A vendor’s support of their backup application is an important priority for IT to understand as it looks for potential new backup solutions. Enterprise backup is unlike any other application in the data center. At some point in the backup process, the backup software interfaces with every server, every application, and every operating environment. It’s no wonder that support is such a critical aspect of the solution. The problem is most IT professionals when evaluating a new backup solution, don’t test support along with everything else on their checklist. Even if they do test support, its hard to determine if the support it gets in the evaluation will be similar to support it may get three years after the implementation.
There are essentially two aspects of support to test. The first is how responsive is the vendor to the initial call and the second is how good are they at providing quality answers to difficult questions.
Responsiveness may be hard to test during an evaluation because a smart vendor will flag the evaluation site and make sure it gets the best support possible. Obviously, a request can be made not to flag, but that’s no guarantee it will happen. Of course, the alternative might also be true. Organizations may have no special considerations for evaluating sites and have no way to support non-customers. The key takeaway is to take response time with a grain of salt and during negotiations get in writing what response times will be.
Another aspect of responsiveness is to test how quickly a problem is escalated to a second tier engineer. Most organizations will put the initial call through the frontline support personnel who will make sure that the backup equivalent of “is it plugged in?” questions will be asked. Understanding how and how quickly a call is escalated to second line support is critical.
Testing Support Quality
The next area to test is the quality of the support. Backup vendors have to help their customers troubleshoot not only the backup software, but also the components that surround that software. The primary reason the quality of backup support is hard to test during an evaluation is the test team can’t generate a problem deep enough to do a true real-life test. It takes time to perform enough backups, backup enough systems and perform enough restores where some of the problems of a solution will start to show. One example is the size of the various databases the backup software vendor uses to store and organize the data it is protecting. These databases can impact both backup and recovery speed. They also can get corrupted but it is hard to create a scenario that will stress those databases in the evaluation timeframe.
Understanding the architecture of the database might help. But don’t feel overconfident if the vendor is using a traditional database like MySQL or MS-SQL. While these databases may be just fine, but how often are they used in the backup use case where the environment has to deal with thousands upon thousands of rapid insertions per night.
The key is to try to evaluate the product for as long as possible and to make sure that when the evaluation clock starts that the IT team is ready to test it hard. The goal should be to do as many backups and restorations as possible during the 30-45 day window. Include in the test as many of the extremes as possible within the data center. For example, protect replicas of high transaction databases, make sure to test file systems with high file counts. The goal is to quite literally break the software so that an assessment of how good the vendor is at putting it back together is made.
In the end, great support comes down to history vs training. IT people can be trained to do a variety of functions, including support backup software. But in most cases history is what solves the problem via some ingenious workarounds created by some support personnel that have been working with the product for decades. A great question to ask is what is the average tenure of the vendor’s support personnel, that will give insight into how much history they have versus training.
Backup support is just one of the priorities IT needs to understand when evaluating new backup solutions. To learn the other key priorities, watch our on demand webinar, “Veteran vs. Rookie – Who is Best Able to Meet The Enterprise Backup Challenge?” We discuss the five key priorities in backup software:
- Protecting legacy applications
- Protecting cloud applications
- Rapid data growth
- Rapid recovery expectations
- Lack of recovery confidence