The SQL Server Worldwide User’s Group recently awarded five out of a possible five stars to Sonasoft for its data-protection console for SQL Server databases. The Sonasoft appliance, called SonaSafe, was introduced in January for SQL Server; the company released a version for Exchange this month and will support Microsoft flat files early next year.

What may separate Sonasoft’s appliance from the growing list of competing disk-based backup-and-recovery products is a focus on the application. “It’s a backup-and-recovery product that, similar to other products, uses disk as the secondary storage media, but unlike some other products it’s application-specific,” says Jacob Farmer, chief technology officer at Cambridge Computer, which resells the Sonasoft appliance.

Farmer says that while the tendency among users may be to throw inexpensive disk at SQL Server backup problems, doing so isn’t necessarily a panacea. In fact, he urges users to be cautious about implementing disk-based backup products that rely on traditional backup software rather than software that has been specifically scripted for the recovery of specific applications.

“You can get some compelling results by adding disk to your conventional tape backup system,” explains Farmer, “but to really capitalize on the speed and random access of disk, you need new software.”

The Sonasoft appliance combines proprietary software with off-the-shelf hardware in a six-drive 2U rack-mount configuration and plugs into an Ethernet network (see diagram). A single appliance can be used to back up any number of SQL Servers; compression software is used to reduce the actual amount of data that is stored on the appliance by as much as 85%.

Agents installed on SQL Servers communicate with the appliance. A recovery catalog database contains all information about the various full, incremental, and transactional backups performed. The database also keeps track of files that have been moved off the appliance to tape for archival.

“The recovery catalog database is the appliance’s central nervous system,” says Dr. Vas Srinivasan, senior director of marketing at Sonasoft, “so even if you back up the appliance to tape, information pertaining to that backup is stored in a catalog in the appliance’s database.” Users can set the appliance so that it archives data off to tape after certain lengths of time.

Users interact with the appliance through a central backup-and-restore console, which among other things features a backup log, a restore log, standby task history, and disaster-recovery plan.

According to Srinivasan, other product differentiators include the appliance’s standby functionality, which allows users to create multiple local or remote standby servers for disaster-recovery purposes; its ability to recover files from the point of failure or from any point in time; and its automation features.

Steven Wynkoop, who reviewed the Sonasoft appliance for the SQL Server user group, says that in addition to taking a lot of guesswork out of creating a backup-and-recovery plan for SQL Servers, Sonasoft has made it a lot easier to manage servers with the database administrators you have. In fact, he says you can actually “increase the number of servers you are managing, while at the same time increasing the level of service you can provide for those servers.”

Three Sonasoft models—the DC-240, DC-540, and DC-1200—are available for 240GB to 1.2TB of storage capacity. The 540GB DC-540 appliance is priced at $21,950 and includes five licenses as well as the standby option.

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