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Zmanda takes on Symantec, Microsoft in cloud backup

Beth Pariseau
Zmanda Inc. has issued version 3.0 of its Amanda Enterprise open-source backup software with new "disk-to-disk-to-cloud" features.

Zmanda already offered customers the option of using Amazon's S3 cloud as a target for backups, but the new version integrates optimization features such as Amanda Enterprise's scheduler. The software's intelligent scheduler algorithm that figures out the best use of server and network resources to do backups and schedules them accordingly, can now be used to manage bandwidth usage to the cloud.

This feature will help a relatively unknown company compete against much larger companies like Symantec Corp. and Microsoft that offer cloud target options with backup software -- Symantec's Backup Exec and Microsoft's Data Protection Manager (DPM).

"With every other scheduler, a user has to think carefully so they don't oversubscribe resources, especially network resources," Taneja Group analyst Eric Burgener said. "Zmanda just does it for you."

With Amanda 3.0, customers can also choose which Amazon data center location to back up to, depending on their primary location. They can also transfer block size between 1 KB and 100 MB, depending on their proximity to the cloud data center or network bandwidth.

Version 3.0 includes an API that cloud providers can use to offer integration between their services and Amanda Enterprise, and Zmanda will expand the list of service providers it works with.

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"For major clouds like Microsoft [Azure] and Amazon [S3], we'll do the integration ourselves," said Zmanda CEO Chander Kant. "But with the cloud API, smaller providers can integrate with our software as well."

Version 3.0 also adds support for on-premise applications including SharePoint, Sun Microsystems' ZFS and PostgreSQL as well as for "plugging in" third-party encryption. Later this spring, Kant said Zmanda will also add the ability to back up data from Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to S3 for long-term storage, as well as the ability to backup from cloud services to on-premise storage.

Carrying out these plans would put Zmanda ahead of most of the cloud-based backup market. "It's one of the more advanced implementations of cloud-based backup I've seen," said Illuminata analyst John Webster, who, like Burgener, cited the scheduler feature as unique. "Even if their ability to back up from the cloud applies only to EC2, it's still a step I haven't seen anyone else take yet."

Zmanda can also offer non-Windows customers support for applications, which Microsoft's DPM doesn't, while coming in at a cheaper price point than most proprietary backup software. A premium support subscription for each Zmanda Backup Server is $375 per year.

However, Burgener says Zmanda still needs to overcome the associations many people have with open-source software -- that it is inconsistently developed or not well supported. Zmanda and others are trying to change that perception by offering product support and consistent development cycles, but Burgener says "I think most of the market doesn't understand that."

While Zmanda's price is appealing during an economic downturn and cost is part of the factors driving the adoption of cloud services, the perceived reliability of a vendor remains just as important, according to IDC analyst Laura DuBois. "Zmanda seems known in a niche of Web companies but of course would be challenged to compete against Symantec SPN online backup or others."


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