Users heal backup pain by switching vendors

Users who have switched to Veritas and CommVault to improve backups discuss the benefits of starting over with a new vendor.

No IT manager wants to switch backup software vendors, but it's happening more and more as backup failures put companies in jeopardy.

The reason for switching could be repeated backup failures. Or it could be that another vendor has new features that fit a company's environment. Sometimes another vendor just offers a better financial deal.

But no matter how you slice it, switching software vendors is an operational challenge.

"You don't even evaluate alternatives unless the pain level is high," said Jim Bollinger, systems and network manager at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.

Bollinger recently reached his pain threshold and switched out Computer Associates Inc.'s ArcServe after three years for Veritas Software Corp.'s Backup Exec.

Washington & Lee has a mixed bag of Netware, Windows and Linux servers. For backup, the school attaches an iSCSI disk array to its backup servers and then copies to Hewlett-Packard Co. and Overland Storage Inc. tape libraries. It backs up 2 terabytes (TB) of data.

The issue with ArcServe was the corruption of its catalogue, which is a database that communicates with backup tapes about what data went where. Bollinger had to restore from old catalogue databases or rebuild from old tapes.

"When catalogue corruption occurred, the server would crash and nobody could log into the network," said Bollinger.

Washington & Lee has been using Backup Exec for two years and recently upgraded to version 10.0. The features Bollinger likes the most are the ability to manage multiple backup servers from one console, the ability to do synthetic full backups and the ability to place remote agents on Linux servers.

As for price, Bollinger would only say that "Backup Exec and ArcServe were comparable in price," but that Backup Exec is more capable.

Bollinger stressed that replacing backup software is still a burden and involves a lot of planning.

"You have to unload agent software for all your servers and install new ones. You have to retrain yourself and your staff, all the while keeping your data center functioning," he said.

Newer features the deciding factor

Another user, Marketing Architects, a Minneapolis-based radio advertising agency, switched from Backup Exec to CommVault System Inc.'s Galaxy software last year because of enhanced features that Veritas did not offer.

The company was so attracted to Galaxy that it purchased the software after testing it, despite having just spent $18,000 to renew the license and upgrade Backup Exec.

Marketing Architects currently has 30 servers and stores 3 TB of data. Because of rapid data growth, the company recently switched from a DAS architecture to a SAN/NAS environment using an EMC Clariion and Celerra.

For Daniel Gronseth, Chief Technology Officer at Marketing Architects, Galaxy's ability to do single message instant restores and snapshots were the real draw. The version of Backup Exec Marketing Architects was using, 8.6, did neither snapshots nor single message instant restores.

"Galaxy's single message instant restoration allows you to restore one e-mail quickly, whereas Backup Exec would have to restore the whole e-mail database to get the same e-mail," said Gronseth.

Other Galaxy features attractive to Marketing Architects were synthetic full backups and auxiliary copies that allowed them to do backups of backups. "We could always keep full backups on site for fast restores and ship the exact full backups off site," said Gronseth.

In the year since implementing Galaxy, Gronseth has only called CommVault for support once. In the one year that the company was using Backup Exec, he called Veritas six times, "often at 1 a.m. because backups had failed," said Gronseth.

One piece of advice Gronseth gave is to keep a copy of data backed up by your old software because your new vendor probably won't be able to read it.

Switch to a better deal?

Switching backup software vendors will always be an operational challenge, said Peter Gerr, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass., but it's becoming easier financially as vendors offer better bundles and even waive maintenance fees.

"Vendors know when a customer of a competitor is about to renew its maintenance fees and they come in with a better offer," he said.

Gerr added that many users are so comfortable with their software that they don't switch, even when they should. "But I think there are many who feel 'nickel and dimed' with fees, so reducing maintenance can be very appealing."

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