting based on tape cartridges. The product will predict backup volume based on client but doesn't currently relate that amount back to tape cartridges. "If the boss asks me how many tapes we'll need for the rest of the year, it's hard to get an idea of that using this tool," Pardue said.

Reporting tools gain traction, expand markets

Lately, midsized customers are also beginning to embrace reporting tools. Take, for example, Aptare customer York University, located in Toronto.

The university backs up about 12 TB to 16 TB of data from its central headquarters on campus, and as a publicly funded institution, it is not in the same league with a company like Synopsys, according to Ramon Kagan, manager, Unix services, computing and network services. But like Synopsys, the university had been monitoring backups in-house and had begun to find that process unmanageable.

"We didn't have a good single point of information about our backups, we didn't have a good capacity planning tool, and we couldn't keep track using NetBackup, of which tapes were needed for a particular restore," Kagan said.

Since implementing Aptare's Storage Console, Kagan said, "We can have nontechnical help desk staff checking on backups and monitoring the environment instead of backup techs running back and forth with tapes."

Bocada is also acknowledging a broader appeal for its products with the recently announced Bocada NOW, a new pricing program that includes one, two or three-year subscription pricing and a simplified cost-per-client licensing model. The program also includes a standard, 30-day acceptance clause. According to Drake Pruitt, Bocada's vice president of marketing, the program is specifically intended to drive sales of its product in the midmarket, where customers are less able to afford big up-front licensing fees.

As the latest player to join the space, Aptare offers features the other users said they were missing, such as early warnings and forecasting. The product is also a "thin client," meaning it can be run through a Web interface.

In addition to the midmarket space, however, Aptare CEO Rick Clark says reporting tools are beginning to be embraced by storage outsourcing companies that manage the biggest of the big accounts. Aptare's tool has recently been OEMed by both GlassHouse Technologies Inc. and Hitachi Data Systems Inc. as part of larger managed-services packages.

"There's starting to be a sense that monitoring and reporting are kind of the 'third prong' when it comes to data protection, in addition to backup and recovery," Clark said.

Bocada and Aptare aren't the only ones doing well. Another relative newcomer, WysDM Software Inc., announced that it signed its 100th customer on June 20. Orange Business Services, one of the world's largest multinational telecommunications companies, is using WysDM for data protection and visibility into its backup and recovery operations. WysDM is also gaining traction through its partnership with EMC, where it is marketed as the Backup Advisor product.

"The reason all these guys are getting traction is simple; the big tape-based data protection players have done a miserable job of providing data on what failed and why, and, very importantly, what should be done to fix the problem," said Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group.

"One could argue that this functionality belongs inside the data protection products," Taneja continued. "However, to fix a problem inside a unit, you have to monitor it from outside the unit...also, if you have a heterogeneous data protection environment, then wouldn't it be nice to have a single tool that presents data in a singular format?"

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