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Data backup reporting tools evolve

Data backup reporting tools have evolved from reporting on backup performance and failures to being used to manage current and future data backup needs.

Data backup reporting tools have gone through a lengthy evolution that has tracked the growing sophistication of data backup itself. And that has changed the nature of the whole product category, according to analysts, so that current product offerings now usually include the ability to collect data from different locations and systems, analyze and correlate data and present it visually, all in support of goals such as better monitoring and improved capacity planning.

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According to Laura DuBois, research director for storage software at IDC, backup reporting/data protection and recovery management tools are starting to be used more strategically than they have been in the past. Now, although backup and storage administrators continue to use these products for reporting on backup performance, utilization, and failures, increasingly, those with responsibility for managing current and future costs and spending are using them, too.

Furthermore, in a report she recently authored, Worldwide Data Protection and Recovery Management 2007-2011 Forecast and Analysis: Who's Who and Why It Matters, DuBois cites the findings that show that IT management is using backup analysis tools to provide proof of data protection processes and to support compliance.

According to DeBois, the category emerged about eight years ago and has evolved toward a multivendor model in preference to tools that support just one kind of backup solution. While some of the tools currently on the market were first developed as standalone products, others evolved from categories such as storage resource management (SRM) or to replace homegrown reporting solutions developed by individual companies. "While there is an attraction to doing it yourself, the problem companies face is having to update their tool every time APIs change or when new backup functionality becomes available," says DuBois.

And, she adds, "vendors don't want their products to be labeled as just a reporting tool because that can sound too passive but in fact they provide all kinds of monitoring which can help you identify problems and determine root causes."

Backup reporting products converge

As the market has grown, Bocada Inc., which she says was a key pioneer, has found a number of competitors emerging, including Servergraph, Tek-Tools and WysDM (now part of EMC Corp.). A second group of storage companies, including CA and Symantec Corp., build the backup reporting capabilities into an SRM product suite. These SRM products are often very powerful and can include capabilities such as tape management and disk array trend analysis. However, they can be more expensive than standalone products.

DuBois also identifies a third group of products that are integrated into broader backup/recovery products. These include CA's ARCserve, CommVault Galaxy (now rebranded within the Simpana suite), EMC NetWorker, IBM Corp. Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) and Symantec Veritas NetBackup.

But the market is changing. Carolyn DeCenzo, an analyst at Gartner Inc., says she has heard less discussion about backup tools in the past few years in part because it has turned into a very "nichy" market. Perhaps more importantly, the backup reporting tools within the individual backup products continue to get better. "So, if you are a user just trying to improve reporting on, say, your [Symantec] Veritas NetBackup environment, the native tools at your disposal are much more powerful now," she says.

Similarly, many products, such as EMC NetWorker have improved. EMC, for its part, acquired the WysDM data management product called Backup Advisor, now renamed as EMC Data Protection Advisor. "So EMC now has a backup reporting function within NetWorker that is focused just on NetWorker and they also offer EMC Data Protection Advisor, which is a solution designed to span the reporting needs of multiple backup products," she says.

DeCenzo says in her experience, companies have varying motivations for acquiring backup reporting tools. "If you are using a tool that works across multiple backup products it can provide the next level of information for the compliance officer's desk but it could also be helpful just because the backup product you are running, say Tivoli or [Hewlett-Packard] HP Data Protection Manager, doesn't have tools that meet your needs."

Some of the backup reporting tools can also provide better visibility into tape backups, which can be important for many organizations. Likewise, tools can provide metrics or support modeling that can provide visibility into what is causing bottlenecks. "Some can look into switches, for example, and can reveal, if it is the network or latency on the tape drive that is causing problems," she says.

"The driver for adoption is a cross between a storage resource management focus and a compliance focus and every organization goes down the path a little differently," she adds.

For her part, Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, notes that vendors often have both a backup reporting solution and a backup application -- they leverage one to further the other. "A company like EMC uses its Data Protection Advisor in its Backup/Recovery and Archiving (BURA) pre-sales or professional services projects. The tool provides a level of visibility into the environment, highlighting problem areas, such as performance issues, unprotected systems, and those systems not meeting [service-level agreements] SLAs. This information helps EMC implement the backup solution better," she says.

Organizations are also using data backup reporting tools for operational efficiency and effectiveness. "I've talked with a number of companies who have leveraged the technology to improve service levels for backup/recovery in anticipation of doing chargebacks. The solution really helps organizations get their arms around the costs per level of recovery time objective and recovery point objective SLAs," she says.

"In general, organizations use the tool to make sure they are covered and to prove to their constituents that they are covered. It's the insurance policy for the backup/recovery insurance policy," she adds.

What to look for in a data backup reporting tool

In her report, IDC's DuBois suggests that companies considering backup reporting tools should evaluate potential acquisitions based on several factors, including:

  • Third-party application support. Make sure the product supports the kind of backup apps you are using or might consider using.
  • Implementation time and overhead. Products on the market have a wide range of requirements. Make sure you understand their complexity and whether they have special requirements such as a need for agents to be installed on severs and how updates are handled. Also, be sure to determine whether it has an embedded database or relies on, say, an external Oracle database.
  • Support for replicas, snapshots, and clones. Does the product only backup information in the context of the backup application catalog? To accomplish your goals you may want reporting across backups of snapshots or clones as well as integration with other disk-based data protection schemas such as virtual tape libraries (VTLs).
  • Ease of use. Be sure you understand how the product works and what it delivers in terms of reports and the extent to which reporting can be customized.
  • Functionality. Get an understanding of the detail level, whether or not it provides real-time information, etc.

Looking ahead, DeCenzo says the backup tools category may begin to thin as more and more functionality is incorporated in backup products and SRM tools. "When the market began to slow that was the direction, so HP, EMC and Symantec have those kind of more advanced offerings already," she says.

"This kind of tool functionality is really a requirement where you have multiple different backup products and want to do high level reporting for compliance purposes," says DeCenzo. Thus, she says, tool vendors will still have an important role to play in the market for those customers who really need that capability.

About the author: Alan R. Earls is a Boston-area writer focusing on the intersection of technology and business.

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