Sunday, December 5, 2010

Backup Provider Showdown

My research into a backup solution led me to two final contestants: i365 (formerly Evault) and Venyu (formerly Amerivault). I had worked with both products in my previous life as a consultant so I knew a bit about the basics of the offerings going in. I had decided vaulting was the way to go because I absolutely, positively had no interest in dealing with tape, and it seemed that it was financially a better decision as well. Tape has a pretty hefty upfront cost: the licensing and support agreements for the software, the purchasing of a tape drive and tapes, and the recurring hardware warranty for the drive and replacing tapes as they get old. In addition tape backups have a much higher rate of failure than vaulting. My old company did a report on the backup success of our clients using tape, and man was it ugly! Lastly, we have two sites and we were definitely not going to be putting this solution in place in both, so we were still going to be copying content from one location to another, which was still a layer of complexity I wanted to avoid.

I got it down to these two vendors. I had researched as many cheap or free solutions as I could find, but in all honesty nothing fit the bill for an infrastructure like ours. If we had straight Linux across the board I think we would have been able to go with Amanda or something like that, although not without a lot of time spent by me figuring it out since I'm new to Ubuntu specifically and have never used Amanda before. However, we have an SBS 2003 box that needs to be backed up and doing anything with Exchange outside of basic flat file backups with open source.

Both had similar pricing (Venyu was $1.7 per compressed GB, i365 was $1 per uncompressed GB), the product was essentially the same since Venyu is apparently a reseller of i365's software, and the general offering was the same with a couple of minor differences.

I requested a trial with Venyu and worked with them for ~2-3 weeks getting a vault sent to us for the initial seed, installing the agents and setting up the Windows central control software and the web console. Everything was pretty straightforward and worked with the exception of the web console and the Linux agents. For whatever reason, some of the Linux boxes would not talk to the web console, and this was an important feature for us. The web console allows you to check the backups jobs, change them, and do restores from anywhere using the website. You can also technically do all of your backups through this web console so you don't have to install a Windows box somewhere just to do backups, which is what we had to do for the colo. One Linux box was running Fedora and that worked fine, but the Ubuntu boxes did not. Upon trying to get this to work and failing, I was informed that Ubuntu was not officially supported as a distro. This wasn't the first time I'd told them that ran Ubuntu, but it was the first time that I was hearing that they only supported certain distros of Linux. They sent me to the release notes for the Linux agent for reference. Thanks. That may have been more helpful when we were initially discussing our environment.

The real problem though was that while they saw the agents were not registering online, they also seemed unconcerned about it. As long as it was checking in to the Windows-based console it was not a big deal. This despite the fact that I had told the sales rep, who was my liaison, very clearly that the web component was a big factor for us. The tech with whom I was working was very laissez faire about the whole thing. He saw the agents weren't working and was like, "Yeah, we'll come back to that." He never did. It was interesting because in general I enjoy being casual with vendors and other folks with whom I work, but his demeanor often left me feeling like he was unprepared and rushing through things. Lots of," Why isn't this working? Oh, I forgot to do x" and that sort of thing. I didn't need to hear that kind of running commentary because, although I know it happens, it's not a confidence-builder to hear it happening. It also happened that this guy admitted during our first conversation that he wasn't a Linux guy and wouldn't be able to do much troubleshooting if something went wrong, and would need to send it off to someone else. I was wondering why this company would bother to assign us to a non-Linux guy when our environment is 90% Linux?

I tried i365 out as well after this all came to pass, and they were better in every way on the customer service side. Their trial was not as comprehensive. In short they didn't want to arrange a free complete run-through of our environment, which is what Venyu did. I wound up getting the go-ahead to test a web agent, but in all honesty it was enough. I installed the agent on one of our Ubuntu boxes that had not worked with Venyu, and it showed up online instantly. No problems there. I was unable to configure the agents though because they wouldn't communicate. I worked with one of their tech support people for less than 10 minutes and they said it's likely the firewall. Open ports blah and blah to our servers, which are blah and blah, and let's test it. Did that, and it worked. Just like that. That pretty much sold me on i365 right then and there.

My breakdown of the experience is as follows:


The good

  • good pricing
  • easy-to-use interface
  • generous trial policy 
  • flexible vaulting (size increases with demand, which could be seen as bad as it's easy to go over)
The bad
  • communication 
  • online agents for Linux don't work
  • preparation (lack of knowledge from my technical contact)
  • lack of drive/investment

The good
  • great communication
  • linux agents work
  • strong technical support with good follow-through
  • easy-to-use product
The bad
  • cost is higher
  • vaulting size is fixed and based on native size (even though it's compressed on their end)

In the end i365 is who will get our business. 

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