Consolidation of backup hardware and software is perpetually on the mind of IT professionals. At some point, a well-meaning IT Manager initiates a consolidation effort to try to simplify backup operations by consolidating backup hardware and software onto a single platform. The problem is, these efforts are seldom completely successful and over time, the business requires IT to deploy additional new environments, which the consolidation solution either doesn’t protect or protects inadequately.
Why Backup Consolidation Fails
Data centers can try to consolidate hypervisors, storage systems and even networks with a greater degree of success than the backup process. Few data center components need to interact with applications, operating environments and storage software, as deeply as the backup process does. The backup software must be able to trigger environmental conditions so that it can make an application consistent copy of data. It also needs to understand how the operating system and/or storage software presents protected copies of data.
The intimacy that backup software has with the rest of the data center means creating a single solution that provides best of breed data protection across all the environments is difficult. The success rate of future consolidation efforts is likely to decline as organizations implement initial-cloud, hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud strategies.
The typical approach for a vendor developing a consolidated backup solution is to by-pass the capabilities of the application, storage system and operating system instead of leveraging them. Most data protection software re-creates features that are already included with the environments they are protecting. The recreation of these features means that a special portion of the IT staff needs training on how the backup solution implements the backup vendor’s implementation of the features the software just recreated.
In almost all cases, the backup application has a unique interface, one that is different from that of the environments it is protecting. The core IT staff must learn this new interface, which takes time. In the modern era, the interface is typically HTML5-based which means the organization has yet another website to go to for management, one that is often radically different from other applications that leverage an HTML5 interface.
Some consolidation solutions interface into the originating environment’s management interface. For example, many backup applications today integrate into VCenter but in most cases, the integration is a dashboard. Most won’t allow any meaningful management of the backup software, instead they just launch the software and the administrators finds themselves back in the foreign backup interface.
Recreating features and interfaces that already exists also means that the part of the IT staff that is responsible for the application or the specific environment, can’t leverage the backup application for their data protection needs, at least not without counting on someone in the core backup services group. If the application or environment owners want to trigger a special data protection copy of data to protect against a faulty update or for peace of mind, they can’t do it. Instead, they have to submit a work order to the IT backup team. Often these teams, out of frustration, end up writing their own scripts, which creates even more copies of data and a set of parallel processes which decreases efficiency.
A rapidly growing environment is another way that a backup consolidation effort can start to come apart. A growing environment typically means current applications are requiring more storage and IT is adding new applications. Additional storage capacity requirements often have an exponential impact on backup storage capacity needs, especially in a consolidated solution since it recreates everything. The problem with scaling backup capacity is it often requires additional backup storage devices, which need management, which is separate from the initial backup storage devices. The situation becomes especially precarious if the organization decides or the situation forces them to use a new backup storage vendor. Because of scale, the consolidated backup solution is diversifying on both the software and the hardware front.
Backup consolidation almost always means compromise. It is rare that the backup software supports all the capabilities of a new environment when it first comes out or when a vendor adds new capabilities to an existing environment. Historically, IT can look at VMware or Nutanix Acropolis as examples and compare how long it is taking vendors who offer backup consolidation, to support those environments fully. A present day example is Nutanix Mine or Native-Cloud applications. Out of the dozens of backup vendors, only a few have solutions for Nutanix Mine ready to go when the product becomes generally available. Most vendors who take a backup consolidation strategy are woefully behind on providing solutions to protect native-cloud applications, with many providing no solution.
Backup consolidation has the potential to get worse. A new group of vendors is creating something called hyperconverged data protection (HCDP) solutions, which leverages the scale-out approach, common in production hyperconverged solutions, to solve the scaling capacity problem. In theory, an HCDP solution should eliminate the problem of a diversified backup storage infrastructure but the converged part of these infrastructures means they also try to offer the backup software. These solutions are primarily addressing the problem of previous era backup storage hardware that had scalability issues. The challenge for these vendors is they are trying to focus on everything, data protection software design, providing a scale-out storage software solution and in most cases providing hardware. Modern data protection software can leverage modern scale-out tier 2 secondary storage.
The software component of these solutions is just as vulnerable to not protecting everything as a more traditional software only approach. In some ways, the situation is worse because now the organization is locked into a hardware solution, from a new vendor, that can’t possibly allocate the resources needed to protect all the various environmental permutations common in today’s data center. Also many backup infrastructures will repurpose production hardware as part of their data protection infrastructure. With HCDP solutions the hardware is a net new purchase.
Embracing Diversity with Purpose-Built Backup
Purpose-built backup is a backup software solution that the developer designs specifically for a given application or operating environment. The goal of these applications is never to attempt consolidation so the need to create custom user interfaces or to recreate features that already exist in the environment they are protecting, is unnecessary.
Purpose-built backup solutions, instead of recreating what is already available, spend their development efforts on leveraging those capabilities for the task at hand. They also focus on deeply integrating themselves into the environment’s interfaces so interacting with the data protection process is similar to interacting with the environment. The deep integration into the environment means that data protection no longer needs a dedicated team to protect data across unfamiliar applications and environments. Instead, the experts in the environment perform the necessary data protection tasks.
A key to purpose-built backup solutions is to provide an oversight capability that enables IT to oversee the individual purpose-built backup solutions to verify that they meet corporate wide data protection standards. Additionally, it is critical that the purpose-built data protection vendor offer more than one product. They need to offer multiple protection solutions. The reality is that most purpose-built backup solutions are “one-trick ponies” and never expand beyond the initial environment they protect. Ironically, if the vendor does expand beyond one environment, they depart from the strategy that made them successful, which is purpose-built backup, and start creating a more traditional consolidated solution.
Why Purpose-Built Backup has a LOWER TCO than Backup Consolidation
The concern over purpose-built backup solutions is that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of these solutions is more expensive than embracing backup consolidation. But in actuality, purpose-built backup solutions actually deliver a significantly lower TCO.
First, in many situations, the environment that the purpose-built solution protects IS the primary environment for the organization or at least it is their future direction. Second, because backup no longer requires dedicated personnel, IT managers can focus headcount on tasks that advance IT and enable it to be a competitive asset for the organization instead of solely a cost center. Backup is everyone’s responsibility. If the software can be made to act like the environment it is protecting then the responsibility for protection can be delegated to the IT personnel that are more closely involved with its data. Core IT at that point merely takes an oversight role. Third, it virtually eliminates training time since the solution integrates directly into the protected environment. Fourth, and most importantly, in most cases the quality of the protection process increases. By leveraging features already available from the environment, it is able to capture consistently high quality copies of data.
The data center is mixture of different operating environments and different applications. Efforts to consolidate the infrastructures that support all these environments, repeatedly fail even if successful initially. The modern data center, thanks to an increasingly diverse workload set and innovations like hyperconverged infrastructure as well as private and public cloud, means that consolidating infrastructure is more prone to failure and inefficiency than ever before.
Instead, organizations need to consider purpose-built solutions that take full advantage of the environments in which they operate. These solutions should enable better quality data protection both because they leverage the capabilities of the environment and because administrators, who are intimately familiar with the data, can now easily protect that data. A centralized management and orchestration console enable IT oversight to make sure that those individuals continue to meet organizational data protection standards.