Although it can be rare, situations or incidents usually arise at some point in an organization which can lead to information loss. This can directly jeopardize an organizations functions, and whether the data losses are small (archives, such as spreadsheets, documents, presentations, etc.) or very large (such as gigabytes or terabytes of data), for example entire databases, program repositories, computer images, multimedia files, etc.), the effects on a corporation can be disastrous.
For these reasons it is vital that companies have mechanisms or systems that allow them to protect from these events. One of the fundamentals is to correctly back up the data and information using applications that store them in secure sites for later retrieval, if necessary.
In addition to the generic protection of information, what should be the characteristics of the best backup software? If we take into account that the typical company organizes and processes an ongoing and increasing volume of information, this should be taken into account when defining action plans and management strategies. Some characteristics of the best backup software are that it should:
All these characteristics contribute to protecting the infrastructure and computer platforms of a company, including operating systems, databases, user data and applications, to avoid potentially catastrophic data losses that may affect a company’s operation.
When it comes to choosing the actual solutions and suppliers, there is a method companies often use to decide the best backup solution for the company’s interests. This process is called ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFP). A well-defined RFP allows companies to prevent wasting money and manpower searching for the right backup solution compared with manual search in the long backup software list, and even the end results are affected by that.
A request for proposal is a specific document that is used to obtain proposals from organizations that are providing services or products – the ones providing backup and recovery solutions, in our case. Frequent examples of RFP are government organizations seeking proposals from various building companies for municipal building construction, or nonprofit companies looking for assistance in grant writing, and so on. Since an RFP typically covers a vast amount of different needs and buying models, there’s no single way of doing it. But there are some general recommendations and a typical process outline. There are also some backup solution-related specifics that we’ll mention, as well.
The entire process of RFP for backup and recovery solutions might be split in four steps:
As mentioned, the general process differs depending on the target market, but there’s a good middle-ground base that you can work with and there’s a few backup-related specifics there, as well. The first step includes team assembly and timeline development.
Team assembly is not exactly mandatory but heavily recommended nevertheless. It helps a lot if the roles are defined to begin with to avoid confusion and blame shifting. Usually there are at least four categories of participants:
After forming the team in question, it’s also important to establish and set in stone a timeline for the entire process, from the date of the first draft being completed down to the time when you’ll stop accepting applications from backup solution vendors.
After you've completely established your timeline, your designated RFP writer can begin with drafting the RFP, including performing all of the necessary research on the backup solution industry in general.
There's a few recommendations that work for nearly all of application types, but we'll be going over parts of the RFP that are suited for backup and recovery companies and solutions. As with almost any document, a proper RFP includes a few chapters that present different questions and are handled differently at the analysis part of the plan.
Any good professional document should include the introduction page that is capable of summarizing the general idea of the document and lays a foundation for the request. This part is about specifying all of the deadlines, company’s requirements when it comes to backup and recovery software and standardized instructions about the information for the entire document.
The company overview page should allow data backup software companies to specify a bit more of the general information about the recipient in question. This part includes questions like the company’s structure, target customer base, the number of enterprise clients currently in the works, general product’s description, the most obvious differences from competitors, and so on.
Going further into the more specific backup-related questions, the page about virtual environments is there to find out a company’s specific VM-related technologies and capabilities, from more common single file restore jobs and the list of supported hypervisors to some features that are much more specific, like data deduplication, data compression, VM snapshots, accessibility of the full restore logs, the possibility to create backups for VMs in different states, etc.
Of course, virtual environments may not be the only ones that may be relevant. For example, the page about container environments is another possible requirement . This part is more about the specifics of a company’s performance when it comes to working with container environments, such as Kubernetes or Docker. Some container-specific questions, like the container backup technologies overview, the amount of backup and recovery process customization that’s available to administrators, capabilities of backing up to and restoring from the cloud environments, may be needed.
As well as specifying everything about virtual and container environments, it is also necessary to learn about a vendor’s database backup and recovery capabilities. This part may include questions such as the list of supported databases and the available backup-specific technologies such as deduplication and compression capabilities, as well as integration with cloud storages and so on.
