Backup software evolves to take on data management tasks

In 2008, data backup software vendors are making moves to integrate a whole host of functionality into their products. This article examines backup software capabilities today and takes a look ahead to the future.

In 2008, data backup software vendors are making moves to integrate a whole host of functionality into their products. In some cases, technologies such as continuous data protection (CDP), snapshot, data deduplication, replication, backup reporting and even archiving, which have traditionally been managed separately from backup, are actually becoming functions of these backup software products. In others, the software vendors are integrating management of separate products from their own portfolio and, in many cases, from other companies as well.

According to Dan Cobb, CTO of the storage software group at EMC Corp., EMC's larger customers must have their production systems available around the clock, so there's a demand to make backup more efficient. "The role of backup needs to dovetail much more closely with business needs and be more business-relevant," he said. "That's what's driving us toward thinking of backup as an overall data protection service level, rather than just a discreet process that you run once a day."

Ron Riffe, manager of software product management with IBM Corp., said that many of its customers have a variety of technologies in their environment and are demanding a single platform to manage them. "TSM [Tivoli Storage Manager] isn't all the way there yet," he said. "We are a good way down the road, though. We have a single pane of glass that will manage snapshot, VMware backup and a built-in storage hierarchy. And, in terms of a roadmap, we are working on better integration with hardware makers innovating in this space." IBM recently acquired FilesX Inc., which allows for continuous data protection of applications, databases and file servers.

Also, some of the tasks that these products can currently manage fall outside of what is typically considered backup. "When you combine things like CDP, backup and replication together, you are still addressing backup and recovery issues," said Eric Burgener, analyst with the Taneja Group. "But, the requirements for archiving are very different from the requirements for backup." However, when you back up data, you get a lot of information about that data that can be used to make decisions about archiving. "Age and frequency of access are the two most important pieces of information when it comes to making a decision about when to archive data," said Burgener. "When you make backups, you get that information." Burgener also said that because data flows from primary storage, to backup and later to an archive, the backup software is a logical platform to manage this process.

According to Burgener, IBM may be a little further along in the integration of archiving than EMC and Symantec Corp. "Because of their mainframe experience with SMS [System Managed Storage], they had a model to work with," he said. "EMC and Symantec didn't have that mainframe heritage, but at this point all three of those companies do offer a pretty good centralized management point for backup and archiving."

According to Marty Ward, director of product marketing of Symantec's Data Protection Group, "we have integration points between NetBackup and Enterprise Vault. They aren't built into a single product, but we find that our customers don't want them to be a single product."

According to Storage magazine's recent Purchasing Intentions survey, 42% of respondents have begun to evaluate data deduplication or plan to this year. Not surprisingly, the major vendors are making moves to address this growing demand.

EMC and Symantec have both made recent advances in integrating data deduplication with their backup products. At Storage Networking World in October 2007, EMC announced the integration of the Avamar data deduplication technology into its latest version of NetWorker. According to EMC's Cobb, larger customers had demanded a management framework for Avamar that used the familiar NetWorker interface.

Symantec has made a similar integration with PureDisk. "The argument can be made that EMC and Symantec can manage dedupe, backup and archiving from a single platform now, and the only thing that IBM doesn't have right now is dedupe on the client side," said Burgener. "But, their recent acquisition of Dilligent indicates that they are also moving in that direction." Riffe said that IBM will integrate Dilligent's deduplication with TSM in the latter part of this year, but could not offer a specific date.

Another interesting development is the addition of backup reporting functionality to backup software. However, the way this is being implemented varies. "Traditionally, the advantage of using a third-party backup reporting tool like Bocada or Aptare is that you can use their tool against multiple backup tools," said Burgener. EMC had been OEMing WysDM's backup reporting tool as Backup Advisor for approximately two years and acquired WysDM in April. Backup Advisor is a separate product that can work in conjunction with NetWorker.

"The heterogeneity of backup environments is the key part of that product," said Cobb. "It's a pretty diverse world out there, in terms of data protection software, and an environment-by-environment approach wasn't really cutting it with our customers because they have multiple mechanisms in their environment. Rather than going from console to console, to do monitoring or analytics, the ability to do all that together was compelling proposition." He went on to say that EMC's Backup Advisor would continue to offer heterogeneous support going forward.

Symantec has a similar approach to backup reporting. Its offering, called Veritas Backup Reporter, is a separate product that integrates with NetBackup. "Backup Reporter supports Symantec products as well as third-party products," said Erica Antony, senior manager, product management for NetBackup. "We are seeing a huge demand for a central way to bridge both backup and archiving for reporting." Both EMC and Symantec claim that their reporting tools have predictive analytic and capacity planning capabilities, and claim that they are continuously working to increase the accuracy of these tools.

According to Riffe, at the moment, TSM does not have integrated backup reporting. "But, in the last half of this year it will," he said. "That's one of the major features of our 6.1 release."

Backup software is evolving but, as Riffe noted, it will be a long process for any backup software vendor to truly offer a single pane of glass for management of such a large variety of tasks and technologies. "And, if anyone says they have that now, they are lying to you," he said.

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This is something users have always wanted. As storage virtualization become the norm, data management systems should and hopefully shall provide all data management features.