“The more things change, the more things stay they stay the same.” That nearly 200 year old French proverb still has relevance even in today’s modern technology era when one looks at today’s backup appliances and how they have both changed and stayed the same since coming on the scene a little over10 years ago. In this second installment of DCIG’s interview series with STORServer’s President, Bill Smoldt, he provides some insight into how backup appliances have evolved over the last decade as well as the features they must offer to stand the test of time.
Jerome: How have you seen backup appliances evolve over the last decade? For instance, compare the year 2000 to right now.
Bill: That is really interesting that you should choose the year 2000 as that is about the same year in which STORServer started shipping its first production appliances. We had some beta products out that year though the basic concept of that appliance and the way STORServer delivers them today has really not changed a lot.
Even at that time we picked the latest hardware because we wanted the appliance to last as long as possible before having to do any kind of a data migration. We used the optimal version of backup software available because, as everyone knows, there are always issues with new versions of software. As such, we tend not to use the latest software releases, but releases that have been in the field for a while.
Even now we still send a consultant on site to install most of our appliances. Not all of them, but most of them. That is what we started out doing even 10 years ago. From a delivery standpoint, a build standpoint, and a selection standpoint, all those factors are largely the same.
That is not at all true with the features and the complexities and different ways of doing backups. Those are really different than they were 10 years ago.
Jerome: How long are your appliances typically deployed and used in the field? What should customers expect?
Bill: When we first started delivering appliances, the typical refresh rate for technology, for hardware, was about three years. As the economy changed, that grew to four years and then jumped to five years. That was a typical refresh rate.
Of course what is important in our appliances is the data. We have ways of going through a refresh of hardware without having to rewrite all the data. But then along with the economic conditions too, we have many customers who had to extend that refresh rate and could not change out their hardware.
One of the more notable examples was a customer who had an appliance for more than 10 years and had not renewed the technology. The technology that this customer was using on one of our early appliances was a tape drive that could be in a computer museum at this point.
It was really amazing that he was still able to accomplish his primary mission of getting his backups done. In this particular case, it got to the point where we could not even buy the tape drives anymore. Fortunately his appliance got to the point where he had do a technology refresh and get the latest equipment. That customer then went from using a tape based system to replicating over the internet and now uses the most modern features. However I suspect this same customer may keep that appliance another 10 years.
We typically design our appliances for growth. Quite often some of those appliances have had to grow far beyond their original design. But because we are very careful in that design, some customers are able to go far beyond the original design and at least keep running.
One of the problems with that approach is, of course, that as the new features come out that have really made backup more exciting in the last few years, it is less likely that we will be able to run that on the older hardware. These new features take a lot more compute power, a lot more memory, and a lot more IO to run.