NetApp banks on VTL, buys Alacritus

By Heidi Biggar

Network Appliance this month is expected to finalize its acquisition of virtual tape library (VTL) vendor Alacritus Software in an all-cash transaction valued at about $11 million, a move NetApp officials say should help the company further expand its secondary, or backup, storage business.

“About two years ago, we saw that we had an opportunity with the NearStore product line to take a…share of the backup market,” says Amit Pandey, VP and general manager of Network Appliance’s NearStore business unit. “VTL helps us get into a customer base that might otherwise be reluctant to get into disk-based backup.”

According to Pandey, Network Appliance has been moving in the direction of VTL for the past couple of years. What began as a NetApp-centric strategy centered on its NearStore hardware and SnapVault and SnapMirror software has evolved to include support for both non-NetApp hardware and software, according to Pandey.

SnapVault, for example, is now integrated with backup applications from CommVault, SyncSort, and Veritas and can be used as a backup target for a variety of Windows and Unix servers. Having a VTL product opens up even more possibilities for NetApp in the disk-based backup market.

“The acquisition can be viewed from the perspective of how it expands the reach of NetApp beyond NDMP,” explains Jeff Wells, vice president of research operations at Diogenes Analytical Laboratories, a research and consulting firm in Erie, CO. “NDMP allows the backup of any NAS device that supports NDMP, but it stops short at NAS. [Alacritus’] Securitus allows NetApp to sit side-by-side with any storage array as a backup target, not just NDMP-enabled NAS.”

Disk support aside, Wells says that there are also some clear benefits of backing up to a NAS VTL configuration (i.e., VTL software running on top of or front-ending a NAS filer) versus a pure NAS implementation. In particular, he says there are potential issues with backup application support, performance, and tape creation (for disaster-recovery purposes) with a straight NAS-based disk backup approach.

Explains Wells: “First, not all backup software supports backing up to a file on a file system, although most popular packages do. Second, some argue that backing up to a file system is slower due to the overhead [on the backup server, not the filer]. And third-and potentially the biggest reason-to create a tape for disaster-recovery purposes, the backup server has to do twice the I/O. It either has to create a clone of the backup filer or re-run the entire backup all over again, which can be a big problem for users that are maxing out their backup windows.”

User surveys repeatedly show growing interest in disk-based backup as an alternative to traditional tape backup as a way to improve backup performance and lower backup-related costs (see “Survey shows users replacing tape,” p. 10).

Of the various disk-based backup options, VTL appears to be the early favorite among users not only because of its potential performance benefits, but also because of its non-disruptive nature; users don’t have to re-architect their backup environments to realize the benefits of disk, and they are able to maintain the “look, feel, and familiarity” of their tape environments.

“NetApp has been very successful at positioning and selling the value of implementing its SATA-based nearline storage [e.g., NearStore] with basic data-protection processes such as backup and recovery,” says Peter Gerr, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) consulting firm, “but implementing a SATA disk array as a target often requires users to reconfigure their backup software to back up disk volumes instead of tape volumes.”

VTL functionality increases the value of nearline disk and can be implemented with minimal disruption to the backup software or the backup/recovery process because it emulates familiar tape devices,” says ESG’s Gerr.

In addition to Alacritus’ Securitus, Network Appliance’s NearStore disk systems are also certified for use with VTL software from FalconStor Software. The Alacritus acquisition is not expected to affect NetApp’s existing relationship with FalconStor.

Plans on how to brand the Alacritus software (as a Network Appliance or as an Alacritus brand) had not been determined at press time.

In addition, Network Appliance is working on ways to integrate Alacritus’ Chronospan continuous data protection (CDP) software into the NetApp product family. “It needs further development, but we will be doing something with it,” says NetApp’s Pandey.

Also, for now, the Securitus VTL option will not be included in Network Appliance’s recently inked OEM deal with IBM (see “IBM, NetApp team up to fight EMC,” p. 10).

Other VTL vendors include ADIC, Diligent, EMC, IBM, Neartek, Overland, Quantum, Sepaton, and StorageTek.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2005