Nick Hardiman takes a look at an online backup and recovery system that uses software agents to copy your data directly to a cloud file storage system. Here's how it works.
The company that comes along with a product that meets the lean principles of simpler, faster, better, and cheaper is surely onto a winner. In the world of backup/recovery software, has Zetta figured it out?
The traditional enterprise IT shop, tasked with the job of backing up hundreds of terabytes from all sorts of machines and applications, uses heavyweight backup systems. These come with their own hardware, network, and hefty enterprise price tag. The enterprise backup system has been around for decades. It has grown so much in capability and complexity that it needs its own dedicated team.
In the last few years, cloud storage, higher bandwidth, and more processing power have been assembled into hybrid backup systems that are causing a shift in the landscape.
The mid-level user, tasked with the job of backing up a dozen terabytes from all sorts of machines and applications, benefits from the new cloud backup services. They can avoid personal backup solutions that aren't designed to scale, and avoid the financial hit of buying traditional enterprise backup systems.
What is hybrid backup?
The idea of backing up a computer network to a massive onsite tertiary store, such as a tape library, optical disk library, or disk array has been around for decades. An on-site store is usually combined with an off-site store in case the computer room burns to the ground.
Modern hybrid backup systems follow the same pattern. Agents - client software running on all the computers in the network - copy data to a central on-site location, such as a NAS device. Software running at this central location copies the data off-site to cloud storage.
Zetta and its customers
Zetta is a company that started out offering cloud storage file systems back in 2008. They added backup, security, performance, and plug-in features over the years. The latest iteration - Zetta DataProtect - is a complete cloud backup, restore, and disaster recovery system.
The typical Zetta customer lies in the middle ground between cheap personal applications and expensive enterprise solutions. It could be a law firm, a university department, or a regional office. Backup requirements are in the range of 10 to 50 terabytes. The operating systems are mostly Microsoft Windows, with a heterogenous sprinkling of Linux and Macintosh OSX.
The Zetta DataProtect solution does not include on-site hardware. There is no central file server on the customer's premises. No NAS box, no tape robot, no backup appliance — it's all software. Each endpoint in the network (such as a Windows machine) runs an agent called Zetta Mirror. This agent keeps a local cache and copies files directly to the vast storage of the Zetta cloud.
The system is managed by the customer through a web-based control panel. This gives each individual self-service backup and recovery options.
Systems for backing up and restoring files are often tied to DR (Disaster Recovery). Many organizations plan to implement DR by following these steps.
- rebuild the network,
- collect the offsite data and
- restore it to the machines.
Collecting offsite data used to mean waiting for the tape truck to arrive. Since cloud services are available from anywhere, using any device, an organization now has many more options when planning disaster recovery.
The biggest customer headache caused by backup solutions is due to poor performance. The Zetta DataProtect system uses all kinds of tricks to back up a dataset of many terabytes or a million small files within a couple of hours. Files are split into blocks, deduplicated, and compressed. Data transfer is highly parallelized if there is good bandwidth. 80 percent of files in the cloud store are served from RAM or SSD cache.
Merced College were planning to spend $200,000 for a second DC, storage, software, and the whole nine yards. They decided to go for Zetta instead. For a monthly fee they get an unlimited number of clients, an extensible backup system, 24x7 engineer support, and many terabytes of backups.
Zetta created an extensible plug-in architecture to help with requests to back up applications, as well as the usual Windows file copying. Plug-ins back up common applications, including SQL Server, Exchange, and VMware. Every business has its own unique set of obscure applications, so their coders can write their own application backup scripts, hook them up using the plug-in API, and Zetta will copy to the cloud.
There's no doubt Zetta DataProtect is a clever system created by clever people, but it's not the only cloud backup system out there. The innovation of Zetta and other cloud backup companies enable another step towards the democratization of technology. A new set of options has appeared, putting enterprise-grade backup, restore and recovery options within reach of everyone.