Backup tools are an almost universally accepted part of IT operations. Their benefits include increased automation and certainty that the job will get done. But backups aren't always perfect, and it's not always easy to tell when they're not working correctly, which led to the emergence of backup reporting software space, also known as data protection management (DPM), several years ago. Although there was a clear need for better backup reporting, how that would be delivered was unclear. Some saw storage resource management (SRM) as a natural fit, with a backup reporting functionality as one of its principal components. Others, such as companies like Bocada Inc. and Tek-Tools Software (now part of Solarwinds) offered backup reporting as a separate product.
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David Russell, an analyst with Gartner Inc., said despite early indicators pointing to SRM tools for backup reporting, that didn't succeed either because it wasn't widely accepted, wasn't something people wanted, or it wasn't something people wanted to pay for in an SRM delivery vehicle. Meanwhile, backup vendors got smarter and responded to user demands; they built their own reporting capabilities into their backup software.
Devin York, senior manager for financial system group at Continental Airlines, described his reliance on Hewlett Packard (HP) Co.'s Data Protector software. He uses the HP Data Protector for both managing backups and backup reporting. From a central console, the software shows which backups have completed and which ones were successful. It also shows "capacity planning over the year, do we need more licenses or a bigger tape library, and is the speed adequate," said York. Globally, for example, Data Protector includes the ability to manage any number of cells but a Manager of Managers (MoM) feature provides overall control and performs configuration, media management, monitoring and status reporting tasks for the whole enterprise from a single console.
The Data Protector MoM can also generate reports on a single-cell basis as well as for the entire environment. According to HP, the HP Data Protector software includes reporting that can demonstrate service-level agreement (SLA) compliance, including preconfigured reports and customizable parameters for inventory/status reports, capacity utilization, troubleshooting, and triggers. Data Protector reports can also be exported to other management tools, (i.e., HP Operations Manager, HP Storage Essentials, and IBM Tivoli Storage Manager [TSM]), to help storage staff diagnose and tune their environment from a holistic perspective.
Rachel Dines, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the vast majority of her clients find they can rely on the capabilities built into their backup software or add-on modules. "For example, I know many people using the Symantec solution add-on, OpsCenter Analytics, which also works with Tivoli Storage Manager and EMC NetWorker, among other products. OpsCenter Analytics not only performs reporting, it also does forecasting and helps to set SLAs, and even chargebacks." However, she noted, all those additional capabilities "don't come for free."
But not everyone is so keen to use what the vendors offer with their backup software. A case in point is Daniel Hall, a lead support analyst at the National Health Service in the UK. Hall said he used Symantec Corp. Backup Exec for a few years and found that the reports built in "were pretty useful." However, he noted, they took some effort to set up. And "they couldn't really specify errors; it was great for telling you sizes, when, where, how," but didn't do much to tell what kind of error or fault you were facing, he explained.
As a managed services provider overseeing about 300 servers at client companies, Omar Armenteros, president of Virtuworks, based in Coral Gables, Fla., found that the challenges of heterogeneous environments made a unified backup reporting tool crucial. Choosing to adopt Bocada Enterprise, Armenteros said its backup reporting capabilities have saved six to seven hours of time each day. "Before Bocada, someone had to log into at least 100 servers every day and record information manually in a spreadsheet," he said.
Evolution and key players in backup reporting software space
Gartner's Russell said while the market didn't boom as some had predicted several years ago, a small number of backup reporting tool software vendors have emerged and currently dominate the market: Aptare Inc., Bocada, Rocket Software Inc. (Servergraph) and Tek-Tools/Solarwinds.
A reporting tool would save you wading through multiple reports and going to many different consoles.
Russell said Aptare is a major standalone player and has expanded out from its original focus on reporting to provide "a sort of lightweight SRM tool, with a minimum number of agents and replication management capabilities." Bocada, perhaps the best known company in the field, remains focused just on reporting. Rocket Software acquired Servergraph, which initially focused on working with TSM, but has since expanded to cover other vendors. And, according to Russell, the Tek-Tools product has the distinction of having been OEMed multiple times to backup software makers.
"In addition to those mainstream reporting companies, there are also some 'tweeners' such as EMC, which now offers the Data Protection Advisor, a tool marketed in conjunction with EMC products but offers heterogeneous capabilities," added Russell.
Benefits of a backup reporting tool
Russell said that not every company will benefit from adopting backup reporting tools. He said the classic use case is when you have multiple backup systems, which makes a unified point of reporting very useful. "In that case, a reporting tool would save you wading through multiple reports and going to many different consoles," he said. While that use case is still valid, it is less common because there has been more consolidation within most organizations and therefore fewer now face those complex backup situations.
The other classic use case, according to Russell, is when backup reporting tools can eliminate a gap in reporting capability. "Without a reporting tool, you might think it's not bad that you have 98 out of 100 backups that are successful, but better information might show that it is the same two servers that are failing to backup properly and, in fact, that they haven't had a successful backup in 60 days," noted Russell. That kind of insight and the ability backup reporting tools provide to tie infrastructure behavior to a business impact is an argument in favor of making the investment.
Backup reporting tools can also provide insight into the physical resources such as tape. "They can help you understand when to use what device and how to schedule. This could have a dramatic positive impact on overall performance and the success rate of your backups," said Russell.
The value of a backup reporting tool
Pricing for backup reporting tools varies widely, according to Russell. Some products are priced per machine, whether that is physical or virtual; others are priced based on the storage capacity under management. Sometimes they can be purchased bundled with other products. "This all boils down to as little as a few hundred dollars per server or a few thousand dollars per terabyte of data," he said.
The ultimate question, according to Russell, is the value of your data and the value of your time. "If you know with certainty that you have evaluated your infrastructure and you know everything is running fine, then the need for monitoring is reduced, but the more stressed your environment, the more you are likely to need these tools," he said.
Still, Armenteros offers one other caution based on his experience. Although he offers kudos for what Bocada has done to save him time and hassle, he said he has also been frustrated by the fact that Bocada cannot handle all the environments he needs to use. "We can use it for Veritas [Symantec] Backup Exec and Microsoft Data Protection Manager," but there are other systems, including Veeam, for VMware backups, that Bocada can't handle. "I think it is especially important to have that capability to work with virtualized systems and that will be an increasingly important feature for backup reporting tools," he added.
About this author: Alan Earls is a Boston-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SearchDataBackup.