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The Two Approaches to Backup Software Capacity Licensing: How They Stack Up

In the last few years more backup software vendors have abandoned traditional methods of software licensing that is based upon the total numbers of applications, CPUs, servers or some combination thereof. Instead they switching to a capacity based software licensing model where users get all of their product’s software features and then only pay a monthly or annual fee based upon the total amount of storage capacity consumed. So while this may sound like a good deal, users need to make sure they understand how the two general ways in which backup software vendors measure “storage capacity” for licensing purposes stack up and which approach is most likely to benefit them.

Storage-based capacity licensing is one of the two methods for backup software capacity licensing that is being adopted and found among backup software vendors like Asigra and Revinetix. This approach measures the total amount of storage capacity that backup data consumes and then sets its monthly or annual software license fee based upon that total.

One of the most notable characteristics of vendors that license their software this way is that their backup software primarily seeks to do only one thing: backup data and then store it in the most optimal method possible using techniques like compression and data deduplication.

Yet this concept that some backup software products have a primary objective other than to backup data may seem counter intuitive to some. After all, isn’t all backup software primarily designed to backup data?

Not necessarily. Granted, the two backup software vendors mentioned above and others primarily seek to backup data. But there is another growing contingent of backup software vendors that do not just want to organizations to use their product to backup data; they want organizations to eventually re-position their backup software to optimally manage data across their enterprise.

It is this overarching objective that in large part drives their selection of the host-based capacity licensing model. The providers that use the storage-based capacity licensing method are not looking to optimally manage the placement of data on production storage. Instead they are primarily concerned with making sure backups and restores complete on time and then looking for ways to optimally manage the data on the storage when backups and restores are not occurring.

That is why storage-based capacity licensing vendors like Asigra innovate and offer features like Backup Lifecycle Management (BLM) Archiver in its product. Asigra has more incentive than host-based capacity licensing backup software providers to optimize the placement of aging backup copies under its management.

Not that vendors in the other camp don’t but since Asigra has no formal tape strategy and no way to manage tape, it is always striving to place the oldest data under its management on the least expensive, most power efficient disk platforms available. It is for this reason it introduced BLM Archiver so it could dynamically migrate this data to the lowest possible cost disk storage.

This strategy stands in marked contract to the model that host-based capacity licensing providers like CommVault and Symantec both offer and promote. These two backup software providers take a host-based capacity licensing approach and calculate the total capacity based upon the total amount of data under their management that resides on production storage.

Now of the two, one would think that storage-based capacity licensing model might have an edge in today’s world of rapid data growth. But that is probably only true if organizations do not take advantage of the full breadth of features that both CommVault and Symantec make available.

Providers of software that offers the host-based capacity licensing model typically do not count data that is backed up or even archived against their total capacity amount. They argue (and rightly so) that the vast majority of data (70% or more) in most organizations does not belong on production storage anyway and should be archived.

So by first using their respective archiving features, organizations can dramatically reduce the amount of data under management on production storage and, in so doing, keep their host-based capacity licensing costs under control.

So which of these two methods – storage-based or host-based capacity licensing – is right for organizations? Assuming the products that fall into either of these classes offer all of the features that an organization needs to protect its applications and its data, I would recommend that organizations who do not have a responsible individual designated to set up and oversee data management policies such that aging data is regularly archived should select backup software based on the storage-based capacity licensing model.

While from a purist point of view I prefer the host-based capacity licensing model that CommVault and Symantec offer, I also recognize that some organizations are either not large enough or sufficiently structured to take advantage of the features they provide. But for those organizations that are in this position and do have an individual that can take responsibility for setting and enforcing data management policies, then those backup software products that offer the host-based capacity licensing should be given preference as they are better positioned to bring an organization’s out-of-control data growth under control.

Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Lead Analyst of DCIG, Inc. Jerome Wendt is the President and Lead Analyst of DCIG Inc., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in September 2006.

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