Enterprise Backup or VM Specific Backup Software?

Most vendors seem to think that selecting which backup solution to use in the data center should be a choice of either an enterprise backup or virtual machine-specific backup solution. Enterprise backup provides legacy, multi-platform protection, but often only spotty protection of the virtual environment and at a premium price. VM-specific solutions provide complete protection of the virtual environment and delivers new capabilities, but often lack key legacy features like support for physical (“bare metal”) systems and tape.

In the data center it’s no longer an either-or decision between enterprise backup and virtualization-specific backup software solutions. Enterprises increasingly are deploying multiple applications to meet their data protection challenges and as the environment becomes more virtualized, they may seek a VM-specific backup solution. Or, as the environment becomes dependent on clustered applications like Microsoft SQL they may look for an application-specific backup solution. And, of course, there is the ever-present enterprise backup software to provide more generalized protection.

The reality is that data protection professionals have a job to do and it is not necessarily aligned with any of these solutions specifically. But instead, they want to pick and choose which solution makes the most sense for them and the situation. For the most part, larger data protection vendors are beginning to endorse this reality and offer a variety of data protection solutions, with both an enterprise focus and an environment- specific focus.

Multiple Applications are OK

For over a decade the mantra of enterprise backup applications has been “one comprehensive solution” – supported by the notion that the data center is better served when a single application protects the entire environment. The basic assumption is that the data protection team can’t ‘walk and chew gum at the same time’. But in the reality data protection has always been a fragmented process with a variety of solutions deployed to do the job.

At the same time there should be a limit on the number of solutions deployed. Taken to the extreme, managing a backup application for every environment could get confusing. Ideally the data center should deploy an enterprise solution for the bulk of the data center environments and then deploy environment specific solutions as the need arises.

Modern Data Protection Needs Modern Licensing

The challenge facing the data protection professional is not managing multiple applications, but managing the licensing of those applications. The complexity of data protection software licensing can be overwhelming, subjecting the IT professional to an onslaught of cost calculations. Enterprise data protection solutions can charge by the number of servers or clients being protected as well as by the operating system and specific application. Some even have tiers of licenses within those categories based on the capabilities of that server or client.

Application- or environment-specific data protection, like virtualization backup, will often charge by the total number of cores present in the environment. While data center professionals have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to manage multiple data protection applications, the time required to manage the licensing strategies of these applications, and pay for them, can be overwhelming to say the least.

Modern Licensing

While several modern licensing methods have been proposed in recent years the most logical and easiest to understand is a capacity based license. This is especially true for larger data protection software companies like Dell since they have backup solutions in several categories. A simpler pricing model would allow data centers to deploy multiple applications without having to keep track of configuration minutiae. They could deploy VM-specific and enterprise applications in parallel, leveraging the software most appropriate to meet the recovery needs of that application, instead of the needs of the licensing requirements.

This capacity based licensing would also allow users to switch applications as the need arises. For example, a bare metal server that was being protected by an enterprise application could, after it had been migrated to a virtual machine, be protected by a VM-specific backup solution. Or, as new capabilities are added to the enterprise backup application, dependence on an environment-specific or application-specific backup solution could be lessened.

Even highly virtualized environments are under a state of change as these data centers begin to explore alternate hypervisors like Hyper-V. Once again the capacity based model provides the flexibility to change between a backup solution that shines on VMware to one that shines on Hyper-V. The point of all of these examples is that the choice would now be the data protection professional’s to make; they would not be limited by what licenses they had available.


The data center is in a state of transition from a single application per server environment to a highly virtualized environment. But even as that transition concludes another one to mixed hypervisors often starts. This state of constant transition requires a data protection process that can keep pace with it. The software product choices are there and the data protection professionals have proven that they can manage multiple solutions. The missing piece of the puzzle is a licensing strategy for data protection vendors that will allow the data protection process to transition with the data center.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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One comment on “Enterprise Backup or VM Specific Backup Software?
  1. andrew says:

    The days of specialist VM backup software are most likely over. The traditional Backup apps have caught up and most enterprises look for a “generic” backup solution that covers a disparate virtualised environment

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