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Dell backup plans include move from SMB to enterprise

The Dell backup roadmap includes plans to build on its DR4000 appliance and AppAssure software to move into the enterprise.

BOSTON -- Dell is looking to bring its SMB backup technologies into the enterprise and integrate them with primary storage, all without stepping on its current enterprise backup partners.

That is the strategy laid out by Mike Davis, head of marketing and strategy for Dell’s NAS and file services, this week at the Dell Storage Forum.

Dell backup products include its DR4000 deduplication appliance launched in January, and the replication software from the February AppAssure acquisition. It partners closely with others, most notably selling CommVault and Symantec backup applications bundled on Dell servers. AppAssure has sold mostly to SMBs but Dell’s plans include the ability to share snapshots and replicate between its Compellent and EqualLogic storage arrays.

“The strategy is absolutely expanding our footprint and to support enterprise,” Davis said. “Now, the question is, ‘How do we get there?’ When we enter into a new product area -- like the DR4000, for example, which is kind of our EMC Data Domain competitor -- the primary design point for the product is going to be our current market. But the next product we do will be more enterprise-oriented. So we’ll look at more scale-out, and performance and extra features for the enterprise. And that’s kind of a typical theme.”

Dell’s storage IP comes from recent acquisitions, beginning with iSCSI SAN vendor EqualLogic in 2008. It has also added Fibre Channel SAN vendor Compellent, data reduction startup Ocarina, clustered NAS vendor Exanet and AppAssure over the past few years. Ocarina dedupe technology drives the DR4000 SMB-backup appliance.

Dell has its sights set on what Davis described as “self-protecting storage” -- systems that combine storage and backup functions into one.

“The vision is that when you look out into your average enterprise customer, you see two completely separate sets of infrastructures, one for storage and a separate infrastructure for backup,” he said. “Backup is procured by a different guy, managed by a different guy with a different purchase cycle, and a lot of money goes into that. And we think that’s crazy, because the systems today have the capability to make frequent snapshots, they can replicate, and they increasingly have the ability to take snapshots that are application-consistent.”

Davis said there are clear differences between Dell’s data protection technologies and those of its partners. Then again, Dell and EMC said the same thing about their storage arrays after Dell bought EqualLogic. Yet, that deal was the beginning of the end for the Dell-EMC marriage.

“This is always a potential source of tension, because the whole world understands that Dell is trying to increase our portfolio of intellectual property. And so we’ve acquired companies along the way,” Davis said. “Sometimes, that’s created major tension and disruption -- like the EMC relationship, and that was anticipated. AppAssure and CommVault, for example, have a little bit of overlap. They’re both providing disaster-protection solutions. But really, they’re different classes and CommVault is much more feature-rich and enterprise-capable. And they’re a fantastic partner, and we’re going to invest in that partnership for a long time to come.”


Dell doesn’t appear to be risking relationships yet with its backup partners, according to Rachel Dines, a senior analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. She noted that an acquisition like AppAssure isn’t intended to compete with CommVault’s Simpana software.

“At this point, I don’t think it’s going to impact the partnerships that much because AppAssure is -- at this point -- smaller, it’s meant for small environments, it’s lower end,” she said. “[I’m] not trying to belittle it, it’s a different target market than, say, a CommVault or a Symantec Backup Exec. So at this point, I don’t see them competing directly. CommVault and Backup Exec are going to be mid-market into the small enterprise. AppAssure is really SMB at this point, and it’s not a traditional backup solution, either. I believe it’s Windows-only, so it’s got some limitations as well.”

Even though the Dell backup strategy isn’t “fully baked” yet, Dines said the company is going in a good direction.

“It’s really starting to come together, it seems to me,” she said. “I would say Dell’s only seriously gotten into backup about six months or so ago. And now, with the AppAssure acquisition and the announcement of the DR4000, they’ve got a software play, they’ve got a hardware play; I’m starting to see them bring it together. They have all the right building blocks, and the DR4000 is built on Ocarina, which is a really cool technology.”

The Dell backup arsenal may not be complete, either. Last month, Dell reportedly talked to Quest Software about buying some or all of its backup software.

Howard Marks, a chief scientist at storage lab and analyst firm, said the biggest change in the Dell backup strategy is that it has one.

“Until recently, Dell didn’t have a backup strategy. They had tactics. They resold Symantec products, they resold CommVault products, they bundled both of them into their appliances,” Marks said.

Will backup admins rip and replace?

Marks noted that it’s hard for a vendor to crack the backup market because many companies are reluctant to rip out their current products. That’s especially true for the enterprise.

“Backup is very sticky,” he said. “People are really resistant to change. It’s so painful to implement a large-scale backup system that nobody wants to do it a second time. It’s like, ‘I sweated bullets for three years, and now this thing works 92% of the time, and I hate that it works only 92% of the time, but I don’t want to sweat bullets for another three years to do this with another product.’ It’s a big deal to change.”

However, Marks said Symantec may have given Dell an opening because of the user interface changes in its latest version of Backup Exec. Now Backup Exec customers face the prospect of learning a new product even if they stay with Backup Exec.

“I haven’t played with it enough to make a value judgment about whether the new user interface is better than the old user interface or worse than the old user interface, but it’s different than the old user interface,” he said. “And that means the stickiness goes away. Now, Backup Exec customers have to stay with the old version or change, whether it’s changing to the new version of Backup Exec or changing to a completely new product. The difference between those two just shrunk.”

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