Data Domain Gets Compressed

Claims disk-backup system packs in data with 20:1 ratio. Can it catch the latest wave?

June 9, 2003

4 Min Read
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Startup Data Domain, stepping out of stealth this week, is launching a disk-based backup system it claims can pack copies of enteprise data with a compression ratio of up to 20-to-1.

The company says its DD200 Recovery Appliance and accompanying Restore Protection Manager (RPM) software complement and optimize the entire backup and restore process. The system, which is currently in beta testing and expected to ship in the fall, compresses backup data so that it takes a lot less space on the appliance's internal ATA disks, as well as on the tape it is eventually moved to for archiving. This not only dramatically cuts costs for the user, the company says, but also allows companies to store their data on disk for a longer period of time before having to dump it to tape.

"When the backup software sends data, we take the stream and can quickly figure out what data segments are new," says Data Domain CTO Kai Li. "This helps us improve by an order of magnitude both compression ratio and throughput."

The San Mateo, Calif., startup says its software also does stringent integrity tests of the data at the time it is backed up, enabling companies to discover inaccuracies or compromised data before they need to restore it. "When we write the data to disk, we read it back to make sure it's identical," Li says. "We make sure everything is verified at every step of the way We have designed our technology first for data protection."

Data Domain's RPM software, which only runs on the DD200, breaks down the data stream into variable-length segments that are smaller than the average block. It then stores to disk only the segments that have not been stored before, thus compressing the amount of data to about 20 times less than what would have been stored with traditional tape backup over a "typical" four-month timeframe, Data Domain claims. With just 16 ATA disks, the company says its appliance can hold the equivalent of up to 23.4 Tbytes of recovery data.The startup is hoping to tap the trend toward using inexpensive disk storage for intermediate, near-term backup, a concept that has rapidly gained traction in recent months among vendors and enterprise users alike (see Disk Backup's a Red-Hot Idea and our report, Disk Backup 101).

Enterprise Storage Group Inc. analyst Steve Kenniston says the technology really addresses the pain-points of enterprise backup. "This product is great from an end-user perspective," he says. "And it's really simple and straightforward."

Data Domain, which has 27 employees, also has the advantage of not facing many established players offering exactly the same kind of product, analysts say. Currently, only Avamar Inc. appears to be offering something fairly similar. Avamar's Axion system uses a proprietary technology to eliminate storing multiple copies of redundant data, thereby reducing the overall amount of disk storage required for backup by as much as 90 percent, it says (see Avamar Gets More Dough and Avamar Kicks It to Disk).

As great as the Data Domain technology might be, however, the company is bound to face the typical startup problem of getting companies to trust their valuable data to a newcomer without a lot of cash in its pocket. The company, which received $9.3 million in its first round of funding last October from Greylock and New Enterprise Associates (NEA), says it will be looking for another funding round toward the end of this year (see Data Domain Rakes In $9.3M).

Moreover, Kenniston cautions that Data Domain may have trouble finding any OEM partners, since its aim is basically to reduce the amount of disk or tape the large storage vendors sell. "If I'm EMC, why would I OEM this when it means selling less disk space?"Li, however, says the company received lots of positive feedback from its five beta-customers [ed. note: after all, how could five people be wrong?]. He also says Data Domain's strategy of enhancing, rather than competing with, existing backup software companies should give it leverage.

"We're not making changes to the standard backup software. We're just enabling them to do what they're built to do." Avamar, by contrast, requires customers to install its own data backup software.

The DD200 disk-based recovery appliance works with a variety of backup software, including Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) NetBackup, Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO) Networker, and IBM Tivoli Storage Manager.

The startup also insists that its software can compress backup data an order of magnitude faster than standard software compression, and that, because it uses an object-based storage, it can identify changes below and across blocks.

"They've put a different spin on it... They've gone for integrity first and performance second," says Gartner Inc. analyst Nick Allen. "They're guaranteeing the recovery of data... and their price is pretty compelling."The list price per DD200 unit including the RPM software will be $58,000. That includes $25,300 for a DD200 system, plus $32,700 for a single license for the RPM software, including NFS V3 protocol support. While that price translates to $6.60 per Gbyte of raw storage, the company claims that the compression software brings the price down to $2.45 per Gbyte of usable storage.

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Byte and Switch

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