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Integrated backup appliances provide option to traditional disk libraries

With Symantec taking the lead, backup appliances that bundle backup software with dedupe and disk challenge traditional virtual tape libraries (VTLs).

Disk’s dominance in backup is still growing but it is changing to reflect the rise of all-in-one backup appliances that include all the necessary data protection software and hardware in one box.

Disk libraries – usually with data deduplication software – have dominated in backup for years. These are often delivered as appliances, but require separate backup servers. Now, with Symantec leading the way, converged, or integrated, appliances that include backup software are becoming a more viable option.

IDC estimates the 2011 backup appliance market at $2.8 billion, and it forecasts growth to $5.3 billion by 2015. That revenue forecast consists mostly of appliances with only disk and dedupe, and EMC Data Domain is the market leader by a wide margin. But today, integrated backup appliances are showing up on the radar.

Symantec began integrating its NetBackup and Backup Exec software and media servers on the same box in early 2011. In the first half of 2011, Symantec took 2.3% market share of the appliance business with $26.3 million, according to IDC. From a capacity perspective, Symantec had 3% of the market with 10.7 PB.

Others are also attacking the traditional virtual tape library (VTL) and NAS disk backup market with bundled appliances. Quantum in 2011 launched a vmPro 4000 appliance with virtual machine backup packaged on a DXi disk system including dedupe and replication.

Competitors in this market include Arkeia Backup Appliance, Dell DR4000 backup appliance  (with Symantec Backup Exec, NetBackup or CommVault Simpana software), StorServer Backup Appliance (with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager software), Tandberg Data AccuVault and Revinetix Sentio.

EMC also plays in this space. Its Avamar Datastore requires no extra software, with Avamar handling dedupe and application backup.

“There are a lot of appliances, but a lot of them are deduplication and don’t do backup as well,” said Monica Girolami, Symantec’s director of SMB global product marketing. “There are appliances that back up, but aren’t virtual. We’re able to deliver capabilities within our core software of integrated deduplication, integrated V-Ray technology in an integrated appliance.”

Why integrated backup appliances?

Cost and convenience are two reasons for the rise of integrated backup appliances. It’s often cheaper to purchase hardware and software together, and customers can manage it as one product instead of dealing with backup software, backup servers and backup disk systems.

“As is often the case with appliances, they’re really targeted at ease of acquisition, ease of deployment and ease of use,” StorageIO analyst Greg Schulz said of the new backup boxes. “The common theme there is SMB-specific, but it’s also applicable to ROBO [remote office/branch office], work group or departmental, which also have a lot of similar, if not the same characteristics.”

Rachel Dines of Forrester Research says that converged backup appliances started out as an SMB play, they now interest larger organizations too.

“At first, enterprises wanted it for remote and branch offices, places with little or no IT staff, but actually I’m seeing that they want it in the data center, too,” she said. “There are solutions more scalable than they used to be. What’s holding back the market is not the demand, but the supply. Up until about a year ago, the only player in this market was EMC Avamar, but there are some limitations to it. It’s not ideal for backing up databases. They’ve solved some of those issues by adding Data Domain, but it’s not really a converged solution if you need Avamar and Data Domain.”

Software-hardware integration

Vendors selling the backup appliances often claim that the hardware is optimized for backup or better integrated with the software.

“Right off the bat, the big benefit you get is the rollout/implementation phase is a lot easier,” Dines said. “As opposed to setting up media servers and getting the network in place, you put one box in and it has everything. The other benefit is ongoing management should be simpler. I do believe there is better integration. It has more intelligence from the agent. There is some marketing hype, but I do buy the claims that it is better integrated.”

“Instead of the vendor just selling the software, he’s making it easier to acquire by bundling it. Today, we call that an appliance. In the past, we’ve called that tin-wrapped software or solution bundles,” said Schulz. “It’s easier to acquire it that way for some companies. It also streamlines integration.”

However, he is skeptical of the notion that hardware can be optimized for software. “That could be the spin, but if all you’re doing is taking off-the-shelf software and putting hardware on it, how does it make it better? It could make it better, but it could make it worse. How can hardware unlock the full potential of software and vice versa?”

BJ Jenkins, president of EMC’s backup and recovery systems division, said EMC’s advantage is that it has a track record selling hardware as well as software.

“We’ve lived in both software and hardware environments for decades,” Jenkins said. “This is Symantec’s first real hardware appliance. A customer has to deal with Symantec on the software side and a supplier on the hardware side. We’ve lived with this for years, and we give a better service experience for customers when you think of end to end.”

Don’t get boxed in by appliances

Schulz says that organizations need to know their upgrade options as well. “What are your costs to add more memory, processing and network connectivity? Have a vendor walk you through and show you what the growth costs will be. And what happens when you outgrow it? Will you buy another one? You’ll have appliance sprawl.”

Girolami admits that appliances are not for every customer. “If you recently bought hardware, you might just add software, but if the customer is in the process of upgrading software and in the process of updating hardware in the next six months, do it all at once. You are literally just dropping an appliance rather than source and configure different solutions,” she said.

Dines said lack of scalability is the man limitation for appliances. “They are not as scalable yet as their disk library counterparts,” she said. “When you hit maximum capacity, you buy another one. NetBackup scales to 32 TB. You can put multiple appliances in a pool and get to 200 TB, but there’s concern about box proliferation about any of these solutions.

“That’s the main drawback. The other one that I hear is around lock-in. I hear some concerns from enterprise and SMB customers that they don’t want to go with a single provider because they don’t want to get locked in and lose some leverage down the road on pricing.”

(Senior news director Dave Raffo contributed to this story.)

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