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Converged secondary storage changes (almost) everything

Converged secondary storage brings important benefits but also crucial choices. Learn the advantages and what you must do, and what questions to ask, in order to reap them.

Converged secondary storage has changed the way IT professionals back up, archive and manage their data. The technology eliminates the need for a company to use multiple products to back up and archive data, which can lead to long-term savings in cost and time. However, questions remain about vendor lock-in, purchase cost of these platforms and whether they are suitable for large enterprises. This executive brief explains the pros and cons of converged secondary storage technology and how organizations can purchase, deploy and manage it. It also highlights how to measure the success or failure of an investment in secondary storage and why the technology affects IT staffing.

Vendor offerings vary, as there is no single standard for implementing the technology. Soon after Rubrik and Cohesity launched the concept of converged secondary storage -- based partly on hyper-converged primary storage -- legacy vendors changed their products to embrace the technology. These platforms combine processes that used to be separate -- such as backup and recovery, archiving, data management, copy data management and data for DevOps. The software for these platforms usually runs in integrated, on-premises appliances but also manages data stored in public clouds.

Immediate concerns: ROI, staffing, vendor lock-in

When an organization purchases converged secondary storage products, it needs a way to measure that investment. This ROI hinges on which on-premises or cloud-based data protection and management systems work best with a company's backup, archive and compliance needs. Organizations considering hyper-converged second storage can check out this expert analysis that will help companies determine ROI for hyper-converged data protection buys.

A related consideration is IT staffing. Because converged secondary storage changes the approach to data protection and data management, it's possible IT staff members will need new skills or even need to transition to new roles.

Converged secondary storage pros and cons

An often-cited risk of secondary storage is vendor lock-in to a given seller's products. Prebuilt converged secondary storage products are not vendor-agnostic, so organizations may not be able to add components from another vendor. Organizations must address this dilemma early in the evaluation stage of the technology.

Hyper-convergence a stepping stone

All companies deal with growing amounts of data. Traditionally, organizations have used individual backup, archiving and disaster recovery (DR) options for non-critical data, which led to multiple vendor products running at one time and raised compatibility concerns. By comparison, converged storage often removes the need for separate hardware, architecture and software, enabling more efficiency in hybrid cloud setups as data traverses between on-premises and cloud systems.

Hyper-convergence refers to architecture or software that integrates virtualization, computing and storage resources in a single system. Converged secondary storage builds on this concept in a different way, by combining non-primary storage uses, such as data backup, DR and archiving. Secondary storage and primary storage differ in speed, availability and durability, among other elements important to data platform and recovery systems. For example, primary storage access is faster than secondary, while the performance of secondary storage is lower.

Vendors have been selling secondary storage devices for only a few years, but in that short time, the systems' features have improved -- integration is easier with other vendors' enterprise suites, for example -- and they now are better adapted for the cloud. These devices may be important elements of a data protection platform, so organizations must evaluate secondary storage devices for speed and scalability, among other concerns. Organizations should review whether a secondary storage system is able to restore data quickly while not being slowed down by delivering other services simultaneously.

Pros and cons of converged secondary storage

Improving efficiency and offering simpler data restores are two prime advantages for secondary storage devices, particularly as data volume increases and backup windows get shorter. Also, backup appliances allow data protection to be scaled easily by simply adding extra nodes.

However, adding data nodes can also increase costs, sometimes unnecessarily. For example, nodes may come with additional network resources that a company doesn't need but will nonetheless pay for.

Other concerns to examine when considering converged secondary storage include costs and executive support for the technology. While vendors and some industry observers tout the long-term cost savings, initial costs may be higher. Given that worry, companies should dig into whether they will spend less by simply using a more traditional secondary storage device if it meets the buyer's needs.

Deploying and managing secondary converged storage

Once the decision is made to purchase secondary converged storage, recovery and analytics have proven to be useful initial efforts to pursue with the new system.

Today's data backup technologies are ripe for merging with DR, as the lines also blur between primary and secondary storage. For example, systems administrators must consider how to best unify data backup technologies, DR and data mining into a concerted approach.

Using secondary storage can improve the performance of critical applications, but deciding what data is secondary in importance isn't easy. A good starting point is to review common file services and analytics. For example, data analytics can tap into information stored on lower tiers, which gives organizations the potential to uncover hidden insights into their data while using secondary storage.

Further, organizations can capitalize on affordable flash storage with online secondary data storage architectures that make a lot more data available for business users, who can use the setup to find and back up their own data, for instance.

Overview of converged secondary storage vendors

Converged secondary storage has changed buying patterns for organizations as they adjust to the idea that backup and archiving of secondary data can be handled with one system instead of separate products.

As noted earlier, Rubrik and Cohesity developed converged secondary storage technology and remain leaders in the field. Cohesity's DataPlatform software is its core product for backup, archiving, replication and DR, with further options for cloud and virtual environments. In late 2017, the company released its Orion update to DataPlatform, which added features such as more hypervisor and network-attached storage support. Cohesity also sells separate software for backup and recovery for companies that don't want a full system.

Rubrik has its Cloud Data Management Platform, which offers backup, recovery, archiving, DR, analytics and data lifecycle management features. The Rubrik platform can run on Google Cloud, AWS and Microsoft Azure.

Asigra sells the Asigra TrueNAS Backup appliance that combines its Cloud Backup Evolved software with iXsystems' True NAS storage hardware. Cloud Backup Evolved protects against ransomware that lays dormant after initial infection, so appliances can be used for more than just backup.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise's (HPE) Recovery Manager Central is software that provides backup and single integration for application data across HPE 3PAR arrays, Hyper Converged 250 systems and StoreVirtual Storage appliances. HPE also sells a Recovery Manager Central plug-in that integrates with VMware vSphere, SAP HANA, Microsoft Exchange and Oracle Database. Further, HPE and Cohesity are working together so that customers can order certain HPE servers pre-loaded with Cohesity products.

Igneous Systems, a startup in the space, offers three as-a-service offerings -- Igneous DataProtect, Igneous DataDiscover and Igneous DataFlow -- that enable customers to back up, recover, find and index unstructured data.

Other notable companies in the space include the following:

  • Actifio, which views its products as data as a service, including its DR and backup offerings in the public, private and hybrid cloud.
  • Commvault, which has shifted to a subscription-based, more streamlined data protection lineup.
  • Qumulo, whose data storage products aim at entertainment, media, medical research and other companies that handle copious amounts of unstructured data.
  • Scality, which offers multi-cloud data management and search products.
  • StorageCraft, which last year released a single converged platform for primary, secondary and backup storage.
This was last published in January 2019

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