Backup software is, if nothing else, a “Me-Too” space with each vendor adding new features to each release of its product to try to match what its competitors are doing as well as trying to add a few new twists of their own to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Today’s CA announcement of ARCserve r12.5 continues this trend. To remain competitive, r12.5 adds data deduplication as a core component of ARCserve, improves users’ abilities to recover guest VMs on virtual server operating systems and more tightly integrates ARCserve with popular applications. CA seeks to differentiate ARCserve from competitors with new native SRM reporting capabilities and providing assurance that organizations can restore their deduplicated backup data.
The new features that caught my eye which existing and prospective customers should find appealing include:
- Native deduplication built into r12.5. Deduplication is becoming the “must-have” feature in backup software as organizations increasing turn to disk as their primary backup target and CA is overdue in delivering this functionality. Unlike most other backup software products that deduplicate the backup data on the client, CA opted to deduplicate the data on the ARCserve backup server itself for two reasons. One, to eliminate the upfront performance hit that deduplication can incur on the host; and two, to optimize the deduplication of data from different backup streams.
Frank Jablonski, CA’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, explained that ARCserve does deduplication as an inline process by comparing the data from different backup streams from like application servers. For instance, it will compare backup streams from Exchange Servers or SQL Servers in order to achieve the highest probability of deduplication by doing an “apples-to-apples” comparison of like data. It also does post-process deduplication of the backups of the “C” drives on servers since CA anticipates that it will find a large volume of deduplicate data in these backups. During its analysis on this data, ARCserve looks to see if a file has changed between full backups and, if it is still the same, discards that file from the deduplication process.
- Media Assure for deduplicated data. While CA has validated that backups are readable and recoverable for some time, the tweak it makes in this release is to ensure deduplicated backup data is also readable and recoverable. To verify that deduplicated data is recoverable, ARCserve does everything just short of a restore to verify its recoverability. Since ARCserve stores its own metadata with the deduplicated data it backs up, if ARCserve can read its deduplication pointers and its metadata, it is “99.99%” sure it can restore the backup data associated with the metadata.
- Improved file restore options for virtualized operating systems. ARCserve r12.5 adds support for Citrix XenServer to its existing support for Microsoft 2008 Hyper-V and VMware ESX server but where ARCserve looks to differentiate itself from other products in its virtualization protection is its new one-step granular file restore process from image level backups of virtual machine (VMs). Jablonski claims that every other backup software product currently requires organizations to use a staging server to recover individual files from an image level backup of a VM. r12.5 can directly pull those files from the image level backup whether the backup is on disk or tape and restore them directly to the virtual machine without the need for the staging server or create a staging environment.
- SRM dashboard and reporting. This is a feature that CA released to its partners in the fall of 2008 and is now offering this same SRM functionality to its customers. It includes reports you might expect (success/failure rates of backups, servers with failed backups, and error messages generated by the backup job). The new SRM functionality provides a much deeper and broader view of the users’ environment including such items as CPU, defragmentation, file system utilization, LUN utilization, network utilization and memory. Both the SRM dashboard and reporting now comes standard with ARCserve r12.5.
- Access control and auditing. The inclusion of this feature closes a notable gap in ARCserve’s user management feature set. ARCserve now integrates with Microsoft Windows Active Directory (AD) such that users can use their Windows domain login to login into the ARCserve backup server. This eliminates the need for them to manage these logins apart from their current Windows domains as well as allows them to assign specific roles to user logins such as “Administrator”, “Backup Operator”, “Report Operator”, “Restore Operator”, and “Tape Operator” roles. What is amazing is that CA has gotten away without introducing this functionality for this long.
On the XOsoft side, CA extended support to Microsoft Hyper-V’s hypervisor and guest OS, now supports new UNIX platforms (AIX and Solaris) and Linux (Red Hat and SUSE) and new dynamic bandwidth tuning capabilities. This last feature is now tuned to understand the bandwidth requirements of specific applications and can adjust how much replication should occur according to time of day and network bandwidth restrictions. This feature enables organizations to set policies within XOsoft by application so more critical applications are replicated first depending on time and bandwidth constraints.
One other interesting application that organizations with remote and branch offices (ROBOs) using both ARCserve and XOsoft might want to take advantage of is to use ARCserve to do backup to disk at remote and branch offices and then use XOsoft to replicate the data from remote offices to the central office. Organizations set policies within ARCserve to do the backup at the remote locations and then from within ARCserve they can launch XOsoft to do the replication from the remote site to the central site.
Because ARCserve now deduplicates data, only changed data at the ROBOs is replicated back to the central office. However, users are cautioned not to assume that this is a straightforward process as CA mentioned that users would probably want to reference a CA white paper to configure this process. Also, how ARCserve in the central office manages and indexes data that is replicated from ROBOs was unclear and something they will probably want to clarify before implementing such a process
Overall a new product release from CA in its ARCserve and XOsoft product lines. This release clearly fills a couple of product holes in ARCserve through its introduction of deduplication as well as its introduction of role-based access controls for corporate end users. XOsoft continues to be a strong product for CA though I was a bit disappointed by inability to manage both ARCserve and XOsoft using a shared console and a common set of policies as they have had this product for almost 3 years now.
However it is the addition of the SRM feature to ARCserve’s backup agent that may be the hidden jewel in this release of ARCserve that prompts existing current users to upgrade more quickly as well as new users to come on board. DCIG is uncovering an unexpected ramp-up in the adoption of SRM software in Q109 as end users seek to delay storage purchases during this current economic crunch while looking to optimize their storage capacity purchases going forward. A free feature that there is growing demand for might just spur users to upgrade and/or purchase ARCserve r12.5 sooner rather than later.