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Unitrends aims integrated appliance for backup at SMEs

Unitrends is moving up from SMBs to SMEs with its Recovery-943 integrated appliance for backup, but faces tough competition in a crowded market.

Unitrends this week launched its largest integrated appliance for backup with hopes of moving into the enterprise.

Unitrends is no stranger to integrated appliances; the new Recovery-943 is its 11th appliance that combines disk and backup software in one package. But it has concentrated on small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) until now, and Recovery-943 is aimed at small enterprises.

The timing appears good for the move upstream. The integrated appliance approach has gained a lot of attention over the past few years, mainly because of backup giant Symantec Corp.'s decision to place its NetBackup and Backup Exec applications on appliances.

Recovery-943 is a 4U box that supports up to 50 terabytes (TB) of backup data. Unitrends uses what it calls a three-tier architecture. The operating system is stored on two mirrored solid-state drives (SSDs), metadata goes on a mirrored pair of 10,000 RPM hard drives, and the backup data set resides on 36 3 TB drives used in a RAID 60 scheme (two striped RAID 6 groups with 16 data drives and two parity drives apiece).

Mark Campbell, Unitrends chief strategy and technology officer, said isolating the OS, metadata and backup set gives a performance boost to the OS and metadata while giving the backup data the ability to survive multiple drive failures for maximum protection.

Unitrends previously sold to SMBs with 50 to 1,000 employees, but the Recovery-943 box is aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with up to 20,000 employees. Recovery-943 is the largest of Unitrends' four enterprise rack appliances that back up from 9 TB to 50 TB of data. It also has four 1U rack appliances that protect up to 6 TB and three desktop appliances that protect from 400 GB to 1 TB of data.

"We're the opposite of Symantec Backup Exec or NetBackup, where they do a one-size-fits-all appliance," Campbell said, referring to Symantec's one appliance model for each of its backup platforms.

Like Symantec, Unitrends includes backup software with data deduplication in the box. It uses post-process byte-level dedupe after performing inline compression. "We use a different algorithm than a lot of companies," Campbell said. "We do inline compression, and then the data goes off into a landing zone on the drive. We then use the compressed image to determine whether deduplication should occur."

Campbell claims Unitrends can recover entire systems in minutes with failover virtualization -- failing over either as a virtual machine on the server and storage used for backup, or off-host as a virtual machine on a different server.

Customers can also back up to a public cloud using Unitrends' Vault2Cloud that places an appliance with a cloud service provider.

Recovery-943 has a list price of $129,995, which comes to $1,042 per raw TB and $2,000 per backup TB. Unitrends is offering a promotional price of $99,995 through the end of the year.

Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said the integrated appliance strategy makes sense for Unitrends because of its target markets of SMBs and SMEs.

"It's way easier for small and medium businesses to stick an appliance into their network and turn it on," he said. "It's much simpler than deploying and configuring software on every machine. Unitrends' magic seems to be that it's super low touch, simple to operate and inexpensive compared to others."

Unitrends, which also sells backup software as a virtual appliance for VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V, has been selling integrated backup appliances since 2003. Its executives claim the vendor has more than 2,500 customers and has been profitable since the first quarter of this year.

Still, it faces a daunting list of competitors selling appliances and dedicated software products. Besides Symantec's NetBackup and Backup Exec, Unitrends' new box competes against EMC Avamar and Data Domain, CommVault Simpana, and virtual machine backup specialists Veeam Software and Dell's newly acquired Quest vRanger.

"The big buys are big for a reason, and they have no intention of letting little guys erode their markets," Duplessie said. "And this is a well-established market with well-entrenched players. The good news for Unitrends is server virtualization has forced folks to open their eyes to the new world and seek better ways of doing backup and DR [disaster recovery], so the opportunity exits."

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