Data explosion forcing IT to seek new backup tools

Managers must carefully consider the consequences of quickly switching vendors to get the right technology.

The need to control and secure a continuing explosion of data across the corporate world is forcing IT managers to constantly be on the lookout for new equipment that can handle perpetually evolving requirements.

According to analysts at Gartner Inc., there appears to have been a significant increase in corporate users looking to replace their backup systems in recent months.

"I would say that in the last year and year and a half, we've seen a big jump," said Alan Dayley, an analyst at the research firm.

In a Gartner survey of 70 IT managers last month, 66% of the respondents said that they're planning major redesigns of backup and recovery systems within 12 months, according to Dayley.

Meanwhile, in a survey of 395 IT managers by Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. (ESG), more than half of the respondents said that they have changed primary backup suppliers over the past three years.

Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst at the Milford, Mass.-based analyst firm, noted that more and more IT managers are painfully realizing that their outdated or poorly-performing backup tools can't handle shrinking backup windows and the complex management needs of their ever-growing data stores.

Many companies are looking to quickly install products that offer relatively new features such as data de-duplication and the ability to perform incremental and continuous snapshots of virtual disks.

At the same time, some companies are in a rush to include updates of storage systems in major IT projects like data center consolidations, application and infrastructure upgrades, and server virtualization efforts.

"I liken it to building an addition to your house; you're not going to take an old light fixture and put it in a new room," noted Whitehouse. "There are special conditions with an overhauled [IT] environment, and you have to look for a backup solution that is tuned for it."

Prior to moving to a new backup software vendor, IT managers must make sure that processes are in place to protect data before, during and after a migration. They must also analyze how switching storage vendors would affect corporate operations such as real-time business transactions, service-level agreements and compliance efforts.

And once a new backup system is installed, IT managers should evaluate it at least once a year to be sure that it is keeping up with data growth and security needs.

Dave McEldowney, division vice president of IT at Bar-S Foods Co., said the meat processor and distributor evaluated the security risks before deciding to replace its Galaxy backup software from CommVault Systems Inc. last year.

He said the company determined that the benefits of changing vendors outweighed the risks because of problems with the product — which Bar-S had used since 2000 — and with its vendor.

Phoenix-based Bar-S turned to Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec 11d software after Galaxy failed an average of six times per year and because nearly half of the data backed up could not be restored.

The frequency of ineffective backups led Bar-S employees to copy sensitive business data to nonsecured thumb drives and external storage drives, creating significant security issues, McEldowney said.

Even though Bar-S was paying yearly maintenance fees, he said, the CommVault support staff didn't return phone calls for help or assist with installing updates of the Galaxy software.

Further, he said Galaxy lacked a strong centralized-management tool and had trouble enabling remote tape backups if the main data center went offline.

"It was a wonderful relationship until we paid the bill and bought the software," said McEldowney.

Bar-S runs two storage-area networks (SAN) with 4TB apiece in a virtualized Windows Server and Red Hat Linux environment.

McEldowney said he still keeps a small instance of Galaxy running just to ensure that off-site backup tapes that weren't switched over during the transfer process can still be read.

Dave West, vice president of worldwide marketing and business development at Oceanport, N.J.-based CommVault, said that several large companies use Galaxy "in just the way" Bar-S did, and they haven't had any difficulties. He called the Bar-S criticism a "rare exception rather than the norm."

Ohio State University's communications office said it had a similar experience with EMC Corp.'s Retrospect backup software because of what school officials called stagnant updates and crude performance.

Wayne Tolliver, a departmental systems manager, said the communications office abandoned the EMC product for Atempo Inc.'s Time Navigator 4.2 backup tool in mid-2007.

The office, which handles Web content, print and live video production for the university, installed Retrospect in 2004 after it adopted an Apple-based storage and server infrastructure.

Tolliver said that Retrospect development "languished" after EMC acquired its maker, Dantz Development Corp., later in 2004.

He contended that promises that EMC made to support updated Apple Inc. products went unfulfilled, and that IT personnel were forced to work around Apple upgrades, such as Mac OS X v10.4 (code-named Tiger), which was released in 2005.

An EMC official confirmed that the last major update to Retrospect for Mac was in late 2005 but noted that the company last month released its first Retrospect Mac client that runs natively on Intel-based Apple processors.

"What drove us from Retrospect was lack of innovation," said Tolliver. "Our environment kept experiencing growth, and users wanted more features for backup. We just couldn't provide it. Keeping the lights on with Retrospect was becoming impossible."

Tolliver said EMC's backup software could not easily support large files created by the Ohio State multimedia operation, forcing IT staffers to partition chunks of data to satisfy backup requirements.

EMC now says it plans to deliver a version of Retrospect for the Macintosh featuring a new native Intel engine by early 2009.

The communications office runs four Apple PowerPC-based Xserve servers, two Intel Xeon-based Xserve machines, two Xserve storage RAID units with 14 drives each, and a Spectra Logic T50 tape library.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based Newell Rubbermaid Inc. is continuing to use the CommVault Galaxy software it installed in 2003 because of its ability to keep up with the rapid data growth at the maker of housewares, home furnishings and office products, said Matt Frehner, IT infrastructure manager at Rubbermaid.

Frehner said the company replaced CA Inc.'s ArcServe product in 2003 because Galaxy promised to better keep up with Newell's data growth and could better support the company's move from a Novell network to a Microsoft network.

"I wanted [a product] to grow with because I knew at some point in time we could go from gigabytes to terabytes," noted Frehner. The amount of data the company stores has mushroomed from 500GB to 24TB since 2003, and CommVault's tools have kept pace.

Last month, Frehner upgraded from Galaxy to CommVault's next-generation Simpana data management suite, which adds integrated search and discovery features. The disk- and tape-based tool backs up 13TB of data each night from the company's SAN, network-attached storage and tape library machines.

In an ESG survey earlier this year, 121 IT managers listed a variety of events that could force them to change backup vendors quickly. They included new restrictions on corporate data access, changes in security regulations, poor product performance and poor customer support.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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