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Review: AVAMAR Backup and Recovery System

Rodney BarnhardtServer Administrator
I have over 30 years in the IT industry. During this time I have worked with a variety of products in a variety of industries.
Determining the appropriate backup solution for a company can be a daunting task. I was part of a team that recently went through this process at my current company.  We had several products in use to back up our environment, including Netbackup, V-Ranger, PureDisk, Data Domain, and BackupExec. Administering all of these products was time consuming. Maintenance renewals were coming up toward the end of 2009 on all of these products.

The goal was to find a product that covered everything from files to image level backups of our virtual environment. With all of the products out there, finding the right product was going to be quite a task.

We started the review process nearly 12 months ahead of budgeting and renewals. When evaluating our needs, the products considered were EMC Avamar, CommVault, and at the time, the to-be-released Netbackup 7.0 integrated with PureDisk. One of the key needs was data de-duplication. We backup several locations over the WAN and several terabytes overall, so de-duplication was a must. After nearly a year of meetings, configuration options, reviews, discussions, and talking to other companies, Avamar was determined to be the best option. We ordered two, 23TB grids. This gave us our primary storage unit and one located at our disaster site for replication.

Avamar is by far one of the best backup solutions I have worked with over the years. There were a few minor issues to work out. This was mainly due to the fact we were on the “bleeding edge” in that we purchased the newest Gen3, version 5 systems that had just been released. After a few hot fixes and service packs, the system is performing as expected. Backups that took hours have been cut down in half, with some backups taking only minutes.

The way the product is configured is a rack with the “nodes,” which are individual servers with one being a utility node. The system uses both RAID and RAIN technology and performs de-duplication across all nodes. The agent that is installed on each client also performs de-duplication on the client data that will be backed up. This greatly reduces the amount of data by polling the clients and only backing up the changed bits or “deltas” when performing the backup. Even though the backups, other than the initial backup, have the characteristics of an incremental, Avamar sees each backup as a “full backup”. Also, as with most backup products, there are various agents that must be installed. These include Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, and several others. There is also a “desktop\laptop” agent that allows end users’ systems to be backed up on a set schedule.

Once installed, there are a few basic configuration steps that must be performed. Once this is done, creating polices and adding clients is very simple. Avamar works in terms of “domains”. These are not the same a Windows domain; these are “Avarmar domains”. In my case, I created domains for each location and a few based on system functions. Then, within these domains, datasets, retention periods, and schedules are created.  When the client is installed on a system, it must then be activated. When activated, a domain is selected, that client is now located in that Avamar domain. Policies are created simply by combining datasets, retention periods, schedules and clients. Once all of these are added together, the policy is created. This all works from easy-to-use drop-downs in the Avamar console.

One of the most important aspects of any backup solution is the ability to restore files. With tapes, this can be unpredictable and time consuming. Tape-related problems include:  Bad tape, the time it takes to locate the tape, or problems mounting it. Avamar is a tapeless disk system. Within a few clicks, a restore has begun. Recently, I restore a 26G, SQL database file in about 6 minutes. There was no time lost finding a tape and mounting it. An Exchange restore was somewhat slow, restoring a 5GB information store in just over 11 minutes. Either way, the restore time is impressive.

As with any solution, you must evaluate what is right for your company. Companies have different requirement and budgets, so Avamar may not be right for everyone. However, if you are considering it as a solution for your organization, I highly recommend it. If you are not, then I suggest you look into the product. It has a great deal of functionality and reliability.
Rodney BarnhardtServer Administrator
I have over 30 years in the IT industry. During this time I have worked with a variety of products in a variety of industries.

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