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Select enterprise data backup software to fit data protection needs

While some backup and recovery software applies to the entire enterprise, other products address environment-specific data protection, virtualization and the public cloud.

Backup and recovery software is sticky. Once an enterprise implements a backup application, it's used for years, if not decades, and backups are often retained well into the future. For these reasons, it's vital for an organization to select the enterprise data backup software that best fits its needs.

Even though implementing data backup software can instill fear in even the bravest IT professionals, it's important to reassess the organization's current backup application and purchase a new tool if necessary. While some backup and disaster recovery software will apply to the entire enterprise, other products concentrate on specific applications and can solve problems that an overarching backup tool cannot.

Before installing or replacing a data backup software application, it's critical to understand the organization's data protection goals. Make sure the potential backup software -- whether all-encompassing or niche -- and vendor will meet those goals. Many organizations, especially larger ones, may need more than one product to meet their data protection needs.

Evaluating enterprise data backup and recovery software

If the organization's goal is data protection, consider an overarching backup application that handles physical servers, such as those running applications including databases or containers; virtual environments; endpoints, such as laptops and desktops; and SaaS applications that integrate with the public cloud.

Data backup software attempts to provide support for the entire data center by offering one product to manage and one vendor to handle. But the challenge with these apps is keeping pace with the rate of change. Most backup software vendors took so long to fully support virtualized infrastructures that a relative newcomer, Veeam Software, seemingly came out of thin air to become a major player in the backup market. Rubrik and Cohesity Inc. have performed the same conjuring trick, introducing appliances that compete against bespoke backup infrastructure.

The good news is that enterprise applications usually have rock-solid support for application database server environments, including Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server. However, the size of these applications can slow down these programs if they lack support for the modern NoSQL applications establishing a foothold in enterprise IT.

Enterprise data backup applications -- including Commvault, Dell EMC Networker, IBM Spectrum Protect, Micro Focus Data Protector, Unitrends Backup and Veritas NetBackup -- all have strong bare-metal application support and, in most cases, are making gains in virtualization and endpoint backup. Still, their support in these formerly niche areas may not be as good as applications that specialize in those types of data protection. Both IBM and Veritas, for example, have developed new products to address the challenges of public cloud backup.

An organization must test to determine if these features will meet their needs. If so, the business can consolidate to a single enterprise backup software suite. Otherwise, the site may need to add more environment-specific data protection applications.

Data backup software applications are a good choice for organizations that want a wholesale replacement or for those with general backup requirements. More often than not, specific functions require more focus. There are some niche backup software vendors that address environment-specific data protection issues like NoSQL SaaS applications.

Environment-specific data protection

Running multiple applications for data protection is nothing new. Environment-specific data protection was around long before enterprise backup even existed. Many IT organizations will use environment-specific products until slower-moving enterprise backup applications catch up in quality. For example, in the 1990s, there were dozens of database-specific applications that provided online backup support for applications such as Oracle and Microsoft SQL. But most of those apps were replaced as enterprise applications enhanced their backup support.

A similar situation is occurring in the data center today with virtualization. It's common for a virtualized environment to be protected by an application from Nakivo, Unitrends or Veeam. If an organization's data center is 100% virtualized, or at least close to it, then the virtualized application is essentially an enterprise app, and the organization may consolidate around this point offering.

Virtualization-specific applications are usually easier to implement than their enterprise alternatives and tend to more fully exploit virtualization data protection features. Hypervisors provide APIs for data protection that remove the need for legacy approaches such as individual client agents. HYCU is a good example of this. The company's software-only backup product natively supports Nutanix VMs -- either AHV or VMware deployments and files servers -- and can be deployed from the Nutanix Calm marketplace.

The lack of support for modern applications, such as Cassandra, Couchbase and MongoDB, that are built on NoSQL is a gaping hole in most enterprise data protection offerings. Similar to online database backup and virtualization backup, enterprise data backup software is slowly moving toward supporting these applications. In the meantime, NoSQL data protection looks similar to the early days of database protection, with administrators cobbling together scripts or using environment-specific applications, such as Rubrik Mosaic or Cohesity Imanis Data.

Using the cloud for data protection

IT organizations can use the cloud in a variety of ways for data protection. For example, they can use it as an extension to existing data protection applications where IT stores old backups in the cloud instead of on site. In this scenario, the enterprise must carefully calculate the long-term, operational cost of the public cloud versus the upfront cost of owning its own storage. Public cloud storage, for example, doesn't pass on any savings from deduplication or compression of data -- two areas where backup data can see huge utilization savings.

An alternative is a cloud-only or mostly cloud deployment option from vendors such as Asigra, Axcient, Datto and Infrascale. These vendors deploy their backup software as a service. This results in low or no upfront cost, with an ongoing charge for capacity of data protected.

Vendors also tend to use an agentless approach, meaning there's no software to deploy on the organization's servers. These applications typically provide an on-site appliance that receives the backup and replicates it to the cloud. This provides the data center with the most active data on site for rapid recovery and all the data off site in the event of a disaster. Many of these services also offer disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) to enable organizations to not only store data in the event of a failure, but also to host the data center's applications for a period of time. Carbonite, which targets small businesses, is a good example. SMBs are less likely to run secondary data centers, so they understand the benefits of paying for DRaaS.

The cloud is a great option for distributed organizations with multiple offices and remote workers who have many endpoint devices, including desktops and laptops. As well as supporting traditional applications, Acronis International GmbH Backup offers support for endpoint devices that are backed up into Acronis-managed data centers. Organizations no longer need to deploy backup infrastructure into each remote location. 

Data protection vendors are starting to deploy their products based on public cloud infrastructure, not just as virtual instances. Druva, for example, uses object storage, cloud databases and VMs. This market will be one to watch, as new entrants take advantage of cloud scalability and predictable costs.

Cloud-based backup technology must go through the same qualification process as enterprise data backup software. IT must verify that the product will protect the organization's most critical applications and environments. Then, the administrator must address specific cloud questions like how quickly it will get its data back if there is a failure. Or, if the service offers DRaaS, the organization needs to understand how quickly its applications can be ready in the provider's cloud and return service to its own data center.

Editor's note: Using extensive research into the data backup and recovery market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on data protection products from both traditional and new entrants into the market that address the many data sources of today's IT. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from other well-respected research firms, including Gartner.

There's no one-size-fits all backup and recovery software

There's no one backup software application that's perfect for all data centers. Each organization must test and validate these products and align them with their own requirements. Enterprise backup still offers the best chance for consolidation, but the organization may have to compromise on features.

Virtualization-specific applications may also provide a point of consolidation, especially as virtualization products begin to offer physical system backup. The cloud doesn't change the software consideration, but it does offer a new purchasing model and a new destination. Organizations that want to outsource backup, recovery and disaster recovery may find the cloud very appealing.

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