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Published: 04 Nov 2016
Once upon a time, data protection was a simple and stable process. You had your backup software, server, and tape drive or tape library, and every night, you copied important files over to tape with the hope you could find and read it again later if something went wrong.
Then virtualization, low-cost SATA drives, backup to disk, data deduplication, compression, flat file backups, the cloud and so on came along to drive major changes. One of the most noteworthy of these technologies to affect data protection systems has been hyper-converged infrastructure. Buy a box, plug it into the data center and spin up the desired virtual machines (VMs). If more compute or storage is needed, simply add another box to the mix.
Initially, hyper-convergence focused entirely on primary storage. Today, however, you'll find a couple of ways it's impacted data protection as well. The first is how traditional data protection systems have adapted to deal with hyper-convergence, and the second is how hyper-converged infrastructure itself provides data protection.
Data protection that adapts
Unitrends and Veeam are examples of companies that have adapted to hyper-converged infrastructure. Unitrends started 30 years ago as a traditional backup and recovery vendor, but as virtualization began to take over the data center, it introduced technology for the backup and recovery of virtual machines. Then, as hyper-convergence took off, Unitrends extended its products to support that as well, becoming a modern, full-spectrum data protection provider with a uniquely extensive support matrix in the process.
Veeam, at 10 years old, got its start by providing full-featured backup and recovery for virtualized environments. Like Unitrends, it has continued to add features and capabilities to track the latest architectures, including hyper-converged.
Both companies offer appliances that can provide backup and recovery for hyper-converged, non-hyper-converged or mixed environments, both physical and virtual. They are the Swiss Army knives of data protection systems.
Integrated data protection
SimpliVity and Cohesity are examples of hyper-converged infrastructure vendors that deliver data protection in their own products. With its OmniCube family, SimpliVity provides a hyper-converged infrastructure in a scale-out system with built-in data protection that's more than just copy and replication, although you can do both of those. They have an integrated policy engine that allows you to set up backups on a per-VM basis, specifying how often you want to back up, where you want to store the backups and how long you want to retain them.
You can also do single file restores from any backup. In this way, a single architecture can replace an entire span of disparate devices found in the data center, not simply those that support primary application workloads. SimpliVity's philosophy is that simplicity and the reduction of complexity drives cost savings and allows users to focus on things directly important to the business beyond data protection.
Rather than take the more common hyper-converged primary storage route, Cohesity applies hyper-converged principles solely for solving secondary storage problems, where 80% or more of enterprise data resides. Cohesity's product provides what it calls "Hyper-converged Secondary Storage," with data protection one of several critical applications, along with analytics, test/dev and file shares. Cohesity's philosophy is simple: Deploy whatever architecture you want on the primary storage side, but use its single, hyper-converged architecture with compute capabilities to -- unlike with a passive repository like a NAS -- harness and act upon the data residing on it.
Cohesity addresses data protection in two ways. It can serve as a flexible backup target for existing backup applications in the data center or act as a completely integrated backup platform for virtual environments. Cohesity achieves this by utilizing an integrated data protection application that can back up and recover VMs without having to manage additional software and media servers.
Flexibility is key
The four vendors profiled in this article illustrate the different -- and often flexible -- approaches to providing data protection in a hyper-converged environment. If you have a mix of system types in your data center, for instance, you could use Unitrends or Veeam to protect them all, hyper-converged or not.
Perhaps you've just decided to start moving into the hyper-converged space and chose to go with SimpliVity as your platform. In that case, you can continue using existing data protection systems for your current data center equipment, and employ the built-in data protection capabilities of SimpliVity to cover your hyper-converged systems.
Or maybe you've decided to take advantage of Cohesity's hyper-converged secondary storage capabilities to simplify your data center for all secondary workloads. Here, you can leverage Cohesity as a backup target for your current data protection systems or use its built-in data protection application to protect some, or all, of your existing virtualized environment.
A cornucopia of options
There are many other data protection vendors, including practically all legacy players, such as Arcserve, Commvault, Veritas and so on, that have adapted to hyper-convergence. As for the second category, there are hyper-converged vendors that focus predominantly on primary storage, such as Dell EMC VCE VXRail, Nutanix, Pivot3, Springpath and so on; others that cover both the primary and the secondary space, such as Scale Computing, for instance; and still more, such as Rubrik, that focus entirely on secondary storage.
Ultimately, hyper-converged systems have not only expanded your enterprise computing and infrastructure options, they've added to your toolkit for providing comprehensive data protection. Which product you choose all depends on how you deploy your hyper-converged infrastructure, as well as where and what type of data you want to protect.
About the author:
Jim Whalen is a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group with a focus on data protection.
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