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Quest acquisition bolsters Dell backup software portfolio

Dell backup plans receive a jolt from $2.4 billion acquisition of Quest Software and its physical and virtual machine data protection.

Dell’s $2.4 billion acquisition of Quest Software expands its portfolio of backup software, advances its strategy of selling internally developed products and moves Dell into competition with its current partners.

Dell's purchase of Quest Software will form “the foundation of our software solutions business,” said John Swainson, president of Dell’s software portfolio, during a conference call today to discuss the deal.

Data protection is one of six Quest product units. It includes vRanger, acquired from Vizioncore in 2008, for virtual machine backup; NetVault, acquired from BakBone in 2011, for physical backup; LiteSpeed for Oracle and SQL database backup; and Recovery Manager for Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Active Directory.

The Dell backup strategy is similar to the road it followed in storage systems, beginning with its 2008 acquisition of iSCSI SAN vendor EqualLogic. That put Dell in competition with its then-OEM storage partner EMC in the SMB and low-end midrange segments, but did not immediately end the partnership.

However, the end did come after Dell became a full-blown competitor to EMC when it acquired Compellent in early 2011.

Dell also moved into the backup hardware market this year when it launched the DR4000 disk backup target, using data deduplication software developed from technology it acquired in 2010 from Ocarina Networks.

Dell dipped its toe in the data protection software market in February, when it acquired low-end replication vendor AppAssure and made Dell slightly competitive against the disk backup systems it sold bundled with Symantec and Compellent software. With Quest’s NetVault and vRanger, Dell is now a head-on competitor with Symantec and CommVault.

At the Dell Storage Forum last month, Dell executives said they planned to bring AppAssure and the disk backup platform into the enterprise without losing current partnerships. However, the Quest deal makes that unlikely.

Swainson said the partnerships with Symantec and CommVault won’t end immediately, but Dell’s long-range goal is to go it alone as much as possible.

“We will become more biased toward our own technologies,” Swainson said. “When we bought AppAssure, we made it clear to our partners that we will sell our own products where they fit. Does that mean we will discontinue any relationship with Symantec or CommVault? No. But over time, we will sell more of our own IP.”

Quest has been working to integrate its backup products through a common interface called NetVault XA (Extended Architecture) that lets customers manage NetVault, vRanger and LiteSpeed from one console. Quest announced NetVault XA last month, although it is not scheduled to be generally available until late this year.

Dell had to fend off Insight Venture Partners to win a bidding war for Quest with its third offer. While Quest brings much more than data protection, the deal clearly alters the Dell backup portfolio.

“It’s a bold move for Dell,” said Robert Amatruda, IDC’s research director for data protection and recovery. “Obviously, it raises a couple of questions. They’ve positioned AppAssure as a low-end play, much more oriented for bundling into appliances. Now with NetVault and vRanger, they really play in that mid-tier enterprise offering squarely in the space where Symantec NetBackup and CommVault Simpana play. This gives them the ability to reach the customers they were reaching with Symantec and CommVault, and they’ve made it clear over time they want to pursue that with their own IP.”

Quest customer Tristan Smith, information technology manager at First State Bank in St. Claire Shores, Mich., has been using vRanger for VMware backup, and said he sees the acquisition as positive.

“It’s probably a good thing,” he said. “R&D dollars will help.”

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