Dell Enters Backup Appliance Market - InformationWeek

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10/9/2008
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Howard Marks
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Dell Enters Backup Appliance Market

Dell's new DL2000 backup appliances represent the company's first backup appliances aimed at the midmarket, providing those SMBs that view Dell as their primary technology vendor with a turnkey backup-to-disk solution. Dell is bundling a 2U server (that looks a lot like a PowerEdge 2900 to me) with its MD1000 SAS attached SAS/SATA JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) external cabinets and enhanced versions of either Symantec's Backup Exec or CommVault's Simpana backup.

Dell's new DL2000 backup appliances represent the company's first backup appliances aimed at the midmarket, providing those SMBs that view Dell as their primary technology vendor with a turnkey backup-to-disk solution. Dell is bundling a 2U server (that looks a lot like a PowerEdge 2900 to me) with its MD1000 SAS attached SAS/SATA JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) external cabinets and enhanced versions of either Symantec's Backup Exec or CommVault's Simpana backup.The bundle saves a system admin the day or so it would usually take to install an OS and install the backup software. It includes custom extensions to the backup software and wizards to simplify the process of building RAID sets and LUNs (logical disks), so the poor overworked SMB IT guy or consultant can get the system up and running in a couple of hours.

Base systems, which should cost $10,000 to $15,000, include 3 TB of disk and can grow to 180 TB (Raw) or 144 TB (useable) by connecting up to 12 to 15 drive MD1000 cabinets to a pair if PCI-e PERC RAID controllers. Customers can choose between several Backup Exec and Simpana bundles with varying versions and agent assortments of each with features like granular mailbox restores and pseudo CDP from Backup Exec or single instance storage for file backups from Simpana.

Dell's announcement mentioned support for its TL2000 (two drives x 24 slots), TL 4000 (4x48), and ML6000 modular tape library (up to 18x402) but curiously not the RD1000 RDX drive or standalone drives and autoloaders. I'm sure they'll work but I see a lot of SMBs using this kind of appliance for operational backups reserving tape for long-term storage. Since that approach eliminates the effect of tape backup speed on the backup window, they'll probably be satisfied with an autoloader.

Integrated backup appliances like this are nothing new. Back in the NetWare era Intel shipped a server/tape-drive combo with ArcServe or Backup Exec preinstalled; when Microsoft's Data Protection Manager started shipping in 2005, several companies, including HP and Quantum, announced backup-to-disk systems based on that pseudo-CDP solution; and StorServer has been preinstalling and configuring IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager, which is substantially harder to set up and get running than either Backup Exec or Simpana. Dell itself has the DP line of smaller appliances with the newest, and vastly improved, version of Data Protection Manager preinstalled.

In a whirlwind of vendor hyperbole, Dell is pitching the DL2000 as a deduplicating alternative to virtual tape libraries and Data Domain or Quantum's data crunchers. I have to take exception, since the single-instance storage technology in Simpana, while it is a big step up from the way most backup applications just write tape image data to disk, doesn't quite qualify under my definition of data deduplication. For me to slap the data deduplication label on a product it needs to not only eliminate duplicate files, which Simpana does, but also duplicate data within similar files, which it doesn't.

The DL2000 could be successful with SMBs that don't have the IT talent to build their own solution and possibly for branch offices where central IT can ship out an appliance and manage it through the backup console at HQ. Unless Dell offers a significant bundle discount, organizations that have full-time server guys will probably continue to build their backup servers themselves but might add MD1000s.

I'm also concerned about long-term support. Are CommVault and Symantec writing maintenance contracts and providing support directly for the software on these boxes, or will customers have to deal with Dell? How long will it take for Dell to support a new version? I've had this problem with Dell before with a NAS box that Dell wouldn't release WSS 2003 on, leaving us to run Windows 2000 or retire the box from production before its time.

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