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Preston: Lack of support makes free backup software a gamble

The promise of free backup software is appealing to many SMBs, but backup expert W. Curtis Preston says you get what you pay for.

Touted as a product that "provides a quick and simple way to make ad hoc backups of running VMs for operational, archival and portability purposes," Nakivo Backup & Replication v2.0 Free Edition "monitors protected infrastructure and VMs 24/7, sends email notifications on infrastructure errors and changes, and provides job grouping for easier job management." The product also offers block-level dedupe and replication.

The company also said the product can back up virtual machines (VMs) locally, remotely over WAN, or to Dropbox. According to Truth In IT's W. Curtis Preston, the free version offers some compelling features for companies on a tight budget, and might attract paying customers as well.

"It's great these guys have done this," Preston said. "It's a wonderful marketing tool for these products; it's a great way to introduce people to your product."

Nakivo claims that VMs can be backed up to Dropbox, the popular cloud storage application, "…enabling small businesses to save VMs for long-term storage due to legal or regulatory requirements, or in order to prevent unintentional data loss before VM decommissioning."

That language indicates Nakivo's Free Edition is geared toward small businesses, according to Preston. "Looking at the feature list, it's going to be the smallest companies that are going to look at the free option. They've only got 20 GB of VMware, so the fact [that] they don't have the incremental backup option is not a big deal to them. The fact [that] it's not scheduled is not a big deal. You create a Windows scheduled task and run it every night. [Small businesses] aren't that interested in reporting. I would argue they should be, but in general, they're not. They're used to making do. They're used to doing without … and this will be another area where they could make do."

Preston went on to say that the main drawback of any free backup solution is not the software itself, but the support behind it, or lack thereof.

"It's an area where they've got data that's worth, depending on the size of the company, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they're trusting the backup of it to a free piece of software with no support," Preston said. "My general recommendation for smaller companies is to use scheduled cloud backup products. You've only got 20, 50 or 100 GB of data. If your data is measured in gigabytes, not terabytes, or even terabytes, but your change rate is gigabytes per day, cloud backup will be affordable and much more protective of your data than a free backup option. But some people look at these options and say, 'Gee, this is one thing I don't have to pay for.' My general argument is you get what you pay for."

That said, there is a place for free backup software.

"It's exactly what it is: better than nothing," Preston said. "There [are] a lot of people who have nothing. It's better than nothing. It's not much better than nothing. It should be recognized for what it is, a marketing tactic, albeit a very smart one, to get you to eventually buy the software. If that's your intent, 'I'm using the free version for a few months and then going to switch to the pay version,' it's fine. If that's not your intention, you might not get what your company needs."

Nakivo is making its Free Edition available without limitations on the number of hosts and VMs. Upgrading to the full version requires only replacing the license file.

(For a comparison of the free and paid versions of Nakivo Backup & Replication, check out this PDF.)

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