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Is traditional enterprise backup dead?

Colm Keegan of Storage Switzerland takes a look at virtual server backup today to determine whether enterprise backup is still relevant.

Declaring a certain technology such as enterprise backup as dead is a time-honored tactic employed by various manufacturers from time to time to draw attention to their offerings.

Over the years, disk storage suppliers have declared that tape was dead, for example. Despite these pronouncements, tape sales continue to chug along.

Likewise, there have been some who have stated that mechanical disk is on its way out of the data center with the advent of flash storage technology. But this, too, seems highly unlikely given the fact that disk manufacturers are pouring research and development dollars into developing ever higher-density disk drives, while enhancing the power efficiency of their products.

New data protection paradigm?

Some of the vendors in the server virtualization backup space have declared that traditional enterprise backup is now dead. They claim that protecting virtual machines (VMs) requires a whole new paradigm for protecting data. While these claims have merit, they assume that data center environments today are mostly virtualized.

But, according to various surveys, only half of server resources in today's data centers have been virtualized. This means that anywhere from 40-50% of applications still run on physical servers.

So while data center environments need backup products that are virtualization "friendly," they also still need backup technologies that can manage mixed application workloads -- both physical and virtual.

Tape is still relevant

Another area that virtualization-centric backup technologies are not particularly well suited for is tape backup.

One virtualization backup product, Veeam, is starting to encroach into the enterprise backup world by incorporating features like support for exporting data to tape. This may be fine for those environments with modest tape-out requirements, but it may not be adequate for larger enterprises that need a backup offering that is optimized to write large volumes of data to tape.

Certain records, like financial and healthcare data, are bound by regulatory requirements that mandate the long-term retention of this information. And now with open tape technologies like LTFS on the market, tape is becoming an increasingly popular option for long-term data archival. Traditional backup products are optimized to write and read data from tape devices. Consequently, many organizations are going to need traditional enterprise backup technology to manage these data assets.

Traditional and virtual backup convergence

Many of the traditional backup software vendors have added virtualization modules into their products to enable data center environments to manage data protection for mixed physical and virtual workloads. In fact, some of the traditional backup offerings now provide many of the same backup capabilities that were formerly only available from virtual-specific backup applications.

For example, some legacy backup applications provide the option to back up at the VM guest level and/or they tie directly into the data protection APIs embedded within the hypervisor. This can provide many of the same backup efficiencies and operational benefits that are touted by the virtualization backup vendors.

Backup modularization

Some backup suppliers have modularized their backup technologies to allow end users to take a best-of-breed approach while still managing all their virtual and physical backup workloads from a single backup management platform. As an example, EMC now allows some of their data protection technologies to be mixed and matched to suit the individual needs of the customer. For instance, Avamar's NDMP acceleration technology can be used as a separate module within NetWorker backup environments to support the near-instantaneous backups of NAS systems.

There also has been some integration between NetWorker and Avamar to provide a greater breadth of feature functionality across both offerings. For example, NetWorker users can now take advantage of Avamar's VM image-level backup capabilities, by upgrading to a more current release of NetWorker. Likewise, Avamar users can now export data to tape thanks to the porting of NetWorker's tape management code into Avamar.

It's this type of hybrid approach of blending classic enterprise backup and virtualization backup capabilities that many organizations need to meet their mixed-workload requirements. To be sure, it is likely that vendors like EMC and Dell, who have traditional backup technologies and virtualization-specific backup products in their portfolio, will eventually merge these capabilities into a single offering at some point in time. But until that time comes, there will still be a big demand for traditional enterprise backup technology.

Is the cloud a traditional backup killer?

Among the most popular use cases for public cloud storage services are backup and DR. Some organizations are electing to push backup data into the cloud instead of investing in the infrastructure required to manage backup information on-premises. And with cloud NAS offerings, like those available from Avere Systems, organizations can fully automate the movement of backup data between private cloud storage resources and low-cost cloud storage capacity available from providers like Amazon, giving them a true tiered-storage approach for managing data.

Certainly the cloud will be a factor long-term in the evolution of enterprise backup. But today, many businesses still need the ability to store certain data sets on-premises to comply both with corporate governance data policies (like keeping highly sensitive IP on-site at all times) and regulatory mandates which have stringent requirements around the data chain of custody. Moreover, having a local backup copy allows organizations to perform data restores in a more timely fashion, as the data would not have to traverse a WAN.

Enterprise backup isn't dead, it's just evolving.

While many of the virtualization backup vendors have seen their sales soar over the last several years, the traditional backup vendors continue to retain strong market-share positions. This is clear evidence that the demand for traditional backup technology remains strong in the enterprise.

It is likely that there will be more convergence between traditional backup products, virtualization-specific backup technologies and cloud backup offerings going forward. This should present the best outcome for end users, as it could provide the fullest range of options for meeting the varied data protection requirements across the enterprise.

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