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Continuous data protection products look for new niche

The first generation of CDP didn't quite get off the ground, but some users are finding new offerings that integrate frequent snapshots with other backup products more robust.

Until recently, you could lump continuous data protection (CDP) in with information lifecycle management (ILM) as storage industry buzzwords that had their heyday and then faded from view. But this week, two vendors are combining on a new CDP push, while survivors of the market's early days said integration with other backup functions has boosted adoption and will be the key to future CDP success.

Asempra Technologies released version 2.7 of its Business Continuity Server (BCS) appliance Monday with support for more operating systems, including the 64-bit Exchange 2007 and Windows 2008 file systems. Also included is SQL Server 2000, which some customers asked for in addition to SQL Server 2005, according to Michelle Cobb, Asempra vice president of marketing. BakBone Software Inc. then announced today that it will resell the CDP software from BCS 2.7 as NetVault Real-Time Data Protector.

Elsewhere, another player, Advanced Vault, which claims to offer "80% of what [Asempra] provides at 20% of the cost," also announced support for 64-bit operating systems. These products are reintroducing CDP to a market that a majority of users already passed over the first time around, and both vendors acknowledged that the majority of users still might not see the need for it. That's why both vendors have focused on supporting specific applications and positioned CDP as a feature, rather than a standalone product.

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Since former McData senior vice president Gary Gysin was named CEO of Asempra last year, "CDP is certainly a part of [BCS], but it's not the whole product," Cobb said. "We are also offering failover, snapshots and replication to protect both the applications and data. It's not a traditional CDP product."

BCS combines failover with CDP and virtualizes the data in the CDP repository so that the application server can be up and running on the BCS appliance before all the data is restored. Users can cobble together high-availability clustering, replication and snapshot applications from multiple vendors, but would need to coordinate the recovery process much more closely, Cobb said. Asempra and BakBone claim that BCS can get an instance of Exchange or SQL accessible to end users within 30 seconds of failure, and individual data can be restored as needed while the system restores the full database.

That ability to get the application up and running before the database was what first interested at least one Asempra customer. "It's not just CDP, it's my time and my end users' time," said Derek Kruger, IT and communications supervisor for the city of Safford, Ariz. "If a citizen comes in to city hall and wants to pay their utility bill or get water hooked up to their home, I don't want the people down there not to be able to help because an application isn't available."

While Kruger acknowledges copying every write might seem like overkill, "I thought that too until I tried it." He has also found sub-15 minute recovery point objectives (RPO) more common than he originally estimated when he first installed BCS around two years ago. Just last week, an employee worked half a day on an information processing spreadsheet for the city and accidentally deleted it. Kruger got the call about the deletion about 15 minutes after it occurred and was able to roll back for the restore.

"Now I can say if you put it on the server, I can recover it," Kruger said. To restore a file, "It used to be, we'd have to go to the bank and get a tape. Now you can call anyone in IT, and we can restore your file in minutes."

It's still going to take more to convince some other users. "We can deal with up to a day's worth of lost data if it comes down to it," said BakBone user Shandor Simon, director of networking services for the Latin School of Chicago. The school has benefited most from BakBone's support for heterogeneous operating systems, especially Mac OSX and Linux, and the rebranded offering from Asempra supports only Windows applications, Simon said.

BakBone's integration is also looser than Asempra's. Real-Time Data Protector uses a separate management console, but can export files to NetVault Backup for restore. However, this is similar to the current integration within more established CDP and backup products, most notably Symantec's RealTime module for NetBackup.

BakBone itself doesn't expect all of its customers to be interested in CDP. "For the target customer, the application must be truly business-critical. They have to be unable to generate revenue without the application" to justify CDP, according to Matt Law, BakBone product marketing manager.

Most customers of big vendors still aren't buying CDP, either. "We're still seeing it as a minority of overall backup deployments," said Rick Walsworth, director of software product marketing for EMC. But thanks to recent integration between EMC's RecoverPoint CDP product and its Networker backup software, as well as its local and remote replication, "We're starting to see customers shift from kicking the tires to putting it into production over the last six to 12 months."


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