Actifio PAS sets out to re-architect backup

Actifio PAS is attracting a loyal following with its copy data approach to storage management. Actifio now claims more than 200 customers use its PAS appliance.

Startup Actifio has ambitious plans to redefine how storage is managed and protected. Actifio uses a single appliance and its copy data technology to eliminate multiple applications required for backup, snapshots, archiving, business continuity, disaster recovery, analytics and test and development.

The Waltham, Mass.-based Actifio claims it has 200 customers in 16 countries since it began shipping its Protection and Availability Storage (PAS) appliance in late 2010. Actifio founder and CEO Ash Ashutosh said the startup began selling more to Fortune 1000 companies in late 2012, with many storing at least 1 PB of production storage.

"We expect to be profitable in early 2014," Ashutosh said. "This last fourth quarter was big. We had 500% year-over-year growth."

Actifio uses the term copy data storage to describe its technology. The Actifio PAS appliance, which can be deployed within the storage area network (SAN) fabric or out-of-band over the network, uses software that captures snapshots of changed data from the application server rather than the production storage system. The appliance scales up to eight nodes, holding 8 PB of storage.

The key piece to the PAS system is the Virtual Data Protection (VDP) technology, which is a distributed object file system that manages a unique copy of data and uses changed block tracking to make frequent copies of that data. VDP captures a single copy of changed data from the application server and re-uses it for multiple purposes.

"It allows applications to directly access data copies from the Actifio PAS," Ashutosh said. "The data comes in as a block but it's stored as objects containing metadata including service-level agreements. We bypass the [storage infrastructure] and capture data from application interfaces. You can get rid of software tools, such as backup, replication, archiving, test and development software."

Actifio certainly has challenges ahead of it as a small company taking on the large storage vendors while changing the process that many storage and backup administrators are used to. But its copy data approach is gaining loyal customers.

Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., has deployed Actifio PAS to lessen the pain of data migration, reduce the number of backup licenses for virtual machines, reduce the use of tape and replicate to a second site for disaster recovery.

"I agonized over this decision," said Rich Siedzik, Bryant University's director of computer and telecommunication services. "We got an agreement for a 45-day proof of concept. By the 11th day, my team said, 'We are buying this product.'"

The university deployed Actifio in December, and it is using it to push its virtual machine backups to the PAS system. Siedzik said Actifio's storage virtualization feature will allow the company to migrate data from an old subsystem to a new one without interrupting service for users.

"We can just migrate data while everything is running," he said. "What used to take eight to 10 days to migrate data I can now do in minutes."

RDK Engineers, based in Andover, Mass., installed an Actifio PAS first to reduce its backup windows and now plans to use it for disaster recovery. Stephen Reboulet, IS manager of RDK Engineers, switched to Actifio in 2010 after his old backup method of Symantec Backup Exec, Quest Software vRanger and Hewlett-Packard tape libraries could no longer protect his company's mechanical drawings, business documents and mail system in a reasonable time.

They would start backups on Friday night and the process would continue into Monday. With Actifio, snapshots are done every three hours, reducing backup windows and the amount of data that can be lost when a recovery is necessary. They have five physical servers with 25 virtual machines (VMs). RDK still uses Backup Exec, but only for end-of-the month backups for archiving to tape.

RDK has installed one PAS system with two nodes, holding up to 20 TB. The plan now is to use one Actifio PAS in the Andover location and one in the Boston office to do replication for disaster recovery. It now is in the process of testing the product for disaster recovery.

"We've reduced our backup windows. Now we are delving into other corners," Reboulet said.

Actifio has raised a total of $57.5 million in funding, including a $33.5 million round in December 2011. It has close to 200 employees.

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