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Five Tips for Choosing the Right Virtual Backup Appliance (VBA) for Your Organization

Backup appliances are going virtual for one very simple reason: organizations want to virtualize all of their applications in their small, branch and remote offices to include their backup software while retaining the ease of deployment that physical backup appliances offer. As this occurs, there are five key factors that they need to keep in mind in order to select the right VBA for them.

No one disputes that the adoption of physical backup appliances is expected to grow by leaps and bound in the years to come. But what sometimes gets lost in these numbers is how fast virtual appliances are also expected to grow in that same time frame. A recent report by the Dell’Oro Group forecast that virtual appliance sales will grow from about $50 million in 2011 to almost $500 million in 2016.

In this report, Dell’Oro’s Senior Analyst, Casey Quillin, cites four factors driving their rapid growth:

  • Fast deployment to meet unexpected or unplanned needs
  • Minimal up-front investment
  • Pay-as-you-grow model
  • Well suited for smaller projects

These factors largely explain why existing physical backup appliances are being re-packaged as VBAs. As more small businesses virtualize their environment and large businesses virtualize their remote and branch offices, they see the logic of using VBAs to protect these environments.

It is as they go to acquire a VBA that meets their needs that they run into a new set of challenges: the growing number of VBAs on the market from which to choose. As such, picking the right VBA for their environment has become more difficult than ever.

To ensure the highest probability of success when selecting a VBA, there are five key factors that one should take into consideration when looking to acquire a VBA.

1. Simple to price, install and manage.
Simplicity” may be the most overused term in the world of high tech but at the end of day, the products that are the “easiest” and “simplest” to purchase, install and manage are the ones that organizations use. This is the key benefit of physical appliances and the same principle holds true when it comes to VBAs.

In the case of VBAs, there a number of variables that factor into determining their “simplicity” of use. When it comes to pricing VBAs, the “simplest” pricing formula which makes sense to the largest percentage of organizations is the capacity-based licensing model. In other words, the more data that is backed up, the more that one pays; the less one backs up and stores, the less that one pays.

Making this particularly appealing is that the capacity-based approach almost always comes with all of the options and features that the backup software has to offer, including support for any number of protected servers. This avoids the hassle of having to go back to the well and ask for more money to license the needed feature or a new server.

In terms of deployment, the VBA should take advantage of the CPU, memory and networking resources of its host to achieve for best performance based the licensing. As part of that, it should periodically check to make sure the physical host is allocating needed resources to it. 

Finally in regards to management, these environments need centralized web-based management and/or new mobile app management interfaces that allow administrators to manage all of their backups across locations while on the go which everyone seems to be these days.

2. Efficiently deduplicates data. The amount of storage capacity available for a VBA to use to store backup data is minimized since it has to use storage capacity available on the ESX host.

This is where efficient deduplication comes into play. Since over 90% of backup appliances already offer deduplication, it behooves organizations to examine how well the VBA does deduplication. To determine that, there are two specific deduplication features the VBA should offer.

Deduplication Backup Appliance.JPGSource: DCIG 2012 Backup Appliance Buyer’s Guide

First, verify if it offers a means to take advantage of performance optimized storage such as solid state drives (SSDs.) By providing an option to keep its deduplication catalog on this tier of storage, it facilitates faster deduplication speeds and minimizes the usage of server CPU and memory resources.

Second, verify it deduplicates data inline. This becomes particularly important in VBA environments since the amount of storage capacity available to VBAs is more limited than on physical backup appliances and post-processing deduplication requires an extra landing space to be maintained for a full backup before deduplication.  For a small system, this can double the amount of capacity required.

3. Backs up your entire environment – physical and virtual. The intent of VBAs is to back up virtual environments but as any organization knows, physical servers and/or appliances have a way of re-appearing in environments even after they may have been swept off of the floor as a result of a consolidation effort.  In addition, remote offices may not be virtualized but need to be protected as part of the overall backup environment.

By selecting a VBA that performs both physical and virtual backups, they account for these one-off situations while avoiding the need to bring in another backup solution to protect this physical server. To make sure it is positioned to protect these physical environments, it should minimally be able to protect servers running Linux, Windows, and other operating systems in use.

4. Multiple options to replicate data. A number of VBA solutions first do snapshots and then only replicate those snapshots to an offsite appliance (physical or virtual.) While that functionality is certainly desirable, not every organization has another appliance offsite to replicate data to.

This is why the VBA should provide multiple options to replicate data off-site. The two other options they should specifically verify the VBA supports are cloud storage connectivity as well as the option to copy backups off to removable disk. This gives organizations the most flexibility to get backup data offsite in the manner that best meets their particular needs.

It should also be possible to implement a range of replication configurations, including site to site and remote office (many to one) configurations, including configurations that mix physical and virtual appliances is applicable.

5. Best-in-class VMware integration. It may seem intuitive that every VBA intended for use in virtualized environments supports the VMware APIs for Data Protection (VADP). If you think that is the case, you would be mistaken. While the majority offers support VADP, how well they support these APIs does vary and, in some cases, the products offer no support for them at all. This is why it behooves organizations to do more than verify that the VBA supports VADP but check to see how thoroughly it support it.

Organizations are going virtual with almost every application in their infrastructure — including backup appliances. The cautionary note is that by not all VBAs are equally well suited for virtualized environments and choosing the right one for your environment requires paying careful attention to the features that each VBA offers. By following the five tips provided here when selecting a VBA, organizations can have a high degree of confidence that the VBA they select will cost-effectively meet their needs to
day while positioning them to m
eet whatever requirements may arise in the future.


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