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Unitrends Free backup appliance revived, with limitations

Unitrends Free lets users protect up to 1 TB of VMs and supports VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, plus Google and Amazon public cloud storage.

Unitrends this week released a free virtual storage appliance with public cloud connectivity, aimed at edge environments and midsized businesses.

Unitrends Free is a slimmed-down version of Unitrends Enterprise Backup software. The free version provides 1 TB of virtual machine (VM) storage with either VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors. 

Unitrends Free enables users to launch VMs directly from backups and spin up VM copies for recovery verification and development testing. It includes automated scheduling for setting daily recovery points, changed-block tracking and incremental backups.

REST-based APIs are included for shipping secondary copies of object storage to Google Cloud Storage, Google Nearline and Amazon Simple Storage Service. The vendor said it would integrate its hybrid cloud disaster recovery service, known as Unitrends ReliableDR, in future Unitrends Free rollouts. Unitrends also sells disk backup appliances.

Veeam has free stuff, too

Unitrends is not the only backup vendor to offer free data protection. The free virtual appliance comes a week after Veeam Software launched the beta of FastSCP for Microsoft Azure, a free standalone file copy utility. FastSCP lets admins and Azure developers copy files to virtual machines in the Azure cloud, and copy files in Azure VMs to on-premises storage. FastSCP does not copy files between VMs in Azure, or to other public clouds or block or blob storage.

Veeam also last week made its Endpoint Backup Free software generally available after a six-month beta program. Veeam's EndPoint Backup protects Windows-based desktops and laptops to an internal or external hard drive, NAS share or Veeam Backup & Recovery repository. It can back up small physical servers, but not enterprise servers.

Unitrends debuts new UI in free virtual appliance

As with most free storage products, Unitrends Free has limited features. The inaugural release does not support granular recovery of VMs or failover between VMs. VM inventory and asset reports are included, but the analytics do not extend to IT operations management.

Unitrends CTO Mark Campbell said Unitrends Free is not designed as a "monetization path" to get customers to upgrade to its licensed software. He said more than 1,000 users downloaded Unitrends Free during its first day of availability on May 12.

"Our customers told us they wanted a backup product that was less encumbered," he said. "They wanted free to mean free. There are a lot of IT professionals screaming for something simple and powerful. We did this because we hope to get more awareness within that community, but we also did it for our partners that are trying to help protect smaller organizations."

Unitrends Free marks the first instance of a new user interface (UI) that Campbell said will be applied across the Unitrends family of backup hardware.

Jason Buffington, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group who specializes in backup storage products, said Unitrends Free departs from other free backup VSAs.

"Most backup vendors that offer a free version lock down their existing product as part of an upsell. What's interesting is that wasn't Unitrends' motivation. They're using it to incubate the new UI and get customer feedback to optimize their for-profit products," Buffington said.

Similar to the way Veeam Software has recruited IT professionals through its affiliation with the Microsoft MVP program, Buffington said Unitrends is trying to burnish its brand and gain some separation in the backup appliance market.

"They're taking a play out of Veeam's playbook by courting the IT community. A lot of data protection companies are trying to crack the code of turning satisfied IT buyers into proactive sales influencers to their peers. I think Unitrends' community-centric approach gives them a better than fair chance of winning new business from people who may not be familiar with their product line," Buffington said.

Campbell said a similar initiative with Unitrends Enterprise Backup Free Edition generated about 40,000 downloads, but the project was put on hold in 2013 when Unitrends started to expand through acquisitions.

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