Unitrends released Unitrends Enterprise Backup™ a few weeks ago. Unitrends Enterprise Backup is a virtual appliance that operates on VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V. Unitrends also offers a range of physical appliances, called Recovery-series appliances with names like Recovery-833, Recovery-823, Recovery-712, and so on. The Recovery-series appliances and Unitrends Enterprise Backup are both based today on release 6.3 of our software.

I had an interesting conversation the other day from a friend from a reseller partner of ours who wanted to know the difference between the the physical and virtual backup appliances. I thought it was an interesting question – so I wanted to recount the discussion below.

  1. What’s the difference between your physical backup appliances and your virtual backup appliances? If you throw the physical backup appliance at someone, you could maim or kill them.
  2. No, seriously, what’s the difference? While I was a little tongue in cheek with the first answer, it’s important to note that the concept is important. The physical appliances take desktop or rack space; the virtual appliances reside in the “matrix” – the existing virtual infrastructure. All of the advantages, and drawbacks, of physical versus virtual infrastructure apply.
  3. What do you mean, advantages and drawbacks of virtual versus physical? What are those? A lot has been written on this, but it boils down to that virtualization theoretically enables an administrator to spend less on capital equipment (also called capex – the physical hardware.) Where you have to be careful is to make sure that you don’t spend all that you save on capital equipment on what’s called operational expenditure (also called opex, which is the time and money spent running your IT environment.)
  4. What requires a more skilled administrator – your physical appliance or your virtual appliance? The virtual appliance. A physical appliance may be used in a 100% physical (no VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, etc.) environment. A virtual appliance should rarely if ever be used in that situation. A person using a virtual appliance should understand virtualization.
  5. Well that seems obvious. I hope so.
  6. What’s easier to set up, your physical appliance or a virtual appliance? A physical appliance.
  7. How can you say that when your physical appliance and virtual appliance have the same setup wizard? Because a physical appliance doesn’t share its CPU, memory, storage, and other resources with any other applications. Our physical and virtual appliances are each easy to set up, but you have to think about the load that our software puts on the system (same with any software-based backup application.)
  8. What’s easier to use, your physical appliance or a virtual appliance? A physical appliance.
  9. Why is a physical appliance easier to use? Same reason as why a physical appliance is easier to set up – because any virtualized environment requires you to handle the sharing of the underlying CPU, memory, storage, etc. yourself.
  10. What about pricing? Pricing exists on both.
  11. Ha, ha, ha. Seriously, what about the differences in pricing? The physical backup appliances have a range of pricing based on capability. The virtual backup appliances are priced based on either a resource model (sockets for virtualization, servers for physical servers, etc.) or a protected capacity model (how many terabytes are being protected.)
  12. What is the relationship between the price of the virtual appliance and the price of the physical appliance? There is none. Seriously. Nada de nada.
  13. How does that work?  The characteristics of the physical and the virtual appliance are different.
  14. What’s different about the characteristics?  The primary difference is that the a physical appliance has a defined amount of storage – which means that you need to buy another one when you run out of room for your total backup size and/or your desired amount of retention. With the virtual appliance, there is no limit regarding retention.
  15. But on the virtual appliance, you’re limited by either the maximum total backup size (protected capacity) or by the number of resources (e.g., virtual sockets, physical servers) you want to protect, right? Yes.
  16. So which one is better?  Let me be sure I understand your question. Are you asking which is better or which is cheaper to buy?
  17. Yes. Okay – so now you admit I’m not the only one giving smart-aleck answers, right?
  18. Yeah. But seriously, which is better and cheaper to buy? Which one is better to buy comes down to the buyer and what that buyer thinks is important. The early questions you asked me – a physical appliance is better if a buyer has no virtualization deployed. A virtual appliance is better if a buyer desires flexiblity of hardware deployment above all else. It really comes down to what the buyer cares about the most – which is often called KPCs (Key Purchase Criteria.)
  19. Okay, I get that. Which is cheaper to buy? Well, the virtual appliance starts at $0 (free) for up to 4 VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines.
  20. Which is cheaper to buy in an average configuration?  I don’t know what an average configuration is. There are three licensing models (the No Limits physical appliance model, the resource-based virtual appliance model, and the protected capacity virtual appliance model.) Each has different characteristics depending upon what a buyer wants.
  21. Are there feature differences between the physical backup appliance and the virtual backup appliance? Yes.
  22. What’s the most important feature difference between the two?  The physical server, storage, and the like that you get with the physical backup appliance.
  23. Isn’t that another obvious statement? I’m less sure how obvious this one is.
  24. What do you mean? Here’s the deal. When you buy a physical backup appliance from Unitrends, you’ve got what we sometimes call OTTC (One Throat To Choke.) When something goes wrong, you call Unitrends and we fix it. Heck – you don’t even have to call – we monitor the system and can detect a disk drive going bad before you have any indication – and we call you and ask you if we can send you another disk drive to replace. In the virtual backup appliance, you gain flexibility with respect to your hardware environment – but you are responsible for that hardware.
[It was a long conversation – more questions and answers in the next blog post.]