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Symantec rethinks remote office backup

Symantec announces PureDisk, a disk-based remote office backup product that eliminates the need for tape at branch offices.

Symantec Corp. shops with remote offices are being offered a new disk-based backup product that can eliminate the need for tape at the branch office. It is integrated with enterprise backup software running in the data center and, notably, is the first Symantec backup product to use capacity-based pricing.

NetBackup PureDisk, as the name implies, is entirely disk based and emanates from Symantec's acquisition of Data Center Technologies last summer. The Belgian company had developed backup software that it sold to service providers.

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According to Kris Hagerman, senior vice president of Symantec's storage and server management group, there's a glaring need for a new approach to remote office backup. Citing various analyst groups, Hagerman says that between 30% and 35% of enterprise data sits in remote offices, that it's growing at about 50% per year, but that 69% of storage users say they are unhappy with the way remote office backup is currently being done.

"The scale of the data in the remote office is enormous and the solutions for doing it are terrible; no one is happy with the way remote office backup is done," Hagerman said.

Among those "terrible" solutions to remote office backup may be Symantec's own Backup Exec and Replication Exec, two products that Symantec promoted as remote office solutions for NetBackup shops.

Recently, WAFS and WAN optimization products have emerged as alternatives to performing backup at the remote offices. By speeding up WAN data transmissions, enterprises can safely centralize all their data storage at the data center and forego file servers in the remote offices. Companies selling these products include Tacit Networks Inc., Riverbed Technologies Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. among others.

But "if you have a remote office that is really generating some data, it's hard to see the value of WAFS," according to Matt Kixmoeller, Symantec director of product management for NetBackup.

Enter PureDisk -- a pure software product that comes as a self-installing CD that turns a Linux-capable Intel Corp. machine into a PureDisk appliance. The PureDisk software runs at the branch either on a dedicated server or, for smaller offices, as an agent on the machines that need to be backed up. Another PureDisk appliance also runs at the central data center.

Just like any traditional backup software, PureDisk backs up data on a schedule. Where it differs is in how it stores the data. Using single-instance storage capabilities like those found in software from Avamar and Data Domain, PureDisk doesn't need a one-to-one ratio of disk to data set. Block-level single instancing can provide data reduction anywhere from 2X–4X at the low-end, and in highly redundant environments, between 50X–70X, Kixmoeller said.

Given its data reduction capabilities, most remote offices won't need much disk to keep several full copies of their backup data on site, Kixmoeller said. Most offices should do fine with one terabyte of capacity, which can easily be achieved with a couple of internal disk drives inside the PureDisk appliance.

That data reduction also minimizes WAN data transmission costs back to the data center. Then, once the data has been copied to the data center, to a central PureDisk environment it is deduplicated a second time, against data from other remote offices, the company said.

PureDisk's integration with NetBackup is, for the time being, relatively limited. Back at the central data center, PureDisk can export its data to NetBackup in order to make a tape for archival, or to ship back to a site that needs to do a restore. In future versions, though, NetBackup users will be able to write their backups to PureDisk directly to reduce the capacity needed to keep backups online.

But perhaps the biggest thing for NetBackup shops to get used to will be PureDisk's capacity-based licensing -- a flat $16,000 per terabyte of stored data. "The idea was not to charge per server, or CPU, or agent, or target," Hagerman said.

Capacity-based pricing is already being used by a number of backup software vendors, including CA Inc., Asigra Inc. and Arkeia Corp. Back in the days before the Symantec acquisition, Veritas Software Corp. users were very vocal about their frustrations with the company's complex licensing schemes. In response, Symantec "is expanding the ways in which we price our products," Hagerman said, and with NetBackup in particular, "we're moving aggressively that way."

According to Rob Stevenson, director of storage research at InfoPro Inc., the pricing and licensing problems are even worse with Veritas products today. "Many customers tell us they feel Veritas' [licensing] practices are abusive," he said. "We're still seeing it as a big problem."

Regarding the PureDisk product, he notes that it doesn't have a lot of intelligence as far as bandwidth optimization goes. "If you don't have a big enough pipe, you can't do lights out on your backup environment," he said.


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