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Tardy Symantec NetBackup 7.6 focuses on performance, feature parity

Symantec NetBackup 7.6 arrived late, but the vendor said backup and recovery performance will stand out in lieu of groundbreaking features.

Symantec today rolled out NetBackup 7.6, more than a year late and without any groundbreaking new features, but is promising faster protection and recovery of VMware virtual machines.

The major new features of 7.6 include instant recovery for VMware, NetBackup Accelerator for VMware for faster backups, Replication Director for VMware for snapshot management on NetApp arrays, multi-tenant hosting for cloud providers, the ability to recover from physical machines to the cloud for disaster recovery and integration with VMware vCloud Director.

NetBackup 7.6 is available as software or as part of NetBackup 5200 integrated appliances, including a new 14 TB 2u 5230 model. NetBackup is the enterprise backup application for Symantec, which is the market leader for backup software.

NetBackup 7.6 follows the Feb. 2012 release of 7.5 by nearly two years, and comes more than a year after Symantec's original target date of Nov. 2012. The delay is due in part to the company's internal restructuring following a 2012 CEO change, but Symantec said it also improved its quality assurance process.

NetBackup 7.6: What's new?

Instant recovery allows users to immediately restore a virtual machine (VM) into production by mounting a virtual machine image from a backup file without having to extract the VM from the backup file and copying it back to production. Veeam Software and EMC support this feature. Symantec said its instant recovery can reclaim VMs 400% faster.

NetBackup Accelerator was available for physical systems in 7.5, and now supports VMware by integrating with changed block tracking. Accelerator does synthetic backups at the block level, creating a full image from the blocks to allow for faster backups and restores. Symantec claimed Accelerator handles backups 35 times faster than version 7.5.

Symantec added support for snapshots of VMs on NetApp arrays with its Replication Director for VMware, which it claimed allows customers to protect 300 VMs in five minutes. However, this feature does not support other vendors' storage arrays. Other backup vendors -- most notably CommVault -- have far wider array-based snapshot support.

"Right now, we're focused on NetApp," Glenn Simon, product marketing manager for Symantec's backup products, said of Replication Director. "We're still reviewing how we want to expand this to other arrays."

Multi-tenancy and other features for cloud providers are commonly offered by backup vendors as the cloud backup market grows. Symantec, which recently said it will discontinue its hosted cloud backup service, is shifting its focus to selling to cloud service providers.

"This is about how a service provider or partner can use NetBackup to build a backup service," Simon said of the new cloud features. "We've never addressed the backup provider market in the past. There are requirements you need for Backup as a Service -- self-service, operational restores that allow you to restore anything in the NetBackup catalogue, the ability to measure service and chargeback."

Symantec also claimed it can recover deduplicated data significantly faster in NetBackup 7.6.

Counting on performance more than features

Symantec's performance gains will be hard to gauge until customers run NetBackup 7.6. As for the list of new features, it includes more catch-ups than market-leading additions.

"There are a lot of infrastructure updates, but not a lot of shock-and-awe updates," said Dave Russell, analyst for storage technologies and strategies at IT research group Gartner Inc. "It looks more like feature-parity with other vendors, but if you dig a little deeper, if they can do VMware instant recovery faster than the competitors and Accelerator makes backups faster, then this starts to stand out a little more."

"Each one of those elements can be viewed as incremental, but taken together, it's a nice rev on the product," IDC Data Protection Research Director Robert Amatruda said of the new features. "They've addressed virtualization, cloud and a whole management layer with the appliance. This puts NetBackup on strong competitive footing on the virtual-protection front."

While virtual machine backup specialists Veeam and PHD Virtual have recently added separate versions of their backup products for Microsoft Hyper-V, NetBackup 7.6's new virtualization features only support VMware. "Our intention is to reach feature parity [between VMware and Hyper-V] in the next release," Simon said.

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