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Knowing – and Knowing that You Know – that You can Backup Your Environment; Interview with STORServer’s President Bill Smoldt, Part 1

Ask any system administrator in an enterprise organization how many file and/or operating systems that he or she has to protect and their answer will likely be, “A lot!” This explains why most organizations use multiple backup software solutions and why, even then, they lack confidence that all of their data is backed up. In this first installment of DCIG’s interview series with STORServer’s President, Bill Smoldt, he explains why large organizations can get up and running faster using its backup appliances with the knowledge and confidence that they can backup data on any file or operating system.
Jerome: Bill, thanks for joining me today. For the benefit of DCIG’s readers, could you please provide your name, title and background?
Bill: My name is Bill Smoldt, the president of STORServer. I have been with STORServer since its inception. We grew STORServer out of our first company which was SSSI. I am also very involved in doing some of the research and development. As most people in STORServer, I have a technical background in both hardware and software and keep my hands in both as much as I can.
Jerome: I would first like to discuss STORServer’s backup appliance strategy. Some of your competitors develop their own software and then bundle it with their hardware. Others like STORServer take third party hardware and software and then deliver it as an integrated backup appliance. Why did STORServer choose this strategy, how do you test these appliances and what advantages does this strategy offer?
Bill: The choice of STORServer’s strategy and direction was not an easy one but it perhaps will help to first talk a little about how STORServer got into the business. A few of us were developing backup software and other storage software for a company, Digital Equipment Corporation, when we decided to leave and take a different direction.
STORServer has software engineers capable of developing its own product and who had been working on a competing product and architecture to the backup products that were available back in the mid-’90s. As such, we fully understood what it took to develop backup software.
In the end we determined the best way STORServer could serve customers was to take the best products available on the market, particularly enterprise class products, which backup the bulk of the data in the world, and make them simpler. By shipping them in prepackaged configurations, organizations do not have to spend time implementing them. Further, we wanted to bring the power of these enterprise products into small and midsized businesses (SMBs).
STORServer definitely understood what it requires to properly develop, test and then maintain an enterprise level backup product. That is what we were working on at Digital. The first product STORServer developed was a client for ADSM, the previous name of TSM, and then we developed a few other backup products on OpenVMS.
Using those as examples, STORServer certainly understood the complexities of file systems to an extreme. In order to backup a file system and then faithfully restore all attributes, one needs to understand each file system’s file structure to successfully accomplish these tasks.
In STORServer’s case, it had to take the entire OpenVMS cluster file system and be able to restore a bootable cluster system disk, which was no small feat. But there are similar complexities in all of the different file systems that have to be backed up in enterprises.
In enterprises, there could be up to 40 different platforms and hundreds of different file systems. You really need specialists in each of those file systems who understand those complexities. In looking at those challenges, STORServer decided that its proper niche in backup was to use somebody else’s backup software.
That gets into how we test the bundled configurations. The real advantage STORServer has is that it does NOT have engineering groups dedicated to each one of these file systems who need to go through all of the testing. That’s done at IBM and CommVault. We know that the backup software on its appliances works in those environments and is being tested by highly qualified software engineers.
Rather what STORServer has to do is get that backup software integrated with the hardware and make certain that it works along with it. STORServer’s testing is greatly reduced in that it only has to verify that the backup software works with the hardware, with the versions of micro codes, with all the other attributes that go along with delivering an appliance, as opposed to having to do all the testing for all the different file systems. And, of course, we add our own performance enhancements and products to the appliance.
This gives STORServer a real advantage in that when we look at the other appliance companies, particularly ones that do create their own software. The breadth of platforms that STORServer take care of is far greater. The number of features and the ways STORServer does backup, it covers all of the possibilities, as opposed to just covering one or the other.
When STORServer consultants go do an implementation, we know that they can handle any situation with our appliance, as opposed to being limited in some particular area. STORServer knows it can do an implementation in any environment.

In Part II of this interview series, we discuss the evolution and maturation of backup appliances over the last decade.
In Part III of this interview series, Bill shares why the cloud, deduplication and replication are the new must-have features on backup appliances.
In Part IV of this interview series, we discuss the new  paradigms of backup and recovery and how they are making these activities routine events.

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