An Appliance Approach to Backup Reporting

Bocada and Network Engines are teaming up for an appliance version of BackupReport software, Storage Center Editor David Morgenstern notes. The new device tracks and reports the details of enterprise backup.

Knowledge may bring power, particularly for storage administrators and their backups. The results can also produce its share of worry. But no pain, no gain—right?

That was a theme of my recent discussion with executives of Bocada Inc. and Network Engines Inc. about their forthcoming BackupReport Appliance, standalone hardware that provides managers with a detailed examination of an enterprises entire backup activity. The companies this week announced that the appliance will be available next month from TidalWire, Network Engines distribution arm.

The appliance integrates Bocadas BackupReport software, which can collect and report on backup activity from heterogeneous environments including multiple servers, different storage technologies, and a wide variety of enterprise backup products and operating systems. The Windows Server-based system will start at $12,995, depending on configuration, the companies said.

Backup is one of the most complex IT processes, and the list of potential snags to successful backup can be long and brutal in the telling. For example, new servers can be added without being properly configured for the backup environment; server names can be changed; servers or machines can be "lost," in other words, pulled off the network for maintenance and returned with a changed IP address or in a different spot; backup scripts can be renamed without anyone knowing it (a very common issue); schedules can be changed by someone without realizing the effect; or demand will simply outpace the existing backup infrastructure. Its a nightmare.

All of these common IT tasks can take their toll on backups. And its doubtful that anyone will know the difference until an audit is conducted. Or something goes wrong. Bocadas technology lets IT managers see if their backup is successful and uncover bottlenecks in the process.

Bocada President and CEO Mark Silverman described a recent assessment his company performed for a multinational bank. He said the server collected data over a two-week period for about 7,000 production servers. The test "discovered that between 20 [percent] to 30 percent of the servers were never backed up up at all. Period. They were backed up in the past, but we couldnt find any [successful] backup for at least a month," he said.

Considering the many ways a backup can go wrong, this finding is not so surprising. In addition, it tracks the figures of backup failure provided by storage-industry analysts. Still, its a stark reminder of the problem.

Silverman added its almost impossible for large organizations to avoid this complexity. Even if they try to standardize on a "standard switch, common backup package or virtualized solution—even in that case, theyll bring in a new disk array or another package in less than a year. Whats not to like?"

At the same time, the appliance-ization of Bocadas software can cut down on other aspects of complexity for storage managers: This integration can also improve the installation of the software and its pre-sales evaluation by customers. Network Engines said it had also added a management interface that can help its VARs configure the unit in the field.

"The packaging makes it all much easier to install without pulling a sysadmin away [from his or her usual duties]," observed Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. "Customers can realize its benefits without impacting their day-to-day operations."

"Every software maker will tell you that their software installs in 10 minutes and theyre telling the truth, with one caveat: as long as the machine is fully configured correctly before you install the software," said Jeff Brandes, Network Engines vice president and general manager of distribution operations. He said the process of finding a machine and installing all the necessary server software can take a potential customer weeks. The appliance version shortens that process and avoids potential pitfalls.

Beyond these obvious advantages, the hardware appliance offers a deeper benefit to a software company like Bocada, especially when looking at a new group of customers in a new market segment. Its standard, well-understood hardware platform will be a real treat to the support department, one used to dealing with the usual mix of hardware and software customers present.

Storage Center Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

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