Into the Email Backup Maze

Competition in Exchange backup products leads to conflicting claims from suppliers

April 15, 2006

4 Min Read
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Users have more choices than ever when it comes to backup software for Microsoft Exchange, but they're also confronting a series of claims that may be full of sophistry.

Among the companies peddling Exchange backup are Asempra, Atempo, Kashya, Mimosa, Revivio, and Timespring. At the same time, established players like EMC and Symantec offer backup solutions. Companies like Asigra and online service providers like Iron Mountain offer wares for large enterprises and service providers.

While there are differences in the size and scope of these products, many suppliers are making claims that sound alike. Most, for instance, offer some form of continuous data protection (CDP) for recovering email server setups after an outage. Most provide journaling, or the tracking of email records, that's additional to what Microsoft provides with its server software.

The uniformity of these claims is making it tough for suppliers to distinguish themselves, and most point to their product architectures for an added pitch. These arguments focus on whether a product works on the Exchange server or uses software agents to conduct backup and restoral.

First, let's take a look at the claims:

  • Mimosa and Revivio work on servers and appliances separate from the Exchange server itself. They say this keeps the data path clear of the traffic required to backup Exchange and restore the server if need be, and it keeps the Exchange server free of extra software. "People are so paranoid about having anything on the production server that they'll take three to six months of lab testing for a product that has agents," says Mike Ivanov, VP of product marketing at Mimosa.

  • Kashya offers an option that links its backup appliances to Cisco-based SAN switches, allowing CDP and data replication to take place on the SAN, not on any server. Brocade switch links are being added this year. (See Users Push for CDP Shapeshift .) Kashya claims this "intelligent fabric solution" provides large organizations with a more efficient way to set up and manage Exchange backups.

  • Asempra and Symantec require host agent software to reside on the Exchange server itself. Both firms claim this gives them a level of detailed information about Exchange that's just not available through other kinds of solutions. "As long as the application consumes very little, customers say fine," says Marty Ward, VP of marketing at Asempra. One to 5 percent CPU utilization is typical of Asempra solutions, he says.

  • Asigra claims no agent software at all. Indeed, president David Farajun says that by midyear a new CDP version of his company's backup Televaulting product will be available. It is presently in beta testing, he says. The software will restore Exchange to any point in time and will backup and restore simultaneously and offer automatic deletion of retained records at a customer-chosen time, he claims. A key attraction is the lack of agent software: "It's inevitable that any agent consumes more CPU and memory."

All this makes for a lot of confusing information, leading to more questions, such as: Are agents always bad? Is it better to keep backup software on a dedicated server or use the SAN?

From the customer perspective, there are no easy answers. Much depends on how an organization's network is set up, and how granular email records must be.

Some firms in the financial services sector, for instance, may require email records to be as detailed as possible, making host agents from the likes of Asempra or Symantec a worthy option.

"In my opinion, I don't mind agents if they provide more true information," says Jon Holmes, technology manager at the Boston-based accounting firm of Vitale, Caturano & Company. Presently, his firm is using products from EMC Legato and CommVault to backup email. His main goal is to ensure that any agents used on the server work with other agents, such as those from an online services firm like Iron Mountain. "Make sure they play well together," he says

The size of an organization is also a factor. For large companies, the burden of dealing with host-based agents can be an administrative problem. For them, a SAN-based solution like Kashya's, or Asigra's agentless offering, may work well.Bottom line? Despite vendor claims, there is no single solution to the backup problem for Exchange -- and arguments based on architecture don't apply to every case.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Asempra Technologies

  • Asigra Inc.

  • Atempo Inc.

  • CommVault Systems Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • EMC Legato

  • Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM)

  • Kashya Inc.

  • Mimosa Systems Inc.

  • Revivio Inc.

  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)

  • TimeSpring Software Corp.

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