Admin tools also need investigation. This section aims to identify the exact process of creating a backup or a restore job using a company’s backup tools, as well as other administrational and analytical specifications such as the web interface of the solution, the basic set of admin roles and permissions that are available, the extent of built-in analytic and reporting capabilities, data migration support, and more.
Administration tasks might be performed differently based on the OS of the client. This is why there are separate pages about windows-based and linux-based capabilities of a specific solution. A Windows environment page, for example, should be able to specify the solution’s support of various features like EFS, VSS, bare metal recovery, P2V/V2P options, UEFI system support with secure boot, LDAP and AD capabilities, etc. On the other hand, the Linux environment page should specify the Linux distributions that are supported by the solution, the capabilities of the solution when it comes to partitioning, bare metal recovery, ISO creation, machine cloning, and so on.
Of course, one should not forget about the accessibility of the backup and recovery solution, meaning that a customer should know the specific platforms and endpoints that can be protected with that specific solution, such as mobile client, FreeBSD client, HP-UX client, Solaris client, etc.
Even though some of the general storage media-related questions could’ve been referred to already, it’s usually quite important to go deeply into the storage capabilities of the solution in question. Examples of this could be the range of cloud storage providers that are supported by this specific backup and recovery software, the typical restore costs from cloud, if there is tape backup support, if there is support for any NDMP-powered storage devices, and if there is a capability for faster restoration from NAS devices, and more.
The end of the RFP is better suited for less storage-related questions, like the company’s policy and security when it comes to backup storage. An example of those can be the support for incremental/differential backups, job scheduling capabilities, “incremental forever” backup scheme support, EFS data protection support, data corruption detection capabilities, encryption capabilities, and so on.
And let’s not forget about customer success and licensing models, as well. A Customer success page specifies technicalities like implementation time, the extent of user documentation provided, standard and extended support hours, average wait and response times, if there’s any support representatives for important clients, and more. Licensing model, on the other hand, is all about finding out the monetization form of the data backup software, including the possibility to work under the subscription model, possibility to buy a perpetual license, possibility for an unlimited data licensing, CPU-free licensing, and others.
Once the RFP is done and reviewed by the stakeholders, it’s time to distribute it to the potential suppliers from the potential backup software list. Most of the time it is recommended to use a project web page that keeps all of the necessary information about the company with a downloadable version of your RFP. You can also send out emails to the potential vendors that you’re interested in and link them to the previously discussed project page. Relevant deadlines and contact info should also be properly provided.
Of course, the evaluation process should not just be about hand-picking one of the solutions after manually going through them. To ease the amount of work that is required when choosing, it is recommended to also prepare an evaluation template to make the entire decision process far easier.
The way it works is that there’s an importance score that is designated to each feature, and the RFP reviewers would have to decide if each of the answers to the parts of the RFP is functional, lacking, or nonexistent. Each “functional” means two points, each “lacking” is one point, and every “nonexistent” means zero points for the company.
The summarizing of all of the points from the evaluation results would make it easier for the top stakeholders to make the correct choice in regards to the backup and recovery solution.
Most of the time there’s only two or three suitable solutions left after the evaluation process is complete. At this point it is recommended to meet the representatives of these solutions in person to have a better understanding of each of their advantages and shortcomings.
Of course, this entire process is not quite over after you have chosen – the contract signing is also considered to be a part of the RFP as a process. The Request for Proposal is considered to be completed as soon as the agreement is finalized and the contract is signed.
It’s understandable that not everyone might choose to proceed with the RFP process, since it is quite a complicated process. For the ones that are like that, we’ve prepared our top-10 picks on the topic of the best backup solution:
Rubrik is one of the best backup and recovery vendors on the market, and their specialization is hybrid IT environments. Rubrik Cloud Data Management (RCDM) is their own invention that makes data protection and cloud integration so much easier. Of course, they also have their own data management platform called Polaris. Polaris consists of Polaris GPS – policy management and reporting, and Polaris Radar with ransomware detection and rehabilitation as its main function.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, including Rubrik. Some users have been reporting a few noticeable problems here and there, like VM’s cost, app protection for smaller companies, AD’s lack of granular control and so on.
