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Is data protection integrating or disintegrating?

One of the lead stories in the November 2006 issue of Storage magazine featured their annual Quality Awards for backup software. In that story, there was a quote attributed to Lynn Laueter, a senior systems engineer with Alliance Coal LLC in Tulsa, Okla., who said, "There's no backup solution in the world that doesn't require daily intervention." I took that statement a couple of ways.

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On one hand, I find it encouraging that Alliance Coal takes backups sufficiently serious to justify spending time on it on a daily basis. On the other, that statement leaves me with the distinct impression that much of Alliance Coal's motivation for checking backups each day was that they lack confidence that their backups completed successfully the previous night. The phrase "daily intervention" doesn't imply to me that Alliance Coal is spending quality time with their backup software but rather is spending too much of their time troubleshooting problems.

This is a bit disconcerting because most backup software vendors are determined to pull more feature functionality under the umbrella of their backup software package. Most of the major backup software vendors -- BakBone Software, CommVault, EMC, HP, IBM and Symantec -- already or will offer more continuous data protection (CDP), data replication, deduplication and snapshot options as part of an integrated backup software management package sometime in the near future. So if users aren't happy with the backup software package they have now, why should they expect more success in the future?

Don't get me wrong -- on one level it makes perfect sense. Vendors are obviously integrating this functionality to take advantage of the increased role that disk plays in backups and managing the movement of data from one media to another. But what concerns me is if they can't manage what they already have, why should we believe these same vendors are going to have any more success integrating and managing these additional features under the same management umbrella?

To start to answer these questions, I am going to turn the focus of this blog into an examination of how the execution of the different vendors' plans to integrate backup software, CDP, deduplication and replication software are progressing. I also plan to follow up with users to see if, and how, their experiences correlate to what the vendors are saying.

Already, I have spoken to BakBone Software and EMC, and after speaking to them about their plans, I have mixed feelings. Both BakBone Software and EMC were quite candid about the challenges they face in pulling technologies, like CDP, deduplication, data replication and backup software, together and managing them from a central console.

Of the two, I see EMC as potentially having the better product mix if they can succeed in integrating them. In the last year or so, they have acquired Kashya's network-based CDP and replication product, and Avamar's backup deduplication technology. Couple these acquisitions with their existing base of EMC array-based snapshot software products, their emerging InVista product and NetWorker's backup software, and one would think this could become a slam dunk in terms of meeting users' multiple backup and recovery needs, and the different RTOs and RPOs they are trying to satisfy.

However, the conversation I had with EMC the first week in January 2007 was still long on the benefits of this type of integration and short on specifics. The fact that EMC had three different individuals on the call indicated to me that they themselves are still trying to figure out what to do with this mix of products and how best to position them; though further product announcements with more specifics from EMC are planned over the next six months.

BakBone Software seems to already have a solid plan in place. Though they lack the breadth of products that EMC can offer, they plan to capitalize on their November 2005 acquisition of Constant Data's replication software that they rebranded as NetVault:Replicator.

One key technology that they are going to build on is NetVault:Replicator's indexing technology. BakBone Software's senior vice president of corporate development and strategy, Ken Horner, finds that 80%-85% of backup time is not spent moving data, but rather indexing files on the server. By giving their NetVault:Backup product access to the file index built by NetVault:Replicator's product, NetVault:Backup will be able to quickly identify what files have changed and then only backup those files, thereby reducing backup times. BakBone anticipates this functionality being ready by mid-2007.

These are the sorts of facts I hope to uncover and communicate to users in coming months. For next month, I will take a closer look at what Symantec has planned. Though they declined to talk to me about the topic at this time, they indicated they have a series of announcements around this topic scheduled for release in mid-January and we are planning to talk then.

I also intend to speak with CommVault, HP, IBM, Symantec and other data protection vendors in the coming weeks and months about their integration plans. So stay tuned and, in the meantime, if you have any specific questions that you want to know or for me to pose to them -- on or off the record -- let me know, and I'll do my best to ensure they get asked and answered.

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