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CommVault and Symantec Square Off in the Battle for Backup

Last week Josef Pfeiffer, a Symantec NetBackup product manager, posted a comment in response to a blog entry that I wrote regarding the CommVault® Simpana® 9 release. In his comment, he touched on one of the new debates in the enterprise battle for backup by posing the following question, “Why not upgrade to the latest release (NetBackup 7) and get more functionality rather than settle for less features and a big migration that may or may not work?”

Now as to whether or not Simpana 9 has less features that NetBackup 7 as Pfieffer claims, I an unsure as I have never gone through and done an in-depth side-by-side comparison of each and every feature contained in each product. However it is fairly clear that a number of the features that CommVault announced in Simpana 9 have been available in NetBackup for some time. This includes source side deduplication, broad support for storage array based snapshots and capacity based licensing as Pfeiffer mentions.

In this sense, CommVault only puts itself back on equal footing with NetBackup by introducing these features into Simpana 9. Further, there are other features that for now CommVault does not yet have a good answer.

For instance, CommVault does media server based deduplication (as NetBackup does) but CommVault still does not offer integration with target-based deduplication solutions such as what Symantec’s OpenStorage API (OST) offers for EMC Data Domain or even EMC NetWorker now provides with its DD Boost technology. Whether or not CommVault plans to offer that type of functionality in the future is still unclear.

But in speaking with CommVault customers, the reason that they cite and why I see CommVault continuing to have success in the battle for backup is not entirely due to the number of features that CommVault offers. Rather it goes more to how CommVault is delivering the features it does support by first seeking to automate the deployment of these features and then automating the management of these features after they are deployed.

This brings to mind a conversation that I had with a few members of EMC’s Backup and Recovery Services (BRS) team a few weeks ago. DCIG and SMB Research are jointly putting together a  Virtual Server Backup Software Buyer’s Guide and we were discussing a few of the questons in the survey to which EMC was responding as it had some questions about it.

During that conversation, EMC made a statement that struck me. It said, “We can respond ‘yes’ to almost any one of these questions in the survey because the functionality is inherently present in the product. It is more of a matter of how you want those features delivered.”

As a former end user and now a business owner, I know how I want features presented. I want a button to push (in a GUI) or, even better yet, a policy that automatically pushes the button for me and warns me when pushing the button is not working or will cause something else to fail.

Just having a feature present in the product that requires me to build scripts is only valuable when the business problem that I am having makes it imperative that I learn how to implement that script so I can leverage that feature and get back to running my business. Further, I will likely only implement that feature on that one application that needs its functionality.

I think this illustrates the biggest differentiator between CommVault and Symantec. As of right now, CommVault is doing a better job of automating the delivery and management of the features that it currently supports than Symantec. So even though Symantec may offer more technical features than CommVault and has even offered these features for a longer period of time, based upon what I have learned in talking to former NetBackup users who have switched to CommVault users, NetBackup’s features are not always as easy to automate.

I had one such conversation with Herbalife’s Principal IT Engineer, Andy Hansen, and blogged about it a little over a year ago. Three specific areas to which he pointed to as his reasons for switching to CommVault had little to do with a side-by-side comparison of the features of the two products. In fact, he found Symantec and CommVault comparable in the features that mattered in his environment. Rather his reasons for switching to CommVault included:

  • Using CommVault, backup went from a position requiring a FTE to a task that could be managed as part of another FTE’s responsibilities.
  • CommVault automated the backup and recovery of his Oracle databases
  • No extra backup reporting software was necessary

Now did some of his success have something to do with using disk instead of tape as his primary backup target? I would argue yes. But what ultimately swayed his decision to select CommVault over Symantec was the degree to which CommVault had integrated and automated the delivery and then the ongoing management of its features into its core product (at that time, Simpana 8.)

I also deduce that Hansen is still pleased with his CommVault implementation as a video clip of him speaking appeared on last week’s Simpana 9 launch webcast and virtual show.

So is NetBackup ahead of Simpana 9 in the features that it offers? Uncertain but for the sake of argument, let’s say yes. But are the two close enough in the number of features that they offer that intangibles such as automation and the ease of management after software deployment are starting to take priority in users’ minds over feature functionality? I would say absolutely yes.

In fact, my gut also tells me that Symantec recognizes this shift in customer sentiment is occurring and is part of the reason that Symantec is putting so much emphasis on “Working smarter, not harder.” Further, having attended Symantec Vision this past spring, in conversations I have had with Symantec since and then monitoring its ongoing announcements, it also clear that this initiative is taking priority at Symantec and that it is making good progress on delivering on this initiative.

So in trying to answer Pfieffer’s question as to whether or not enterprise organizations should upgrade or migrate their backup software, it really depends on what they are trying to accomplish. But my sense is that more organizations are starting to place a premium on software that automates and simplifies the initial deployment and/or upgrade and then its ongoing management.

This means that decisions as to whether to upgrade a current backup software or migrate to another one is now being heavily influenced by how well the backup software provider can answer and then prove during testing that it can automate the deployment and management of tasks that are now frequently done in a manual fashion.


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