PHD Virtual buys DR testing startup VirtualSharp, eyes cloud DR

Backup vendor PHD Virtual takes another step toward the cloud, adds DR testing startup VirtualSharp and the ability to recover data in a public cloud.

Virtual machine backup specialist PHD Virtual filled in another part of its cloud data protection strategy this week when it acquired disaster recovery automation and testing startup VirtualSharp.

VirtualSharp's ReliableDR software orchestrates disaster recovery (DR) testing, failover and failback for VMware. It includes an automated recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) compliance measure that tests the ability of customers' DR process to meet those objectives. The software stores successfully tested jobs as Certified Recovery Points, or CRPs, that customers can use to failover to during a service outage.

ReliableDR provides host-based replication and works with array-based replication applications from EMC, NetApp, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, DataCore and FalconStor.

VirtualSharp sells four versions of ReliableDR. The flagship enterprise edition is for mission-critical applications and services, and includes application-aware recovery. The foundation edition is for less critical processes and apps, such as test and development and virtual desktops. It certifies the heartbeat of the virtual machines (VMs), but doesn't provide complete application-aware recovery testing. The CSP edition is for cloud service providers who want to provide Disaster Recovery as a Service, and includes multi-tenancy and role-based access controls. There is also a free edition with limited functionality.

PHD did not disclose the acquisition price.

When PHD launched its CloudHook module to move backups to the cloud last month, product manager Joe Noonan said the vendor planned to add the ability to recover data into a cloud for DR. That function will be based on ReliableDR.

Noonan said PHD will keep the VirtualSharp software as a separate product, but will offer bundled pricing for customers who buy PHD Virtual Backup Appliance and VirtualSharp software. Eventually there will be at least enough integration so the two products "trigger each other's features," he said.

Besides the cloud capabilities, Noonan said VirtualSharp's DR testing will fill a need for PHD customers. "DR and backup and recovery are starting to blur and overlap a lot," he said. "Having replication is more of a DR-centric process for us."

PHD recently surveyed its customers, Noonan said, and the 500-plus who responded identified DR planning and implementation is their main pain point. Most of them said they were testing no more than twice a year, and DR testing was a manual process.

"[ReliableDR] allows you to group VMs and applications as a business service, test them as a full service and measure that against RPOs and RTOs," Noonan said. "So you can test more than just the servers and just the VMs."

PHD Virtual's closest competitors are VM-backup applications such as Veeam Software's Backup & Replication and Dell's vRanger, but almost all legacy backup applications now support VM protection.

Dave Simpson, senior storage analyst at the 451 Group, said VirtualSharp gives PHD a unique capability for a low acquisition price. He compared the acquisition to Acronis' buyout of GroupLogic in Sept. 2012 that gave Acronis file-sharing software to flesh out its backup software.

"Backup vendors need to find a way to differentiate, and this is PHD's way of differentiating," Simpson said. "What's unique about VirtualSharp's ReliableDR is the concept of disaster recovery assurance, being able to guarantee that DR will work. If you're pitching a cloud backup and DR story, you want to be able to tell clients, 'We can guarantee that when you fire up your DR procedures, they will work and meet your RPO and RTO requirements.'"

Simpson said PHD is clearly looking to bolster its cloud capabilities with the acquisition. He called CloudHook "a baby step in PHD's cloud strategy. And then they can begin selling VirtualSharp software in conjunction with that."

PHD may have to make adjustments to its roadmap for its Virtual Backup Appliance and ReliableDR to make them a better fit for packaging. PHD sells mostly to small and medium-sized businesses now, while ReliableDR's sales are primarily in the enterprise. And while both support VMware, PHD also supports Citrix's hypervisor but not Microsoft Hyper-V. VirtualSharp was working on adding Hyper-V support, but didn't appear to have Citrix on its roadmap.

Noonan said PHD plans to retain VirtualSharp's management team and engineers. VirtualSharp, which launched in 2010, has less than 100 customers, according to 451's Simpson.

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