StorageCraft adds data restore acceleration and virtual boot to ShadowProtect 4

ShadowProtect 4 leapfrogs much of the data backup software competition with new features to accelerate restores, but it's still catching up to incumbents with features like replication and centralized management.

StorageCraft Technology Corp. will release an upgraded version of its ShadowProtect bare-metal restore data backup product April 21, with new features in version 4.0 including restore acceleration, virtual boot of backup images, new support for data replication, and centralized management.

StorageCraft claims it has more than 100,000 customers for its ShadowProtect product, which is delivered as either ShadowProtect Server or ShadowProtect Small Business Server, and specializes in protecting virtual servers. StorageCraft was founded in 1999 and sold snapshot drivers to OEM partners, including a driver still in use today as part of Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec System Recovery (BESR) for bare-metal restore, according to Brandon Nordquist, vice president of product management for StorageCraft. VMware also OEMs a snapshot conversion tool from StorageCraft that allows virtual machine images to be converted to run on a different hypervisor, Nordquist said.

The company's current products are based on StorageCraft's 2003 merger with ShadowStor. ShadowProtect 2.0 was launched in 2005 and version 3.0 followed in 2008. ShadowProtect performs bare-metal restores of physical and virtual server images, including application and operating system state information, which allows snapshot images to be restored to dissimilar hardware.

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The product is also performs near-continuous data protection (CDP), allowing snapshots to be scheduled down to 15 minute intervals. It performs a full backup once, and then tracks incremental changes to the original image using a separate software module called ShadowProtect Image Manager. ShadowProtect Image Manager can also be used to "crush" incremental images into periodic updates to the full to create daily, weekly, monthly or yearly images of the protected host.

ShadowProtect 4.0 has the ability to resume operations after an interruption and boot virtual machines from backup images. The new VirtualBoot feature will allow customers boot up an Oracle Corp. Sun Microsystems VirtualBox virtual machine to assess snapshot images, spin up machines for test/development purposes, or to test restorability. This feature has some similarities to a new software utility coming from vendor Veeam Software for VMware environments called SureBackup, scheduled for June release.

Nordquist acknowledged that Sun's VirtualBox doesn't have the commanding market share of VMware or brand recognition of Microsoft's Hyper-V, but said Sun values open-source software development and was more responsive in working with StorageCraft on the feature than VMware or Microsoft.

With this release, StorageCraft's ShadowProtect Image Manager is also adding a new premium Enterprise edition that includes advanced features for speeding data recovery, and the product's first support for replication.

The new HeadStart Recovery feature pre-converts a snapshot image into a bootable Microsoft or Hyper-V virtual machine as a background process, and prestages the incremental changes so that the initial steps of recovery are pre-completed, speeding the time to recover an image in the event of an outage. The virtual machine conversion, which used to take from hours to days, has been streamlined in internal StorageCraft testing to between 15 minutes and 20 minutes.

ShadowProtect Image Manager Enterprise will also bundle in asynchronous replication on a per-job license basis. HeadStart Recovery will also be licensed per job, but if a user wishes to deploy both features, they will only have to pay for the license once. The assumption, Nordquist said, is that customers will use Image Manager Enterprise only for their most critical servers.

Bleeding edge data backup vs. keeping up with the Joneses

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse said the HeadStart Restore and VirtualBoot images are at the bleeding edge of the data backup software market today, but pointed out that some of the other features added in 4.0, like replication and support for centrally managing backup for multiple hosts, are checklist items for enterprise data backup managers.

"If you were to put ShadowProtect side by side with Backup Exec, it wouldn't be a perfect checklist," Whitehouse said. "At the same time, image-based backups are a whole different paradigm, and a relatively new product doesn't have the same overhead as incumbents do with file-level traditional backup products to keep current along with embracing new virtualization features."

"We admit we're playing some catch-up here, especially with centralized management," Nordquist said.

One StorageCraft reseller partner that also uses ShadowProtect to protect internal and hosted Windows servers for clients, Green Bay, Wis.-based Camera Corner Connecting Point, replaced a traditional incumbent product with ShadowProtect after a disastrous outage two years ago was exacerbated by a difficult restore process.

"Two years ago we had a catastrophic event in our data center, a fire, and we lost every single server [about 60 hosts]," director of Camera Corner's NetAssist program Shawn Massey said. Because the system state of the servers had not been encompassed by the original backup to tapes, trying to restore the data to newer replacement Windows servers "led to blue screen after blue screen." Eventually, the restores were made, but the pain was enough to send Massey out looking for a new backup product, which he found in ShadowProtect.

Massey acknowledged the product still has room to develop, particularly in supporting non-Windows servers, but said it has been reliable. "It would also be nice to use [Citrix] XenServer, Hyper-V or vSphere [with VirtualBoot], but I'm not necessarily worried about it," he said.

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