HP Data Protector Upgrade Evolutionary, not Revolutionary; Subtly Concedes that EMC Still Winning Best of Breed Battle for Storage in HP Shops

After a receiving a briefing on today’s announcement on HP Data Protector’s enhanced integration with VMware, one has to wonder why HP is making any noise about this new functionality at all. While Data Protector’s enhanced integration with VMware virtual machines (VMs) provides some nice integration and recovery features for its HP EVA storage system as well as EMC’s DMX storage system, it appears all HP did was take a feature it now offers for physical machines and make it available for VMware VMs as well. Further, we saw little in this announcement that would make us think Data Protector is well suited to provide improved levels of recovery for companies that are anything but primarily homogeneous HP shops.

For those of you unfamiliar with Data Protector, it is HP’s enterprise backup software that receives little attention outside of HP shops but which, according to HP, has 22,000 customers. Yet HP Data Protector customers are like customers everywhere in that they are transforming to a virtual environment. As part of this transformation, they are increasing their use of server virtualization software such as VMware.

While Data Protector has for some time supported VMware’s Consolidated Backup (VCB), HP is under increasing pressure from its customer base to minimize or eliminate downtime of VMware virtual machines (VMs) and provide immediate recoveries. So as part of this release, HP expanded the functionality of Data Protector’s agents to take application aware snapshots on its StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) storage systems.

Application aware snapshots ensure that the applications running on individual VMs retain their data integrity while providing companies near-real time levels of recoverability, hence its Zero Downtime Backup and Instant Recovery (ZDBIR) name. The Data Protector agent on the VM coordinates the creation of snapshot on the EVA by first acquiescing the application on the VM, putting the application data in an application consistent state by flushing all buffers, initiating the snapshot on the EVA and then resuming application processing.

This all occurs almost instantly (seconds or less) while offloading the task of creating application backup from the VM and the server hosting it to the EVA. Because the creation of the snapshot of the VM is dependent on the underlying storage system and essentially ignores the underlying server virtualization hypervisor, it can be used with any server virtualization software including Microsoft 2008 Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer.

Yet the real question is how big a step forward is this for Data Protector and why is this press release even significant? Data Protector has for years supported similar functionality on physical machines and has now repackaged it to support VMs. Including it in the press release is apparently just a means for HP to create some noise as VMworld begins even though the new functionality it adds for protection and recovery of VMware VMs is relatively minimal.

Further, it only currently supports HP XP, EMC DMX, and HP EVA storage systems. So unless you are predominantly an HP shop or planning to become one, not only is this announcement not relevant, it may only serve to drive potential customers away from entertaining HP Data Protector as their preferred enterprise data protection software. If anything, the fact that it continues to support EMC storage systems is a sign of weakness on HP’s part. This subtly signals that EMC is still winning more battles than not when HP customers separate their storage buying decision from their server buying decisions.

Every vendor is looking to make some noise going to VMworld and show how they can help support your virtualized server environment but this announcement about Data Protector borders somewhat on the ridiculous. Repackaging and remarketing a feature that already exists for physical machines to make it look like it is well suited for VMs is something of a joke. About the only new thing it does that it did not do before is recognize and protect the VMDK files associated with individual VMs. But how big a deal is this? In our minds, not a big deal at all and the fact that it is only supporting EMC storage systems besides its own indicates that it still has a ways to go in winning the storage battle against EMC even with its own customers.

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