Dell EMC's portfolio of data protection offerings has grown over the past 30 years. Now, with a greater focus on the public cloud, how can it continue to service existing customers and bring them into a modern backup environment?
The word legacy implies both positive and negative aspects of longevity and engagement in a market. In the IT sense, legacy is generally seen as negative, but that doesn't have to be the case. The Dell EMC portfolio of data protection products stretches back to 1988 with Legato NetWorker, which EMC Corp. acquired in 2003.
In typical EMC fashion, the company acquired a range of portfolio brands, including Data Domain Corp. in 2009. This move was designed to integrate deduplicating disk-based backup storage, as EMC had already acquired deduplication company Avamar and RecoverPoint vendor Kashya in 2006. EMC bought Mozy in 2007 and Dell later sold it in 2018 to Carbonite. Dantz Development Corp.'s Retrospect, which EMC purchased in 2004, was later sold and is now part of the StorCentric family.
Dell, which acquired EMC in 2016, previously had its own data protection products. It acquired both AppAssure and Quest Software in 2012. Also in 2016, Dell sold Quest to private equity firm Francisco Partners and hedge fund manager Elliott Management. AppAssure became Quest Rapid Recovery.
Backup challenges and opportunities
Having a long heritage in data protection is both a benefit and a disadvantage. Unlike primary storage, backup data has an extremely long life, as companies generally also use it as a low-cost archive. Every backup vendor uses a unique process to store data on backup media that now includes tape, disk and the public cloud. This information is proprietary and is generally integrated into the data format itself. This design makes it almost impossible for organizations to move from one backup vendor to another and take existing backups with them.
Proprietary backup products create lock-in, which may seem beneficial for the backup vendor. However, once a vendor establishes a large customer base, it must create a process to support all of the legacy data formats and software still in use.
There are two distinct scenarios for how primary data offerings transition between versions. First, at the infrastructure layer, moving between storage appliances is a well-understood process, even between vendors. Standards exist to ensure device connectivity, such as Fibre Channel or iSCSI, is consistent between appliances. Second, the migration process for application data in structured platforms such as databases typically involves an export, transform, load or simply dump and restore process.
Backup data is far more challenging, as any transition relies on the vendor offering options to move from one media type to another or to upgrade legacy data and metadata into a new format.
The evolving portfolio of Dell data protection products
In 2013, EMC packaged its data protection products under the Data Protection Suite licensing banner, which included the NetWorker, Avamar and Data Domain brands, with additional tools such as Data Protection Advisor. This was the start of a process to merge or harmonize the existing backup products into one platform.
By 2017, Dell Technologies was still using the Data Protection Suite brand, with separate editions for Enterprise, Backup, Applications, VMware and Archive. Unfortunately, it isn't clear exactly which products are running under the covers.
At the end of April 2019, Dell Technologies announced an all-new data protection product under the PowerProtect brand. The initial marketing described this as a platform that consisted of both software and appliance or hardware offerings. The PowerProtect X400 appliance announced with the launch of the PowerProtect brand has since been replaced by PowerProtect DP and separate Data Domain appliances under the brand name PowerProtect DD, which, once again, separates out Data Domain deduplicating functionality.
Blending old and new data protection technology
While it isn't easy to fully understand the rebranding and naming transitions that have taken place over time, it's apparent Dell EMC is working on an evolving strategy that may not be entirely clear.
PowerProtect Data Manager appears to be the new strategic product for data protection going forward. However, Avamar, NetWorker and RecoverPoint can also be found on the Dell website, possibly because PowerProtect Data Manager doesn't yet have a comprehensive set of features and supported platforms. All of the Dell data protection products appear to be actively developed with frequent updates. Both NetWorker and Avamar are available in AWS and Microsoft Azure as cloud and virtual editions, while PowerProtect DD and PowerProtect Data Manager are also available as virtual editions in Azure.
All of the cloud-based offerings are sold as BYOL -- otherwise known as bring your own license. Organizations must have an existing license or acquire one from Dell Technologies or its partners. There's no option to license the software on demand using time-based or consumption-based charging.
Protecting cloud environments
This leads us to a discussion on how Dell Technologies intends to address the growing use of cloud, in particular, multi-cloud and service-based consumption.
At Dell Technologies World 2020, held virtually for the first time, the company announced a major initiative to move all existing infrastructure offerings to an Opex operating model. Project Apex -- or Capex without the C -- will enable organizations to purchase products through a cloud portal, starting initially with storage and moving to servers and networking.
Dell Technologies also announced during the conference a new backup service offering called Dell Technologies Cloud PowerProtect for Multi-Cloud. This product enables organizations to protect multiple cloud environments on a single physical PowerProtect DD appliance deployed adjacent to the cloud providers, typically in the same colocation data centers as the cloud service providers. Virtual editions of PowerProtect running in each cloud move data to and from the appliance.
Data protection in the long term
What can we conclude from looking at the Dell data protection products portfolio, including recent announcements?
Dell Technologies continues to maintain four main product lines for data protection: PowerProtect Data Manager, Avamar, NetWorker and RecoverPoint. It continues to actively develop all of these platforms; although, Data Manager seems to be the long-term product of choice. There also appears to be an initial transition for Dell to protect cloud-based workloads and provide as-a-service offerings.
But how easy will it be for organizations to transition to these offerings? True service-based delivery doesn't require access to the underlying platform -- either hardware or software -- and should be truly independent of how an organization implements the product.
Moving data protection to a service would benefit Dell Technologies significantly, as it could pave the way to harmonize the four platforms into one. For example, PowerProtect Data Manager becomes the portal that visualizes all of the data protection in place across an enterprise. As an organization moves workloads to new servers, VMs and containers, PowerProtect becomes the backup platform of choice and Dell eventually discontinues older products such as NetWorker once backups expire. If the customer is already using a consumption-based model, then the transition has no direct financial impact.
Many organizations have long-term retention backups that may take years or decades to expire. At some point, Dell Technologies will need to consider building software to move the metadata and data for old backups into a new offering such as Data Manager. But the cost of supporting a small number of legacy customers will eventually exceed the benefits. As with much of Dell Technologies' portfolio, the EMC acquisition has resulted in a long-term transformation program that appears to have many more years to complete.