In the first post in this series, I admitted our worst-kept secret – that Unitrends has been working for almost a year on creating a next-generation, software-only, backup product called Unitrends Enterprise Backup. It will support both physical and virtual environments and will work with our public multi-tenant cloud disaster recovery service (Vault2Cloud). It will support our single pane of glass web 2.0-based monitoring and management of multiple systems – and you can mix and match our physical appliances with our software. In terms of licensing, it will range from a “Free Edition” free version to a per-socket, per-server, and per-application license to a protected capacity license. In a few weeks, we’ll be announcing detailed pricing and licensing information.
What I promised was that we’d spend time talking about what we did to make this product happen.
This is the same software that runs on our all-in-one appliances (or at least, 99% the same.) So what took a year of development? A few things – one of which was really around a concept we call “scale-up, scale-down.” Everyone knows that backup vendors today claim “scale-up” (as you add more resources such as processor, memory, and storage the software can scale up) and a few claim “scale-out” (you can add more systems and the software can take advantage of that.) So what’s “scale-up, scale-down?”
From a user perspective, backup software that scales up and scales down means that different types of users can use the software seamlessly. This is much tougher than it sounds – having a novice part-time IT person using software is very different than having an expert virtualization, storage, server, etc. administrator use software. It’s hard to support both with a single user interface without really irritating either one of these types of users – or worse, both of these users.
The simplest way to “simplify” something is in the end, making the user work harder by having fewer choices. Some niche products (also called point solutions) have that automatically – they only support VMware and Hyper-V but not physical servers, for example. Others support only Windows. The advantage to being a niche product is that the lack of features cause the implicit requirement that other backup products be used as well – and thus the point solution can be made simpler. Of course, from the user perspective, having to use multiple point solutions with multiple user interfaces is yet another “tax” on the user – a shift in expense from the backup vendor to the customer. What the customer wants is simplicity and ease of use from the perspective of the entire problem of data protection.
We have one competitor who is going through a tough time right now because they took this route – they had more of an enterprise product and eliminated not only operating systems support but also eliminated functionality such as allowing multiple backups on a single schedule. Their existing user base isn’t happy about it – and that’s receiving a lot of negative attention. As tough as I’ve been on them, my heart goes out to them a little bit because I understand the trade-offs they felt they had to make in order to make the software easier to use.
We have another competitor who just announced but what they did was to eliminate all automation – they wrapped a pretty nifty little copy routine into their backup software. Again, it’s no doubt a simple interface – but it doesn’t solve the inherent problem of making the user’s life easier in terms of the problem of backup (copy yes, backup no.)
Another way to do this is to hide features behind a plethora of “wizards.” Novice users like this approach a lot because it really simplifies things. Unfortunately, this tends to make experienced users unhappy – they want what’s called “click minimization”. In short, they want to get more results with less effort. Hard to argue with that.
We’ve spent the better part of a year attempting to solve these problems. What we’ve come up with is what we call a “scale-up, scale-down” user interface that dynamically adjust to the user environment. Perhaps more important is what we did NOT do – we did not create a niche product and we did not eliminate major functionality.
A small example. When we look at most backup products, we find that typically they can be divided into two categories: those which use a one server, one backup schedule policy – and those that allow multiple servers to be on a single backup schedule. The simplest thing to do is one server, one backup schedule policy and then to go further and have only one type of backup strategy (e.g., incremental forever).
The trouble is that people who want to use enterprise-class software want more than that. They want the ability to protect hundreds of virtual and physical servers on the same schedule – and they want the ability to quickly make changes in scheduling, selection lists of what you do and don’t backup, and backup options, and the like across those hundreds of servers with a single change. Finally, they want the ability to have multiple backup strategies such as full/full, full/differential, full/incremental, incremental/forever – and to use bare metal policies within those backup strategies as well.
So rather than eliminate this type of functionality, what we did was embrace an approach in which single-server, single-schedule backup could be performed WITHOUT a wizard and on a single screen – while also supporting drag and drop enterprise-level backup scheduling. If you select a single computer to protect, you get the one-screen backup – if you select an entire set of computers to protect, you get the enterprise-level drag and drop screens.
So what does this mean? Here’s the scale-up version of the scheduler (warning: beta software, subject to change.):
Here’s the scale-down version:
The first is the drag and drop enterprise level user interface for scheduling backup; the second is the single server user interface for scheduling backup. On the first screen, an expert user can do a lot more, in a lot less time, when managing hundreds or even thousands of servers. On the second screen, you can in a single page (no wizard) schedule multiple types of backup for a single server. The left hand navigation pane is what allows you to choose – choose a system and you’ll get the first screen, choose a specific computer or resource to be protected and you get the second screen.
Above all, the user is given flexbility and choice. That’s what we mean in part by scale-up, scale-down.