purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA)

What is a purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA)?

A purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA) is a standalone disk-based storage device that is configured and optimized for storing backup data. Such a device can either be a target for data coming from a backup application or have the backup software tightly integrated into the hardware. This is called an integrated backup appliance.

As a storage device primarily for backup data, a PBBA typically includes features such as deduplication, compression, encryption, automated setup and maintenance, and redundant hardware components.

A purpose-built backup appliance runs its own, backup-related workloads without affecting other servers. Because it is a separate device dedicated only to those workloads, it does not take resources away from devices handling active storage or applications. Many PBBAs also easily integrate with existing architecture and feature centralized consoles to simplify the backup process, even when multiple appliances are involved.

Purpose-built backup appliances are used for data protection and disaster recovery (DR). By having a device focused solely on backup, a business is better able to restore and recover after malware attacks, natural disasters and hardware failures.

Configurations and options

Purpose-built backup appliance systems, whether they are singular storage devices or disk arrays, are ready for immediate use. Plug-and-play by design, a PBBA is easy to configure such that it can be added to any existing IT infrastructure.

Typically, a purpose-built backup appliance is set up as a target for backup data, with backup software running on a host server to schedule backups, initiate data transfers and automate restores. In the case of an integrated backup appliance, that software is already built into the backup hardware.

Photo of a Unitrends Gen 8 Recovery Series appliance.
Unitrends Recovery Series appliances can be configured as backup data targets or have backup software already integrated.

A purpose-built backup appliance can also be deployed as a gateway device between backup software and cloud storage. Similar to how virtual tape libraries allow interface between tape and disk, PBBAs used as cloud gateway devices can allow writing to the cloud by presenting cloud storage as if it were a local disk.

While smaller businesses can get by on a single appliance with a suitable storage capacity, midmarket or enterprise-sized organizations might use several dedicated appliances to share resources and workloads. The newer generation of appliances can be clustered into one storage pool instead of serving as a series of standalone repositories.

Key functions

Purpose-built backup appliances are more than just repositories for backup data. They typically have storage and data protection capabilities that increase efficiency and security.

A PBBA device should be able to do the following:

  • Protect data at rest from data breaches.
  • Create backup data copies to or receive copies from remote sites for DR.
  • Remove redundant files in backup data to save space.
  • Remove redundant data within individual files.

Market trends

Initially, purpose-built backup appliances were replacements for tape storage. Many organizations switched to disk-based appliances over the past two decades, and the PBBA market enjoyed strong, fast growth that remained steady.

According to a report by IDC, "Purpose-Built Backup Appliance Market Results and Future Outlook: Year-End 2023," the PBBA market reached $7.09 billion in revenue in 2023. The same report predicted that the PBBA industry will reach $16.56 billion by 2032.

Prominent vendors

EMC, now part of Dell, acquired data deduplication pioneer Data Domain for $2.1 billion in 2009, and the Dell EMC Data Domain platform remains the disk appliance market leader. Backup software leader Veritas moved into the appliance market in 2010 with its NetBackup Appliance, selling mostly to its longtime software customers.

Other backup software vendors have also started selling integrated PBBAs, including Arcserve, Asigra and Commvault. Other purpose-built backup appliance vendors include Acronis, Barracuda, ExaGrid, IBM, Oracle, Quantum and Unitrends. Well-funded startups Cohesity and Rubrik emerged in 2014 with scale-out appliances that go beyond backup and recovery to manage all secondary data.

This was last updated in May 2024

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