Backup solutions for small business boast enterprise features

Small-business backup products reflect the need for mixed physical and virtual server backup from one console, backup to the cloud and a range of data deduplication options.

Smaller businesses are increasingly sophisticated in their backup requirements. They want to back up mixed physical and virtual servers and have the option to back up to the cloud.

Today’s small-business backup solutions provide these options, which were previously the preserve of enterprise products. But SMBs don’t necessarily have the IT skills that enterprises do, so they need products that are easy to configure and manage.

In this podcast, assistant site editor Fran Sales interviews bureau chief Antony Adshead about key developments in backup solutions for small business, including backup appliances.

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Small-business backup products get enterprise features

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What’s happening around backup solutions for small business?

Antony Adshead: The small-business backup [solutions] market is pretty much like other midrange markets in storage, and in IT in general.

On the one hand, customers want sophisticated products with features [similar to what] you’d find on enterprise-level products. But on the other hand, they want products that are easy to deploy and use because their organisations don’t have the same level of in-house IT resources as the large outfits.

And, looking specifically at the midrange backup market, the features we’re finding on products now reflect the key changes we’re seeing in computing and storage in general: namely, the capability to deal with virtual as well as physical servers and the ability to use the cloud as a target.

Not so long ago, most backup apps were geared towards backing up physical servers, and if customers needed to back up virtual machines they’d do it as if they were physical servers, by putting an agent in each virtual machine. That’s inherently problematic because attempting to back up numerous virtual servers simultaneously without any kind of orchestration leads to horrendous I/O bottlenecks.

But, since then, virtual server and backup app vendors have improved communications between their products.

VMware, for example, has built in APIs for data protection that allow the backup app to communicate with the hypervisor rather than individual virtual machines, meaning the whole process can be carried out without attempting to jam every virtual machine down the network at once. Meanwhile, Microsoft Hyper-V backup can also be carried out via Volume Shadow Copy Services, or VSS, at hypervisor level to the same beneficial effect.

We’re also seeing improved data deduplication capability as organisations face the need to deal with quickly growing data volumes.

Who are the key vendors of backup solutions for small business, and how do products compare?

Adshead: On, when we survey midrange backup products we count the top five as Acronis Backup and Recovery, CA ARCserve, EMC’s Avamar, Symantec’s Backup Exec and Microsoft’s Data Protection Manager. That’s according to the preferences indicated by respondents to our Purchasing Intentions surveys.

Key advances common to most of these vendors’ products include the ability to back up virtual and physical servers on the same infrastructure, data deduplication, granular file recovery, VMware and Hyper-V support, and the ability to use the cloud as a backup target.

Differentiators include the following:

  • Acronis’ bare-metal recovery, as well as its search and cataloguing of backups
  • EMC Avamar’s integration with the company’s Data Domain data deduplication hardware
  • Symantec offering a standalone cloud target solution, Backup
  • CA ARCserve’s full bare-metal recovery, failover of complete VMs and recovery of individual applications

And finally there is Microsoft, which hasn’t released a significant upgrade to its Data Protection Manager product since the 2010 iteration, but DPM 2012, part of System Center 2012, is expected later in the year.

So, currently it lags behind as it’s primarily intended as a product for backing up Windows environments and has no dedupe, for example. Features in the beta for the 2012 edition seem to focus on monitoring, administration and alerting, although item-level recovery is set to be included.

What about backup appliances?

Adshead: Backup appliances are literally backup-in-a-box and are a good idea for middle-sized organisations because they come with backup software predeployed and include some disk capacity.

A number of vendors sell them. They vary by the backup software included, disk capacity and throughput -- and hence the size of business they’re aimed at -- as well as the type of data deduplication and encryption included and how you can move data off the device, either via tape vaulting, removable disk or to the cloud.

All of them will work pretty much out of the box with VMware or Hyper-V, but Citrix or Red Hat virtual server integration isn’t universal at all and would need some advanced configuration, which pretty much defeats the object of getting a backup appliance in the first place.

Key backup appliance vendors include the following:

  • Arkeia, which offers six devices of capacity up to 16 TB with source or target dedupe and 1 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Dell, which offers devices with either Symantec Backup Exec, NetBackup or CommVault Simpana software and has three capacity options up to 9 TB with source or target dedupe, but no encryption
  • Revinetix, which offers four devices of up to 102 TB capacity -- and all these are raw capacities, ie, prededupe, by the way. Ports are 1 GbE, dedupe is at the target and disks are removable.
  • StorServer, which offers devices with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager that range from 3 TB to 30 TB plus expansion shelves and with source dedupe.
  • Symantec, which has appliances that run either Backup Exec for smaller organisations or NetBackup for bigger outfits. The NetBackup devices have capacity up to 32 TB and 1 GbE, 10 GbE and Fibre Channel ports. The Backup Exec device is 6 TB and has 1 GbE ports. Dedupe is source or target on both.
  • And finally, Tandberg has devices that go up to 8 TB, with source dedupe, removable disks and 1 GbE ports.

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