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The evolution of data backup application suites

Today's backup suites offer more than just backup, with snapshot and replication management, virtual server protection, cloud integration and more.

Enterprise-class backup applications have evolved from backup and restore utilities to comprehensive data management and protection suites. Today, these platforms offer hardware- and software-based snapshot and replication management, virtual server data protection, cloud integration and more.

Most of the major backup vendors have started using snapshots as a mechanism to allow fast recovery of file data, and in some cases entire virtual machines (VMs). Although some vendors have offered snapshot integration for many years, snapshot support (especially array-level snapshots) is only now becoming a standard capability for various backup vendors.

Symantec NetBackup, for example, is designed to work with a variety of different hardware- and software-based snapshot methods. Symantec also provides a component called NetBackup Replication Director that maintains control over the snapshot replication process, and allows for individual files to be recovered from a snapshot without having to actually mount the snapshot. Snapshots are treated as a first-class part of the backup process, meaning they can be managed directly through NetBackup's interface.

Like Symantec, Hewlett-Packard (HP) also supports snapshot integration and instant recovery in Data Protector 9. The company has supported array-based snapshot management for quite some time, but its latest snapshot-related offerings focus on data and applications. The HP 3PAR StoreServ environment allows for instant recovery of file systems, and Oracle, SAP and Microsoft applications.

IBM has introduced a couple of new snapshot-related capabilities. FlashCopy Manager 4.1 supports hardware-based snapshots, while FlashCopy Manager creates application backups of servers and storage pools in VMware environments thanks to vSphere API integration. As part of Tivoli Storage Manager 7.1, IBM has introduced HTTPS support for NetApp snapshot-assisted progressive incremental backup processing.

EMC has long supported snapshots for block-based EMC storage arrays, but NetWorker 8.2 offers some new functionality. It's now possible to create file-based snapshots for EMC VNX, EMC Isilon and NetApp. Like Symantec, EMC NetWorker 8.2 can create and manage NAS-based snapshots.

NetWorker also has the ability to utilize native snapshots previously created by storage administrators. This allows backup administrators to perform a rollover of a native snapshot to a Data Domain system.

CommVault also provides control over hardware-level snapshots. However, the CommVault approach is different because it is focused on snapshot unification. The latest version of Simpana uses IntelliSnap technology to provide a single management framework for multivendor environments. The software supports a variety of applications, operating systems, hypervisors and storage array vendors.

Vendor niches

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Data Protector 9 is a great example of a product with a niche feature set. Pretty much every enterprise-grade backup application contains a reporting engine, but HP takes it to the next level by offering real-time analytic capabilities. The HP Backup Navigator (a companion product to HP Data Protector) provides rich analysis of resource consumption with a focus on optimizing Capex and Opex spending. The software allows an administrator to detect and address issues before they can become problematic.

CommVault Simpana's niche strength is its data lifecycle management capabilities. Simpana can automatically archive aging backup data. CommVault also provides rich search, e-discovery and legal hold capabilities.

Enhanced virtualization support

Major enterprise-class backup applications have supported server virtualization on some level for several years. Even so, most of the major backup application vendors continue to introduce new VM backup features.

Symantec's latest enhancement to its existing virtualization support now provides unified protection for physical and virtual machines. Symantec NetBackup with V-Ray offers a standardized view of physical and virtual resources. The company claims this makes management easier by eliminating redundant storage pools and simplifying deduplication.

HP takes a similar approach to its virtualization strategy. HP Data Protector lets users manage both physical and virtual server backups through the HP Data Protector console.

IBM Tivoli Storage Manager 7.1 (VMware Edition) is focused on instant recovery for VMware virtual machines. Users can create copies of VMs for test/dev and also perform object-level restorations within SQL Server and Exchange Server. In addition, IBM's FlashCopy Manager 4.1 provides instant recovery of the Tivoli Storage Manager data store and is designed to coexist with VMware vCenter Site Recovery Manager.

EMC NetWorker 8.2 offers VMDK-level backup and restoration and VMware Instant Access. However, the most significant change to EMC's VM backup software is support for Microsoft Hyper-V.

One of CommVault's most significant new capabilities is the ability to automatically protect VMs by creating a series of discovery rules. CommVault says this ensures newly created VMs will be protected without manually adding them to the backup. CommVault also allows VM owners to perform self-service backup and recovery of VMs through a Web console.

Cloud support

It shouldn't come as any surprise that most of the big backup vendors have been adding cloud functionality to their products, but the actual features and capabilities being introduced vary from one vendor to the next.

CommVault offers a tool called Virtualize Me that examines the physical server's hardware configuration and builds a VM that mimics its hardware. Once the VM has been created, an ongoing replication process keeps the standby VM's contents current. The overall goal is to provide customers with a way to fail over to a secondary site or to a public cloud without having to invest in hardware that mirrors the hardware found in the primary data center.

Symantec has created a centralized management console for NetBackup servers and domains across the enterprise from a single location. The company also introduced seamless support for various cloud storage providers, along with mechanisms for moving data from local to cloud storage.

IBM, on the other hand, added support for vCloud Director as a part of Tivoli Storage Manager 7.1. This allows automated support for vCloud Director to back up virtual applications (vApps).

NetWorker 8.2's new cloud functionality centers on Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Virtual Machine Manager allows for the creation and management of VMs, as well as private and hybrid clouds. EMC now allows fabric, tenant and cloud administrators to manage the recovery of data within the scope of their own management role.

Centralized management

As distributed and replicated backup systems have become more common, a pressing need has evolved for centralized control over the backup process. Many of the big name backup vendors have introduced management consoles that are designed to simplify the backup and recovery process. In some cases, these consoles allow for operations to be performed across multiple data centers. In other cases, the consoles allow physical and virtual resources to be managed in a uniform way.

As previously mentioned, Symantec has created a centralized management console for NetBackup. One of the reasons why Symantec created this console was to enable remote disaster recovery. NetBackup with V-Ray allows data to be protected and recovered anywhere.

HP's offerings are similar to those of Symantec. The Data Protector console allows for centralized management of backup and recovery (and replication) operations across a variety of environments. Operations can span physical and virtual environments, sites and data centers.

IBM provides centralized management capabilities through its Tivoli Storage Manager Operations Center. The software simplifies management tasks such as the provisioning of new clients in environments that use multiple Tivoli Storage Manager servers.

Like the other vendors that have been discussed, EMC provides centralized management capabilities through its NetWorker Management Console. However, EMC provides some additional capabilities. For example, the NetWorker 8.2 Management Console provides visualization for VMware vCenter. This should go a long way toward simplifying the protection of VMware environments. In addition, EMC provides mobile support (iOS and Android) for EMC Backup and Recovery Manager.

CommVault provides a centralized management console similar in scope to what the other backup vendors offer. As mentioned previously, CommVault provides a Web console that can be used by authorized users as a self-service portal.

About the author:
Brien Posey is a Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Previously, Brien was CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities.

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