Data reduction, VTLs, CDP drive NGDP

Technologies such as data reduction, virtual tape libraries (VTLs) and continuous data protection (CDP) are fueling the trend toward next-generation data protection (NGDP).

By Simon Robinson

—The traditional IT data-protection model is being slowly ripped apart as three key emerging software technologies drive a shift to next-generation data protection (NGDP). These technologies are data reduction, virtual tape libraries (VTLs), and continuous data protection (CDP). More than $500 million in venture capital has been poured into start-ups playing in these three markets in recent years, and hungry acquirers are ready to pounce. The NGDP market is ripe for consolidation.

The need to support compliance, legal discovery, and corporate governance is forcing publicly traded companies and those operating in highly regulated industries to change their data-protection practices. Legal counsel often drives these changes. For smaller, highly distributed and non-regulated companies, the fact that they finally have an economically viable alternative to tape is a key motivator for change. For companies of all sizes, rampant data growth is a constant issue.

On the supply side, the recent availability of low-cost hard disk drives is leading disk to replace tape as the medium of choice for data-protection purposes. The speed and reliability of hard drives is quickly relegating tape to the role of an archiving medium. However, users are not yet scrapping their investments in tape, because tape-based backup processes are entrenched and act as a safety net of last resort. Accordingly, successful vendors need to go out of their way to integrate with existing products and processes.

The core driver of the transition to NGDP, from a demand perspective, is the swing in emphasis from backup to recovery. The backup window is rapidly becoming obsolete; in many companies, there is no backup window. Instead, the chief considerations are shifting to recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs).

CDP, VTLs, data reduction
Of the three relatively new technologies, CDP has attracted most of the headlines to date, but many users are still confused about what CDP means and what it does. The market is currently split between high-end and low-end offerings, although some convergence is taking place. The confusion will clear up as products mature and as major storage vendors bring products to market through partnership and acquisition.

Virtual tape is currently leading the way in terms of adoption, and it is proving particularly popular in larger environments, especially those with Fibre Channel SANs, since it can be slotted in as a front-end "cache" with little disruption. But The 451 Group analysts believe VTLs are an intermediate, stepping-stone technology (or as one executive we spoke with put it, "methadone for backup"), since they still use legacy, tape-based backup processes. Because of this, VTL vendors will need to add new functionality to succeed in the longer term.

Data-reduction (broadly, compression and de-duplication) technologies are rapidly emerging as a core enabler of NGDP, since they directly tackle some core inefficiencies of traditional approaches. Adoption of data-reduction technologies is for the most part taking place in mid-sized organizations today, although capabilities are being quickly integrated into a range of tools, including VTLs and remote-office backup. Ultimately, data-reduction technologies will be hardwired into a range of NGDP platforms.

The vendor landscape
Over the next few years, the data-protection supplier landscape will rapidly evolve. Users will increasingly demand integrated platforms, not more stand-alone products. The smart money should be on those vendors that can combine a wide range of integrated capabilities that span the entire data-protection lifecycle with a common, central point of management.

The incumbent vendors poised to benefit the most from this transition to NGDP are the disk storage system vendors, which can extend their core expertise in primary disk storage to secondary storage. Almost all tier one storage array vendors have already added VTL capabilities, and many are adding CDP products and functionality. However, almost all of these vendors are weak on data-reduction technologies, at least for now.

The vendors most threatened by the emergence of NGDP are the existing tape systems vendors. To survive over the longer term, tape vendors should continue to aggressively adopt disk-based technologies. Almost all have adopted VTL technology, but adoption of other NGDP technologies has been much slower.

The emergence of NGDP is both a threat and an opportunity for the traditional backup/restore vendors. Since much of their core expertise is in tape media management, they potentially have much to lose from the shift to disk-based backup. But backup-and-recovery software currently manages the data-protection process, so this puts these vendors in a strong position. However, all backup vendors must continue to improve their support for disk backup to address the threat from VTLs, as well as invest in CDP and data-reduction technologies. There is opportunity for an innovative tier two backup player to disrupt the market.

Other vendors from beyond the traditional storage space are also challenging the data-protection incumbents with an NGDP play. The biggest challenger here is Microsoft.

Simon Robinson is the sector head for storage and systems at The 451 Group, a New York-based technology industry analyst company focused on the business of enterprise IT innovation. For more information, visit www.the451group.com

This article is excerpted from a 150-page report from The 451 Group titled, "Total Recall: Challenges and Opportunities for the Data Protection Industry." The report analyzes the next-generation data protection (NGDP) market; covers technologies such as data reduction, virtual tape libraries (VTLs), and continuous data protection (CDP); and provides in-depth competitive assessments of more than 30 vendors, including Asempra, Atempo, Avamar, BakBone, CommVault, CA, Copan Systems, Data Domain, Diligent Technologies, EMC, ExaGrid, FalconStor Software, FilesX, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, InMage, Kashya, Mendocino Software, Microsoft, Mimosa, Neartek, Network Appliance, Revivio, Rocksoft, Sepaton, Sun, Symantec, TimeSpring, Topio, Unitrends, and XOsoft.

For more information on the technologies and trends covered in this article, see the following articles that have appeared in InfoStor:

"CDP driven by recovery, compliance requirements"
"VTLs offer opportunities and challenges"
"Guidelines for evaluating virtual tape libraries"
"Making sense of CDP"
"The changing face of data protection"
"What's hot? D2D, data reduction, data classification"
"Cost, compatibility are key for VTLs"
"VTLs top users' priority list"
"CDP survey raises questions"

This article was originally published on July 17, 2006