Five Questions to Ask and Answer Before Buying a Backup Appliance

This past week I received an email from someone asking for my help in their process of buying  a backup appliance. This individual had just downloaded the DCIG 2012 Backup Appliance Buyer’s Guide but, due to the number of models included in the Buyer’s Guide (over 60), was looking for some recommendations from me as to which one to buy. While I sent this individual a list of backup appliances to look at more closely, it brought to my attention that there are five questions every organization should ask and answer before buying a backup appliance.

The individual who contacted me this week reminded me a lot of myself when I worked in a similar role not so many years ago. He communicated to me that he is responsible for 75 servers and runs a Dell shop. Based upon that information, he was hoping that I could provide him with a recommendation as to which backup appliances might be appropriate for his environment.

backup appliance.JPGSource: DCIG Interactive Buyer’s Guide – Backup Appliance Module

While I did send this individual a list of backup appliances for him to consider, it raises an important point. Backup appliances make the setup and configuration of backup software much easier for users. However five questions remain that they should ask and answer before selecting an appliance.

  1. What applications do you have to protect? If just protecting file servers or data that is not tied to any particular application, almost any backup software will work. However if you intend to use the backup appliance to protect applications like Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, SharePoint or others, it behooves the organization to verify that the backup software included with the backup appliance offers agents for these applications.
  2. How much data do you need to protect? Knowing the answer to this question is important for two reasons. First, as organizations go to size a backup appliance, they need to make sure it has sufficient capacity to hold all of the data that will be backed up. Second, backup appliances are licensed differently and while most include all licenses needed to protect the environment, some do have licensing limitations on how much data the backup appliance can protect. For example, I am aware of at least one appliance that can only backup 2 TBs of data.
  3. What operating systems are you using? Many backup appliances are only targeted at Windows environments. So if you have are backing up Linux or UNIX in your environment, the backup appliance may not offer support for those operating systems.
  4. What hypervisors are you using? Most companies have already adopted server virtualization in whole or in part and may only think in terms of VMware when it comes to the hypervisor that the backup appliance needs to support. But at least firm expects up to 50% of companies to have multiple hypervisors in their environment by the end of 2013. As such, it behooves organizations to examine if the backup appliance also supports other hypervisors such as Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V.
  5. How well does the data in your environment deduplicate? DCIG finds that almost 90% of backup appliances support deduplication so the issue is not if the backup appliance will deduplicate data; most do. The issue is how well does the data in your environment deduplicate. If the data deduplicates well, the total amount of capacity on the backup appliance needs to roughly equal the total amount of data that will be protected by it. If the data does not deduplicate, the backup appliance may need to be configured with much more storage capacity than comes with smaller appliances or backup appliances in default configurations.

Deploying and configuring backup software has become much easier since backup appliances have become much more widely available. However with so many backup appliances available, it behooves organizations to ask and answer these five (5) questions so they may efficiently sift through the backup appliances available on the market and choose the most appropriate one to protect their environment.

Note: DCIG also has the following resources that are available for free with registration to help you make your buying decision.

  • DCIG Interactive Buyer’s Guide (IBG)
  • DCIG 2012 Backup Appliance Buyer’s Guide
  • DCIG 2012 Backup Appliance Special Report
  • Webinar that Provides an In-depth Look at the Differences Between Virtual Server Backup Software

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