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The New Business Case for Deploying Deduplicating Backup Solutions as Virtual Appliances

Physical, purpose-built deduplicating backup appliances have found their way into many enterprise data centers as they expedite installation and simplify ongoing management of backup data. However there is a growing business case for virtual appliances that offer the benefits of deduplication without the associated hardware costs. To determine when and if a virtual appliance is the correct choice, there are key factors that enterprises must evaluate to arrive at the right decision for a specific office or environment.

Despite server virtualization being prevalent in most enterprises today, physical, purpose-built deduplicating backup appliances have still found a home. The act of performing deduplication requires powerful CPUs to deduplicate backup data which, once deduplicated, must still be stored on moderate to large amounts of storage capacity. This has led enterprises to primarily use physical, purpose-built deduplicating backup appliances to meet these demands.

However circumstances exist where deploying a physical appliance into an environment is either problematic or overkill. In these situations, deploying deduplication in the form of a virtual appliance becomes more desirable. To determine when the deployment of a virtual appliance is warranted, there are seven factors that enterprises can evaluate to determine if and when a virtual appliance is the right choice to use as a target for deduplicating backup data.

  1. Virtualized remote/branch offices. Almost every enterprise has remote and/or branch offices. These offices tend to have fewer applications to protect, less data to backup and there is a high probability that these offices are already partially or fully virtualized. A virtual appliance eliminates the need to introduce a physical appliance into an office that is already mostly or fully virtualized.
  2. Eliminates need to deploy technician to site to install physical appliance. Many branch and remote offices have no IT staff on site to install and manage their IT infrastructure or, if they do, their primary responsibility is NOT managing backup and recovery. Using a virtual appliance eliminates the need to deploy a technician to a site to do the initial install of the physical appliance or maintain it again at some point in the future.

Instead, IT staff from a central site may remotely access the existing VMware ESX or Microsoft Hyper-X server at the branch/remote office. They may then quickly and easily deploy, install and configure the virtual appliance using the Open Virtualization Format (OVF), the standard for packaging and distributing virtual appliances.

  1. Use existing, available processing power and storage capacity. A deduplicating virtual appliance requires the host ESX or Hyper-V server to allocate: 1) processing power to it to deduplicate backup data; and, 2) storage capacity to it to store the data. The good news is that the physical hypervisor host likely has ample supply of both processing power and storage capacity.

Today’s ESX and Hyper-V servers typically ship with multicore processors and multiple terabytes of internal storage capacity. Since backup typically run at night and/or during off-peak hours, the virtual appliance can leverage the server’s processing resources that are latent during these times to deduplicate the data without negatively impacting production VMs. The virtual appliance may then store the deduplicated data on the excess storage capacity that ships by default with the server but which is unallocated and unused by production VMs.

  1. Same features at a lower cost. The software features found on virtual deduplicating backup appliances are generally identical to the ones as found on a physical appliances. Even in cases where differences between the software features of virtual and physical appliances do exist, the virtual appliance rarely needs the features that are available on the physical appliance (such as functioning as a replication target for other virtual or physical appliances.)

By switching to a virtual appliance, enterprises can experience significant cost savings. Among those vendors that DCIG has surveyed that offer both physical and virtual appliances, enterprises can achieve as much as a 50 percent cost savings by using a virtual appliance as opposed to a physical appliance that has comparable capabilities.

  1. Mitigates hidden one-time and ongoing expenses. Heating, cooling, and rack/floor space are all hidden costs associated with the deployment of every physical appliance. Even one-time expenses such as shipping and installation costs impact the physical appliance’s total cost of ownership. A virtual appliance eliminates these hidden expenses by only incurring an upfront license cost.
  2. Protect data in hard to reach locations. Virtual appliances make it possible for enterprises to deploy deduplication and protect data in places that may be hard or even impossible to reach using physical appliances.

Deploying a physical appliance on an oil rig, a ship, a mobile data center residing on a semi-trailer or in a remote Alaskan outpost may be impractical. Similarly, company that have offices overseas in other countries may find shipping physical products into these offices slowed or unnecessarily due to customs. Virtual appliances make setup and deployment quick and easy in these different situations.

  1. May expedite backups while reducing network traffic. Deduplicating backup appliances function as backup targets to which existing backup media servers send backup traffic. However, by deploying a deduplicating backup appliance as virtual appliances on the same physical ESX or Hyper-V host where the media server resides, all backup data remains internal to the host as it is sent from the media server VM to the deduplicating virtual appliance. This should result in faster backups and recoveries as it reduces the amount of backup data sent over the network.

Despite these compelling reasons to use deduplicating virtual appliances in enterprises today, the number of virtual appliances remains limited with only about 30 percent of vendors making them available as an option.

Dell is one of the few vendors that offers a virtual deduplicating backup appliance as part of its data protection portfolio. The Dell DR2000v provides the same software features found on the Dell DR4100 and DR6000 deduplicating backup appliances. These software features particularly come into play when deploying the DR2000v in remote locations that may experience poor network connections and/or bottlenecks. The deduplication software on the DR2000v is very bandwidth friendly only sending unique blocks or blocks not yet by physical DR series device to which the DR2000v is replicating data.

Further, as a virtual appliance, the DR2000v eliminates the extra CAPEX and OPEX associated with physical appliances. By then providing 1, 2 and 4TB licensing options along with support for the VMware ESX and Microsoft Windows Hyper-V hypervisors, enterprises can confidently move ahead with their virtual appliance plans.

Enterprises want to virtualize as much of their IT infrastructure as possible without making compromises when it comes to deduplicating backup appliances. While the need for physical appliances remains strong and shows no signs of abating, a new need for virtual deduplicating backup appliances has emerged along the way. By leveraging the Dell DR2000v alongside Dell’s physical appliances, enterprises can select the best appliance for their environment whether that solution ends up being physical or virtual.

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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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