Data Protection Appliances are better than PBBAs (video)

Too many folks categorize every blinky-light box that can be part of a data protection solution as a "Purpose Built Backup Appliance" or PBBA. But the market isn't just a bunch of apples with an orange or two mixed in, data protection appliances (DPAs) can be apples, oranges, bananas, or cherries -- but if you lump them all together, all you have is a fruit salad.

So, let's reset the term to understand the market:

  • "Backup" alone isn't enough -- so call the all-encompassing category what it should be delivering = "Data Protection"
  • And there isn't just one kind of appliance, there are at least four:
    • (real) Backup Appliances
    • Storage / Deduplication Appliances
    • Cloud-Gateway Appliances
    • Failover Appliances

Check out this video to see how I look at Data Protection Appliances or skip to the Video Transcript:

As always, thanks for watching.

Video Transcript

Data protection appliances are better than purpose-built backup appliances

Most folks have heard the phrase purpose-built backup appliance or PBBA. PBBA is something of an industry standardized term to talk about those appliances that are built for backups … but the problem is that way too many folks throw any kind of blinky-light box that can help with backups into the PBBA category – and that doesn’t help customers, partners, vendors, or industry influencers.

The way some people look at PBBAs in one bucket isn’t just a bunch of apples and an orange or two – its apples, oranges, bananas, and cherries … a whole fruit salad. And then some folks want to compare apples to oranges! Really ???

In general, the PBBA term is a little goofy because when one buys an IT appliance, one expects that appliance to do a job. So, to talk about a “backup appliance,” one would expect it to DO backups … but many don’t. Many are deduplication targets, which are awesome – but they don’t DO backups, they make backups better.

So let’s clean it up a bit … from my perspective, there are at least four kinds of data protection appliances (DPAs):

(Real) Backup appliances are “turnkey” solution appliances that include the backup software engine, as well as some amount of storage capacity. The solution is completely contained within the device itself.

Storage/deduplication appliances do not include the backup software engine, but they do offer capacity, typically with compression or deduplication capabilities. A storage appliance must be paired with backup or archive software, or written to directly from a production workload via some other data mover technology. Storage/deduplication appliances are all about adding efficiency to whatever other data protection solution that you are using.

Gateway appliances provide "local access" to remote/cloud storage, but again do not include the backup software nor the complete amount of storage being presented. It may include some amount of short-term cache for buffering or recent points-in-time restores. I like gateways, because they make “cloud” transparently part of the solution anywhere where disk solutions can play. The trick there is performance, which means that good gateways will need some kind of magic pixie fairy dust to ensure that the WAN doesn’t get in the way.

Failover appliances include not only a data protection management engine and copies of the production data, but also a hypervisor or other means to actually resume business operations by running VMs or services within the appliance itself. Sometimes the failover is within the box. Other times, it fails over across the cloud. But that blurs the lines a bit.

And there are probably other categories coming on the horizon or something that I missed. Heck, there are already a few offerings where where the lines get blurry – particularly to how cloud extensions can add significant additional functionality to almost any of these local devices. Each of those DPA categories has different recovery scenarios and metrics (RTOs/RPOs/TCO/ROI). Some will offer more flexibility when only the cloud copy survives, while others require a local appliance to be brought online first – and that can have agility considerations, and also security considerations … meaning that the cloud copy is unusable without the proper appliance head connected to it.

In fact, another way to look at this categorization of appliances is to note that some of these solutions may (or may not) be cloud-extensible, whereas others are truly cloud-native solutions. Meanwhile, from a broader perspective, some devices are meant as turnkey-solutions for providing business and recovery agility, while others are meant to radically improve the efficiency of what you are already doing today. All of which are good goals and have relevance in today’s IT environment.

So, what should you take away from this?

  1. What are you trying to solve for … and how much of your existing data protection strategy are you willing to encapsulate in an appliance? That will at least point you to a category of data protection appliances to consider.
  2. Each of those DPA types have some great and unique capabilities that are worth considering. One does not usurp another – and frankly, between them, you likely have the building blocks for whatever modern data protection solution that you are looking for … or at least whatever physical elements that you need.
  3. Speaking of “physical” … appliances can be physical or virtual. It's much more about ease of deployment and integration than it is about adding another box with blinky lights. Sure, if you add a virtual appliance to a host, there will need to be adequate compute and storage to accommodate it – but that is an engineering consideration.

If you don’t consider those tips, if you just keep calling every blinky-light box that could be used for data protection a “PBBA,” then don’t be surprised if you find yourself comparing apples and oranges to bananas and cherries – without a clear-cut winner from a technical perspective, or even from an ROI/TCO perspective. In the meantime, check out ESG’s website and portal for more information on my coverage of the broader data protection appliance market … including some highlights on a few of those appliances and their solution categories.

Topics: Data Protection