The pros and cons of integrated backup appliances

Find out whether integrated backup appliances with backup software, server and storage offer any benefits beyond ease of installation.

Do integrated backup appliances with backup software, server and storage (such as the Symantec 5220) offer any benefits beyond ease of installation? Vendors say these types of products offer better integration of the software and hardware, but what does that really mean?

Integrated backup appliances can be rapidly deployed into a backup environment and offer tighter integration between the backup software and hardware.

However, like anything else, it also has some drawbacks.

Vendor lock-in is a big downside because using integrated backup appliances makes the assumption that you want to control all backup processes directly from their backup software. But this is not reality.

For example, a database administrator may want to protect the database environment using Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) rather than using the appliance's backup software. In an integrated backup appliance, this would not be possible. To perform Oracle backup with RMAN, you would need a more open appliance.

Purpose-built deduplication systems, such as the Symantec 5220, contain fully integrated storage resources, networking connectivity and a pre-installed license of the NetBackup Media server software. In addition to providing near turnkey installation capabilities, integrated backup appliances are specifically tuned to work with the underlying vendor's backup application. As a result, little to no optimization is required when the system is deployed. Another example is STORServer's backup appliance, except their offering is custom-built for use with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager.

The 5220, for example, is a self-contained deduplication system that incorporates the NetBackup Media server agent and the OpenStorage Technology software to intelligently address the deduplicated storage resources configured on the appliance.

From an end user's perspective, beyond ease of integration, an additional benefit is simpler administration, as there are no moving parts. Again, it is a self-contained system.

As a natural consequence of that, when problems occur, it is easier to troubleshoot for both the end user and the vendor because the environment, except for the underlying Ethernet or Fibre Channel network, is one system. Additionally, the Symantec 5220 provides support for exporting backup data to tape directly off the backplane of the appliance, while STORServer enables users to write backup copies to disk and tape simultaneously. Some other deduplication systems require data to flow back up from the appliance and over the network before it can land safely onto tape.

Some other pitfalls of adopting a fully integrated backup appliance include fewer choices for choosing your deduplication storage pool. Software-agnostic deuplication platforms such as Data Domain, Quantum and Sepaton can scale well beyond the storage pools pre-configured in an integrated backup appliance. For large environments, this is no small consideration, because the larger the effective deduplication storage pool, the more efficient data reduction becomes. It can also be argued that fewer, larger storage pools are easier to manage than multiple smaller pools, despite the upfront advantages of a quick deployment afforded by a fully integrated software and hardware appliance.

Another downside to choosing a fully integrated backup appliance is that if, at some point in the future, you wish to migrate to a different backup software application, your backup appliance essentially becomes a boat anchor. In other words, since the appliance is designed to work only with a single vendor's backup application, you're locked into a proprietary solution.

This was last published in May 2013

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This article is very informative yet attacks Integrated appliances (specifically Symantec) very subjectively.

I wasn't surprised when I read the writer's profile on LinkedIn which says: "Helping Storage Manufactures capture market share by writing technical white papers, concept validation articles, strategic direction and subject matter expertise"

I wonder who he was "helping" with this article?
If the author really believes the value of an integrated appliance is easy of installation... He clearly does not understand the value proposition of Symantec Appliances and he has some important facts wrong.

The value of a Symantec integrated backup appliance that contains everything is defined by the lifecycle costs of it and not the ease of installation.

To begin with, a 5220 appliance running integrated NetBackup software can act as a media server a master server or a master media server. So the design is flexible. It is managed with a single patch supporting entire stack (hardware, disk, disk layout tuning, devices drivers, O/S, O/S tuning, NetBackup, NetBackup tuning, etc.) This one patch dramatically reducing opex change costs and risk associated with patching and upgrading user built hardware stacks. That one patch is installed on 1000's of identical hw/sw stacks across a mass user base.

You can always build it cheaper - Always - You cannot afford the own it.

Ownership costs and managed risks associated of build your own backup infrastructure far exceed the cost of the hardware stack. Why?, because you are manage the change costs and risks and where you don’t have the time then the solution loses currency. Staying current for feature access in a build you own infrastructure incurs additional costs. Because to get current you have to make changes and insure there risk associated with the change is managed and controlled. You have better things to than nursing backup systems of your own design though change.

The integrated appliance delivers predictable performance, simplified management, telemetry for proactive support, and the critical mass of 1000's of identical devices in 100's of different use cases running identical backup code that insures that new use cases that you may deploy it for have already been tested in other user’s with similar requirements.

Correction #1: NBU 5220 appliances all over the world are backing oracle with RMAN every day. Symantec NetBackup leverages RMAN to protect Oracle and execute the RMAN backups just like any other application protection policy under Netbackup control.

Correction #2 NBU 5220 appliance can write to Disk, Dedupe Disk, and Tape simultaneously... The real question is "Why would you?" throughput would be throttled by the slowest pipe. For years Netbackup has supported inline tape copy that splits a backup stream for multiple destinations... It also uses copy policies (SLPs) to allow a backup policy to manage the number of copies made, the order that they are made, the source that produces them, and independent expiry for each copy all managed by the NetBackup catalog.

Correction #4 Symantec NetBackup Appliances are designed with integrated Open Storage (OST). All OST compliant vendors (named in article) support open storage and their plugins can be packaged for installation on NetBackup appliances.

The reality is that waiting until the data has reached a media server appliance or target storage device before deduplication is inefficient. Symantec solves a bigger problem with NetBackup and that problem is “Volume”. The volume of backup data starts at the client being protected. NetBackup integrated deduplication and integrated Acceleration not only reduce data at the source but synthetically protects it by only protecting incrementally changed data and producing full backup sets in storage from it. To protect 1TB of data for a year with weekly full backups and daily incremental backups at 5% change adds up to a volume of 68 times the source data. Source Deduplication + NetBackup Acceleration reduce the the volume by 2/3.

The enemy of big is bigger: In addition anyone who tells you that oracle data is sharing dedupe segments with Exchange data or unstructured NAS share is blowing smoke...

In reality, deduplication pools are most efficient when the workloads (data types) writing to them are common. Four 64TB dedupe pools for 4 different workloads will always be more efficient than one 256TB dedupe pool with all four different workloads writing to it. This is true using any dedupe solution. Breaking up workloads into separate dedupe pools also insures that a workload that is less efficient only effects the available dedupe storage for that workload.

The only point I do agree is that with any technology investment, if you change to something else, your sunk cost can be lost.... But that’s nothing new. It is also true of a tape library, a disk array, a printer, a plotter, a cell phone, etc.

The cost of ownership of backup infrastructure is dominated by Opex costs not HW costs today. The real value of integrated appliances, from Symantec, is to consolidate backup infrastructure (Move less data) simplify (One Patch to manage the whole stack), provide a predictable performance experience (workload engineered and pre tuned) , and provide a lower ownership costs vs. build your own w/ a software on top -

Not the ease of installation....

'a database administrator may want to protect the database environment using Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) rather than using the appliance's backup software. In an integrated backup appliance, this would not be possible. '

Dear SME, no, an integrated solution can manage, cataolog, store (without staging) and deduplicate RMAN backups.