Thursday, June 5, 2008

The new case for open source data protection

The cost advantages are clear, and most of the drawbacks to open source backup software have recently been eliminated.

Open source tools, utilities, and products have been available for many years. While these alternatives tend to offer low acquisition costs, companies have been hesitant to adopt them for several reasons. These reasons include spotty technical support, poor or inconsistent documentation, unreliable release schedules, and lack of a driving commercial focus to address issues and provide sustained development directions.

The open source data-protection market has been no different in the past, but recent developments should make small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) take notice. Evolution in maturity, product functionality, and commercial backing warrant a re-evaluation of open source data-protection alternatives. This article reviews data-protection requirements for SMEs, and evaluates how today's open source data-protection alternatives are able to meet them.

SME data-protection requirements

SMEs generally have limited IT resources. Surveys confirm that in the data-protection arena, these companies look for ease of use, low cost, and then functionality—in that order.

In the ease-of-use area, SMEs need simple yet powerful solutions that can back up and restore data across heterogeneous clients, including Windows, Linux, Unix, and MacOS. Ease-of-use features include centralized management consoles and common tool sets across heterogeneous platforms, as well as "business" functionality, such as simple licensing schemes and responsive technical support. Data protection is a required administrative task, but because it does not really contribute to a company's competitive advantage, IT administrators naturally seek to minimize the amount of effort required to ensure recoverability.

Low cost applies not only to the initial purchase price, but also more importantly to the ongoing maintenance and administrative costs. Simpler, easier-to-use products generally exhibit lower ongoing management costs, so there is good synergy between the "ease-of-use" and "low-cost" requirements. Also, costs associated with maintaining ongoing access to archived data should be taken into account.

In terms of functionality, there are specific requirements that most SMEs look for. Backup-and-restore scheduling and management must cover heterogeneous clients and support multiple storage architectures, including DAS, SAN, and network-attached storage (NAS). Alternative client restores should be a supported option. Support for off-host backups that leverage snapshot technologies such as Windows VSS and others are also becoming requirements. Backup media support should include a variety of both disk and tape devices and provide media management capabilities with features such as media labeling and retention, overwrite protection, and tape duplication. Finally, scalability should be considered as well. Although an environment may start small, SMEs may grow to hundreds of systems that need to be backed up over time.

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