Virtual Tape is Dead, Dedup Appliances are Next

Although it may not seem like it in your datacenter, backup technologies are not immune to the advancing tides of data protection innovation. It is important to realize this as you develop your data protection strategy roadmap. For example, if you have been using tape as your primary backup medium and now feel like it is finally time to “upgrade” by adding VTL, I would say you have missed the boat by a wide margin.

VTLs are Dead

VTL technology was first developed to suit mainframe environments. And, remarkably, that is about all it is still good for. In the early 2000s as backup teams struggled with utilizing sequential media (tape) as a means to store and retrieve random workloads (multiplexed backups and incremental forever restores), a solution was need. Since most backup software was not equipped to efficiently manage disk natively and CPU technology was not powerful enough for Media Server encryption, dedicated appliances were developed to provide all the benefits of disk along with all the complexity “compatibility” of tape. This made it easy for IT departments to leverage disk in virtually any tape environment with few changes.

However, backup technologies have evolved to support disk capabilities natively and processor technology has multiplied to provide orders-of-magnitude better compression capabilities on generic server CPUs. For years now, efficient, high-performance disk backup technology has been available without the required complexity of virtual tape management.

Dedup Appliances are Dying

Now for something you probably didn’t expect. 3rd party dedup appliances don’t have many years left either. The emergence of dedup appliances actually breathed some life back into virtual tape systems–for a while. Many customers who would have long abandoned expensive, dedicated VTL devices, opted to upgrade them to deduplication appliances instead. The pattern is similar; Backup software lacked good deduplication capabilities and the CPU power required for high-performance deduplication made Media Server deduplication impractical. Once again that has all changed.

The Future is Single-Vendor

Backup vendor technologies have evolved to not only compete with hardware-based deduplication solutions, but out-pace them.

Capabilities such as source-side deduplication, block-based client-side acceleration technologies, and the ability to replicate backup data and meta-data to DR locations for instant recovery (no catalogue restore required), all rely on a backup vendor’s native deduplication capabilities.

OST integration was supposed to help by creating open-standards to allow backup vendors to better integrate with hardware solutions. But, there is no incentive for backup vendors to cooperate. CommVault has flat refused to play–instead, pointing customers to their own deduplication technology that uses generic hardware. Symantec is also championing their own deduplication appliances and has features such as AIR and Accelerator available today with their own appliances, yet OST integration is lagging behind. IBM, which probably has one of the weakest native deduplication implementations in TSM, point customers to their own ProtecTIER appliances. And, EMC, who probably has the most to gain in OST integration with their Data Domain line, openly competes with all backup vendors by positioning Avamar.

Any OST sales cooperation between vendors that may have once existed has degenerated into all out war. EMC positions Avamar and Data Domain to combat Symantec Dedup Appliances, IBM stays steadfast with all IBM solutions, CommVault doesn’t care what hardware you use as long as you leverage their Dedup technology. The lines are clearly drawn.

But it doesn’t stop there, bundling and pricing incentives penalize customers for not choosing a single-vendor solution reward customers for choosing a single vendor solution, which makes selecting what you may consider the best from two vendors not financially feasible.

What Does It All Mean?!

It means that if you are planning to modernize, or already invested in modernizing, your backup environment by implementing 3rd party hardware appliances;  A) You will most likely be missing features, and B) You will probably end up paying too much. I suspect the gap in both features and pricing will continue to widen as vendors opt to invest in integration between their own products instead of improving integration with their competitors.

It also means that, when considering what deduplication solutions are best for your environment, you should should primarily be considering a backup vendor and not a deduplication vendor. They are becoming one and the same–they will become one and the same. Be ready for it.

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