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Best in breed or one size fits all: Which makes more sense?

Brien Posey compares backup using a single, enterprise-grade backup software product vs. choosing a variety of best-in-breed products to address different data protection needs.

Some IT shops use a single backup product to protect all of the organization's resources, but many organizations choose to assemble a collection of best-in-breed products to address different data protection needs.

Mainstream backup applications tend to be very feature-rich, but can be expensive and complex. More specialized backup applications tend to do one thing and do it well. These types of applications may offer better protection for one particular resource but lack the flexibility to provide comprehensive protection for all your network resources.

How will backups be managed?

One consideration that must be taken into account is how your backups will be managed. Enterprise-grade backup applications almost always feature a management console that can be used to coordinate and monitor the backup process on an organizationwide basis.

Taking a piecemeal approach to data protection complicates management and monitoring. Each backup vendor's management console is proprietary and therefore cannot be used to manage a competing backup application.

There are third-party backup monitoring applications that work in multivendor environments. These applications tend to do a good job of backup reporting, but they come at an additional cost and cannot typically be used to schedule backup jobs. Even so, if you are going to take a multivendor approach to backups, a good-quality monitoring application such as PRTG or Rocket Servergraph should be considered essential.

Are there compatibility issues?

Another consideration that must be taken into account is whether the introduction of an additional backup product will interfere with your existing backup software. For example, if you were to try to use one backup product to protect a virtualized Exchange Server at the hypervisor level and a competing product to protect it from inside the virtual machine, you would probably cause problems related to the Exchange Server transaction log processing mechanism.

You will also have to configure the backup target in a way that avoids problems that might result from competing backup products. Backup applications generally assume that they have exclusive use of the backup target. Pointing multiple backup products at a common disk-based target is almost certain to cause problems unless you are able to direct each backup product to use a separate target LUN.

How will your decision impact your ability to recover from a large-scale disaster?

In the event that a large-scale recovery operation becomes necessary, the recovery process will probably be more efficient if you have to deal with only a single vendor's backup application. Launching recovery jobs within multiple backup products can potentially be a time-consuming process, and when it comes to disaster recovery, time is always of the essence.

That being the case, you should look for ways to improve the efficiency of large-scale recovery operations. For example, maybe you can link each backup product to a separate target so that you can perform parallel recovery operations. If you choose to do so, however, beware of application dependencies. For example, you wouldn't want to simultaneously recover Exchange Server and the Active Directory because Exchange Server depends on the Active Directory.

Do you really need a product that's best in breed?

When deciding whether to use a single vendor backup product, or adopt a variety of best-in-breed products, it is worth considering whether you really need a product that's best in breed. Admittedly, this is somewhat counterintuitive. After all, who doesn't want to have the best possible backup product?

In some cases, however, a best-in-breed product might not necessarily be required. If, for example, your existing backup product already provides adequate protection for backing up and restoring SQL Server databases, do you really need a separate product that claims to be the best in breed at protecting SQL Server? If you already have adequate SQL Server protection, the extra bells and whistles found in a specialized product might not be that important.

What costs will your product incur?

IT decisions often come down to cost. In the case of deciding whether to augment your disaster recovery capabilities with various best-of-breed products, the cost must obviously be considered. However, you have to look at more than just the licensing costs and the cost of any additional hardware that might be required. You must also consider the increased administrative costs that are incurred when you're managing multiple systems. Conversely, you must also examine the costs of downtime and of data loss, and then consider whether the product you are thinking about purchasing will do anything to improve your recovery point objective or recovery time objective.

There are a number of considerations that you must take into account when you're deciding whether or not to invest in supplemental backup products. In most cases, a single vendor product is going to offer the least complexity and the lowest cost. Using a combination of products tends to result in management headaches and may negatively impact efficiency. As such, it is generally better to use a single vendor product if possible. If a multivendor approach is required, it's in your best interest to use the fewest number of products possible.

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