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7 Backup Appliance Myths, Unclouded

Even in the cloud, backup myths proliferate. Here are seven of the most common.

The elevator pitch for backup appliances is that they're easy to implement, highly integrated, and quick to get up and running. Yet backup appliances introduce their own set of deployment and management complexities, and organizations need to be fully aware that the category doesn't always stack up as promised.

As part of a cloud backup solution, the backup appliance is positioned as a turnkey, pre-integrated platform that's supposed to help simplify the initial configuration of the backup environment while also streamlining maintenance and support on an ongoing basis.

While true at first glance, a closer look reveals a number of holes in that value proposition, especially when compared to cloud backup solutions that don't require a dedicated appliance. As companies and MSPs push forward with transitioning backup and recovery operations to a more flexible and cost-effective cloud infrastructure, they need to consider the good -- and the bad -- of the appliance-based approach. With that in mind, here are seven facts about backup appliances that could make a company think twice:

1. They have their own set of deployment and management complexities.
While the turnkey nature of an appliance certainly addresses some areas of backup complexity, it also opens the door to other obstacles when it comes to streamlining management and deployment.

Given the mission-critical nature of backup, many organizations want to test-drive solutions prior to signing a licensing deal or service contract. Yet instituting a trial run on a backup appliance is much more involved than demoing a native cloud backup solution. While the latter is simply accessed and activated via a browser-based portal, a backup appliance needs to be physically shipped to an organization, which means a larger administrative burden -- not to mention lag time for shipping.

Companies with multi-site backup requirements face additional headaches. Appliances will need to be routed and deployed at each site participating in backup, increasing the management and distribution burden, especially if the remote sites are globally dispersed.

2. Costs can be high and unbalanced.
Since backup appliances have a hardware component, there are significant up-front capital costs to buy and deploy a solution in much the same vein as a traditional storage investment. In addition, many appliance-based backup solutions have an auxiliary cloud component, which is priced separately, and there can be ongoing integration, support, and maintenance fees.

Native cloud backup solutions, on the other hand, require no up-front capital expenditures on hardware, there are no additional fees for cloud usage, and they can be scaled accordingly so you only pay for what you need.

3. A single point of failure is introduced.
Any kind of hiccup with the backup appliance can compromise an organization's entire backup operation. While vendor service-level agreements might specify a new appliance will be shipped out in the event of a problem, that's small comfort, especially if data is lost or a natural disaster impedes delivery services. With a native cloud backup solution, data is available as long as there's a network connection.

4. Multiple vendors can lead to finger pointing.
Many of these solutions combine an appliance and a cloud component and typically, they hail from different vendors. Aside from integration issues, there can be a lot of back and forth between vendors if a backup problem occurs. Comparatively, a cloud backup solution from a single vendor means one point of contact for support and troubleshooting.

5. Scalability is far from seamless.
Say you hit the capacity of your current backup appliance, how do you address additional backup requirements going forward? It's not as straightforward as you might think. Organizations will either need to replace their existing appliance with a larger, higher-performance model or buy a second box and deal with integration issues. Both approaches require companies to make an up-front investment in additional capacity that might be too much or too little to adequately address future needs. In comparison, cloud-based backup can scale seamlessly, growing and shrinking elastically in accordance with ongoing storage requirements.

6. Performance limitations.
There are multiple steps involved in an appliance-based backup architecture, which can impede performance. Typically, data is backed up from a source server to the backup appliance and then out to the cloud. Because data is copied from one location to another, there's an extra hop in the data flow, causing a performance bottleneck.

In addition, some backup offerings include an appliance to compensate for architectural limitations in their cloud capability -- specifically, not supporting WAN-optimized traffic on large data sets of 500GB and greater.

7. Restore functions can be limited.
Most appliance-based backup solutions require the restore function to occur through the appliance, which narrows down the recovery options compared to cloud-based backup that can be restored from virtually anywhere (assuming there's a network connection and browser-based access). Backup appliances that do support cloud restore tend to be slower than native cloud backup solutions because they weren't designed for that use case. Finally, most appliance backup offerings support only full-server image backup, not single-file restore, which can make for an overly complex restore process in certain instances.

While there are upsides to appliance-based backup, there are real cost, management and performance issues that often get overlooked in the hype. Companies need to take a step back and examine both the pros and the cons in order to make the optimal backup match.

About the Author

Chris Schin is vice president of products for Zetta, developers of enterprise-grade cloud backup and recovery solutions. Prior to Zetta, he worked at Symantec, Blue Titan Software, and Intersperse Software, and also launched and ran a consulting practice that helped startups market research, strategy creation, TCO and competitive analyses.

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