AppAssure and InMage's continuous data protection apps include replication for disaster recovery

CDP has yet to take the market by storm, but new products are gaining momentum by combining the feature with application protection and replication for disaster recovery.

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Continuous data protection (CDP) is well past the novelty phase in the enterprise data storage market, with the first generation of players in the space already swallowed up by bigger companies or out of business since the technology went through its first "hype cycle" in 2006.

More recently, users say they've been adding CDP to their environments with new products that combine the feature with other capabilities including application-specific protection and remote replication for offsite disaster recovery (DR). Riding that trend, at least two emerging vendors in this space have been quietly gaining momentum in 2009.

AppAssure: SMBs go for Microsoft-specific data protection

AppAssure Software Inc., founded in 2005, has survived while fellow continuous data protection players such as Revivio, Mendocino and Asempra were acquired in fire sales or closed their doors. AppAssure, which received one funding round worth $6 million in 2008, claims it has close to 1,000 customers and will be profitable next quarter. It recently updated its Replay software, adding the ability to send data to the cloud. Now the startup is looking to partner with hosted email management provider AppRiver to jointly offer email backup Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

"AppAssure has been flying under the radar for the last three years," Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) analyst Lauren Whitehouse said. "They've been out there sticking to their knitting."

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Greg Thomas, IT manager for the Jackson County, W.Va., Courthouse, said he deployed AppAssure three months ago on nine servers. Most of the office data is created using Microsoft applications including Word and Excel. AppAssure snapshots his Windows servers every 15 minutes and replicates the data to a second AppAssure server in another building on the courthouse's campus about a block away.

"We were using [Symantec] Backup Exec to tape on each of our servers with direct-attached drives," Thomas said. "It was a logistical nightmare for one person to try and keep up with tape management." It got to the point where the courthouse backed up half its servers on alternate days.

Now, the courthouse can keep 90 days of backup data on 8 TB of disk at its secondary location without dealing with tapes.

"It took away that headache," said Thomas, and allowed the courthouse to perform bare-metal restores of its servers without requiring a separate license. "We can create a CD and boot a server from it to rebuild it -- that's not something we had before."

Still, the product hasn't always worked the way Thomas thought it would. "When I first got it, it would back up one server at a time," he said. "With a new version out this month it can do concurrent backups, but that's how I thought it would work all along."

Another customer, Carlos Luceno, systems analyst in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Maryland, chose AppAssure to protect a Microsoft Exchange email server that supports faculty and staff. However, AppAssure's support for VMware as well as Exchange also caught his attention.

"It's key for us to virtualize servers as much as possible, so the integration with the VMware environment is appealing, especially with regard to disaster recovery," Luceno said. AppAssure replicates data to a hot standby on another part of the campus and can redeploy virtual machines at the secondary location.

The university has close to a terabyte of email data in Exchange because it has quotas of up to 15 GB per inbox for faculty members. Because Exchange is only one of four email environments the department supports for the university, AppAssure is one of many data backup tools deployed in the environment for different applications.

Previously, Luceno said, he was using EMC Corp.'s Retrospect backup software to backup Exchange 2003 data, but "it couldn't keep up with the 64-bit 2007 version," he said, and sometimes crashed and required an entire backup set to be redone because of data corruption. He also evaluated Vizioncore Inc.'s vRanger Pro, which he uses for other applications, but wanted to be able to restore individual files without restoring the virtual machine image for Exchange.

Like Thomas, Luceno said early version AppAssure were quirky at times. "All our problems have been around upgrading the Exchange side," he said. "Twice we've required upgrades of the AppAssure Replay software when we've run into issues."

Luceno also said he was hoping to see the restore console from Replay sped up. "The console, even if you're just adjusting settings, is really slow," he said. "Their reasoning was it had to do with known Microsoft Management Console snap-in issues. It's not unusable once it's open, but while it's opening it's annoying."

InMage makes splash with HDS OEM deal, signing larger customers

In late August, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) began selling InMage Systems Scout host-based continuous data protection application under the HDS brand. InMage Scout includes continuous data protection, asynchronous replication, application failover/failback, and WAN optimization as well as application-aware integration points. InMage rolled out version 5.1 of its software this week, adding new centralized management at multiple locations and multitenancy controls to support larger enterprises and service providers it's likely to encounter with HDS.

Currency exchange firm Interbank FX discovered InMage after buying HDS' AMS 2500 midrange disk arrays. "We've been doing some migration off [an EMC Corp.] DMX-4," Interbank FX IT infrastructure manager Paxton Powers said. "InMage was referred by HDS for the data migration."

Because it's host-based, InMage supports any vendor's back-end storage. Powers used this heterogeneous replication to move data for that migration and plans to keep the product around for future migration projects.

"We didn't want to migrate all of our production trade servers off the DMX in one shot or use professional services or have to plan for downtime on a weekend," he said. "InMage is a pretty simple product and doesn't require much professional services to perform the migration."

Though Scout supports local copies, Powers said he's primarily using its data protection capabilities for distance disaster recovery. "For local backups, if I want to see stuff from a month ago, the other solutions out there are better in that arena," he said. However, he does keep about 24 hours of data in the CDP repository for operational recoveries. Technically, he could retain the CDP data for longer, but "I'm limited on space – our company policy is that we have to keep data seven years. I don't have enough disk to use InMage for that."

InMage's pricing was also appealing to Powers. "Others we looked at, like [EMC] RecoverPoint, are cheaper to get in the door with, but they charged according to terabyte of data, so the costs would go up and up," he said.

Support for centralized management in version 5.1 will be welcome, Powers said. He currently uses two consoles to manage three instances of Scout at locations in New Jersey and Utah. He'd like to see further improvements like an option to deduplicate older data in the CDP repository so he can keep local copies as well as DR copies, and updates to the Scout's reporting tools to help him more easily identify bottlenecks on the network. "That's data you can dig out of there today, but having it displayed more clearly would be nice," he said.

ESG's Whitehouse said the replication piece of the puzzle has been the key for InMage. As Powers' case illustrates, "earlier go-to-market plans from CDP vendors were about backup replacement. InMage has changed the terrain it's competing in by appealing to IT organizations looking for cost-effective disaster recovery."

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