Magazine Article | November 19, 2013

Product Review: Backup And Disaster Recovery (BDR) Solutions, Part 2

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By Jay McCall

Testing By Eric Brown, CEO, Remote Technology Management

A managed services provider (MSP) evaluates three BDR solutions and shares the pros and cons of each.

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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 the right).

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.

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. Acronis also includes virtualized platform support for Citrix XenServer, RHEV (Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization), KVM (kernel-based virtual machine), Parallels Bare Metal, and Oracle Virtualbox.

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. “Barracuda is not able to boot a physical server on the local Barracuda backup appliance; the backup must be restored to another location. Because Acronis is software-based, the VAR/MSP would have to copy and run the VM on a different computer, which adds some extra time.”

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. “Differences came into play when Barracuda only supported a bare metal restore to the primary server; both Acronis and Continuum were able to perform a restore to dissimilar hardware. Also, Barracuda requires that SQL databases and MS Exchange images be recovered as separate steps from the rest of the image, whereas the other two solutions performed the restore in one step.”

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. While Continuum BDR users are required to use Continuum’s “SSAE 16, SAS 70, and HIPAA-compliant” cloud data centers for off-site backups, Acronis and Barracuda offer partners the flex- ibility to use their own cloud data centers. Barracuda even offers the additional flexibility of allowing end customers with multiple locations to use their remote facilities to host their backups.

Attaching a cost to each vendor’s cloud offering is tricky business because of the various ways vendors price and bundle their services. Barracuda, for example, offers plans starting at $50 per month for 200 GB of data. It also offers unlimited data storage plans with various price points that depend on which Barracuda appliance the reseller uses. Continuum, on the other hand, 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) tool (LogMeIn) and 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) service. With Acronis, MSPs receive per-month subscription-based pricing (rather than perpetual licensing), and separate license fees are required for physical machine and virtual hosts (which allows unlimited VMs).

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. With Acronis Backup & Recovery for vCloud, a tenant can use a Web console to restore an image to a vCloud VM and run it in the cloud. Acronis also allows customers to recover data over the Web or via Large Scale Recovery (shipping a hard drive with the backup) from the Acronis Cloud Storage. For organizations replicating to the Barracuda cloud, administrators are able to download files, folders, and entire servers from the hosted Web interface. Barracuda resellers are also able to restore data that has been replicated to the Barracuda Cloud to, allowing customers to securely restore files for remote users on the road.

Customers replicating VMware backups can spool up their backups from a deduplicated state and access them in the cloud — a service Barracuda calls Cloud LiveBoot. If a disaster occurs, Barracuda will preload an appliance and overnight the appliance to the customer’s location for faster local restores.

Organizations leveraging box-to-box replication between two Barracuda appliances are able to do all of the restores they would normally do from the local appliance. This allows organizations to run VMware images from backups off the Barracuda hardware and restore the backups to the production environment.

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.

Final BDR Assessment

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

The Acronis Backup & Recovery product offered an impressive breadth of functionality, including an easy-to-use setup interface, image- and file-based backups, support for a wide range of virtualization environments, diverse off-site capabilities, a bare metal restore to dissimilar hardware, agent-based and agentless backup options, and Apple desktop/laptop backup capabilities. Some MSPs will find the product lacks in the area of support. Even though Acronis offers support for its product, which includes live chat, there is currently no U.S.-based support.

Barracuda, on the other hand, stood out in the area of support, offering technical support out of San Jose, CA, which Brown found very helpful during his initial setup of the Barracuda backup appliance. Barracuda also offered the most flexibility with regard to off-site backup capabilities, allowing backups to the Barracuda cloud, another cloud of the VAR’s/MSP’s choosing, or even allowing customers with multiple sites to perform backups among their own facilities. Barracuda wasn’t as strong as other vendors in the bare metal restore category. Even though it supports bare metal restores, it requires separate steps for restoring SQL databases and MS Exchange files, plus it does not support restores to dissimilar hardware. The Barracuda product was also unable to spin up a VM on the Barracuda appliance, which means that the VAR/MSP needs to use a separate computer if a customer’s primary server goes down.

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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