If we’re talking about virtual environments, then Veeam might be our first pick, with their cutting-edge technologies that allow flexible and fast data recovery when you need it. Their all-in-one solution is capable of both protecting your VMware vSphere/Hyper-V virtual environments and doing basic backup and recovery jobs, as well. The scalability of the solution is quite impressive, too, as well as their number of specific features, like deduplication, instant file-level recovery, and so on. Veeam’s distribution model is not exactly complex, either: there are several versions with different capabilities and variable pricing.
Cohesity is more of a “all-in-one” solution, capable of working with both regular applications as well as VMs, and its scalability is quite impressive, as well, thanks to their own cluster-like structure with nodes. It can keep backups with app-native formats and use NAS protocols to manipulate a variety of data types. Their data restoration speed is good, as well. Unfortunately, the pricing model isn’t that flexible and some specific objectives, like MS Exchange or SharePoint granular recovery, are only covered by separate modules that you’ll have to pay for first.
IBM’s prime goal is to make data protection as simple as it gets, no matter the storage type or data type. There’s also a lot more of the different features, like basic backup and recovery jobs, disaster recovery, bare metal recovery, and so on. The solution itself is based on the agentless virtual environment and it can work well with both VMware and Hyper-V environments. The licensing model is charged per TB spent, no matter the data type, which makes it cheaper for some specific cases with large data processing amounts.
Dell EMC is a comprehensive data protection solution that should work for the majority of the companies of any size. Data protection levels are variable, user-friendly UI allows for easy data protection visualisation, and built-in continuous data protection technology (CDP) allows for fast recovery times for VM environments. There’s also a number of different applications in the package, as well, like the separate backup in the cloud, the support for more storage types, data isolation/data recovery/data analytics automatization, and so on.
Data protection complexity is one of the prime points of Vembu’s solution, and they claim to be able to work with companies of any size. Their feature list is quite extensive, as well, having VMware backup, Windows Image backup, app backup, data replication, and so on. Their configuration time is shorter than many of its competitors, and the overall system responsiveness is praised by many users. However, it can get somewhat too complicated at times, and some users find that pretty annoying.
If you’re looking for a company that has a long history – Veritas may be the one for you, with its several decades of company success. Its backup and recovery capabilities are quite extensive, with information governance, cloud data management, and other brand-new functions. You can choose from either the deployable version of their solution or the integratable appliance. Veritas is highly favored by older legacy companies that prefer services that have proven themselves with time. However, users report that there are some problems with hardware scaling capacity, as well as other little ’niggles’ here and there.
NetApp’s power is their availability - with over 150 offices all over the world it is capable of providing a lot of local support. There are a range of different backup and recovery-related functions, with the ability to have access to your data via your laptop or even the mobile phone. There’s a centralized interface for your monitoring, scheduling and logging efforts, and there’s a variety of different data types supported, from apps and databases to MS Exchange servers, VMs, and so on. Their response times are good, and according to user reviews, the centralization is quite handy. But there are also problems with customer experience here and there, as well as documentation thoroughness concerns.
Commvault is all about applying cutting-edge technologies of their data backup and recovery solution to provide the best experience possible with various file types, data sources, backup types and storage locations. Commvault is known for its pinpoint accuracy backups for VMs, databases or endpoints, VM recovery, unstructured data backup, data transfer, etc. Commvault can integrate with more than a dozen cloud storage providers, including VMware, AWS, Azure, and many more. On the other hand, there are some areas that need to be worked on, according to some customer reviews, like UI friendliness.
Bacula Enterprise is a reliable backup and recovery software that presents various functions like data backup, recovery, data protection, and more. It is mainly targeted at medium enterprises and larger, and it provides an especially large range of different features, from various storage types and easy setup to low deployment costs and extra-fast data recovery times. It can work with the majority of the popular Linux distributions (Debian, Ubuntu, etc.), and a lot of other operating systems, too, like Microsoft, MacOS X, Solaris, and more. Bacula also has a unique modular architecture that helps protect it against ransomware and other attacks. It offers a choice (or combination) of both command line and Web-based GUI’s. There’s also a very strong range of security features, and many additional high performance, enterprise-grade technologies such as advanced deduplication, compression and additional backup levels. The licensing model also avoids charging per data volume, which makes it especially attractive to MSPs, ISVs, Telcos, Military and Research establishments, large data centers and governmental organizations.
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