Continuum: Backup And Disaster Recovery (BDR) Solution Product Review

When we launched the first BDR product review in the March 2013 issue of Business Solutions magazine, we had no idea that it would become one of the most downloaded articles of the year. This is a testament to the fact that backup and recovery is a core service all customers need, regardless of the size of their business or their vertical market. As a follow-up to the original test (which included Asigra, Axcient, CharTec, Datto, KineticD, StorageCraft, and Unitrends), Eric Brown, CEO of Remote Technologies Management (RTM), recently tested the following three vendors: Acronis, Barracuda, and Continuum. (Note: STORServer was not able to have its product tested within our deadline, but the basic spec sheet details are included in the matrix).

To ensure consistency between the previous test and this one, we applied the same test procedures. Brown and I interviewed each vendor prior to the test, and he was added as a new reseller partner, so he could experience each vendor’s onboarding process. Next, over a two-week period he conducted tests on each BDR appliance, which included an image-based backup, a local virtualization recovery test, and a bare metal restore. Below are highlights of our interviews and Brown’s testing of the Acronis product.

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Local Virtualization Backup And Recovery Considerations

The first test Brown performed was a local, image-based backup of a virtual machine (VM), using a Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 running Microsoft Exchange and containing 75 GB of data to each of the BDRs. All three of the products tested support image-based backups of VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V VMs.

Continuum natively stores all local backups as virtual images, using Oracle’s Virtualbox as the hypervisor with the additional ability to export images as VMDKs (virtual machine disks), an open file format, or VHDs (virtual hard drives). The Continuum Vault appliance can connect directly to ESX hosts from VMware as well.

All three of the products backed up the Microsoft Exchange image without any delays or glitches. Brown noticed differences among the products during the restore portion of the test. “The Continuum Vault was the only product that supported the option to restore and run the backup from the backup appliance,” he says.

Simulating A Server Meltdown And Bare Metal Restore

In the field of data recovery and restoration, VARs and MSPs know that having a backup of customers’ data is only half of the equation. How the backup software handles the data recovery is equally important. Some backup solutions require multiple steps, including re-installing the operating system, drivers, applications, and other data components, which can take the better part of a day for all of the downloads and updates to complete. For channel companies, performing a manual bare metal restore just isn’t feasible, so using a backup solution that supports and automates these steps is essential. Part of Brown’s test included simulating a server failure, which required restoring the server from scratch.

“Each product was able to perform the bare metal restore without any problems,” he says. “Continuum was able to perform a restore to dissimilar hardware. Also, Continuum was able to restore SQL databases and MS Exchange images in the same step as the rest of the image.”

The Cloud Factor

In addition to local backup and recovery considerations, off-site backups to the cloud play an important role in protecting customers from worst-case scenarios such as fires, floods, and other natural disasters. All three of the vendors Brown tested offer their own cloud storage. Continuum BDR users are required to use Continuum’s “SSAE 16, SAS 70, and HIPAA-compliant” cloud data centers for off-site backups.

Attaching a cost to each vendor’s cloud offering is tricky business because of the various ways vendors price and bundle their services. Continuum offers off-site data plans that are similar to cell phone plans in that resellers purchase a license for each server or desktop they wish to back up. The Continuum MSP then chooses the off-site storage plan most appropriate for each machine. Continuum was the only vendor that bundles its backup with a remote monitoring and management (RMM) solution, 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) service, and remote access tools through an exclusive agreement with LogMeIn.

One other noteworthy point is that each vendor supports spinning up VMs in the cloud, allowing end customers to run their businesses in the cloud until their on-site servers can be repaired or replaced. Continuum offers its partners thirty days of cloud virtualization per year at no additional charge. End users can access their servers and data via VPN links (included free) or terminal services. VMs can also be given external IP addresses in the event users need to access machines/email directly. MSPs can access recovery points through a Web portal and perform their own file/folder recoveries, too. Continuum’s 24/7 support also includes assistance with data recovery/failover.

The iOS Factor

Can Continuum handle Apple computers? According to the company, yes. “Yes, via Time Machine.  MSPs create a NAS share on the Vault appliance and then point Time Machine to the share.  If the appliance is configured for off-site storage, the Vault will also transfer the Time Machine backups off-site.”

Mobile Devices

Mobile device backup is not supported by Continuum at this time. That said, Continuum offers a mobile portal and native iOS app that MSPs can use to proactively montior their Vault deployments.

Final BDR Assessment

The following are Brown’s and my final thoughts on the three products included in this round of testing:

The biggest difference with Continuum was that the vendor bundles RMM and 24/7 NOC support with its BDR Vault. While Brown felt this created a price advantage over other similar BDRs (e.g. CharTec, Datto, and StorageCraft), some MSPs might have reservations about working with a NOC support center that’s based outside the U.S. One other area in which Continuum stood out from the other two vendors was that it offered the only appliance that could start a VM on the backup appliance, which would give a VAR/MSP extra time to repair the customer’s primary server. “Granted, the performance of the backup appliance is not the same as most primary servers, but it’s much better than having no access to the data,” says Brown. “What’s also nice about the Continuum appliance is that even while it’s operating as the main server, it continues to run backups, so that when the main server is recovered, the client doesn’t experience any data loss during the transition from the Continuum appliance back to the main server.”

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