Dell EMC Avamar Review

Unlimited scalability, very stable, and ties very well with VMware API

What is our primary use case?

It is a backup solution. So, we do daily backups of around 3,000 VMware guests. That is normally just an image backup where it goes to the VMware API, backs up the image file, and then puts it on the backend to Avamar into Data Domain. It has a specialized storage system that does dedupe and compression, so we can get more on a single disk array. We have more than one site. We have a primary site and a secondary site.

At the Data Domain level, we replicate site to site every backup every day so that we have the availability in our secondary site for every VM. The replication is done with the architecture of the Data Domain itself. 

We have the rapid recovery solution that allows you to stand up any box at either location and have it come up online within just a minute or two. That's done via NFS. It becomes a data store into VMware, and then you vMotion it out. So, it has got rapid recovery at both locations as well.

We are using its newest version. We keep it up to date.

How has it helped my organization?

There are occasions where we have a problem with the system, and we can either try to fix it or recover it. With rapid recovery, we can get the system operational where people can get access to it in less than 10 minutes. So, we can have a problem with a system, and instead of messing around with it, we can bring up the copy. If it is a system that doesn't allow you to have a lot of daily change rate in the data, we can bring up yesterday's copy or last night's copy and have it up and running online in less than 10 minutes.

What is most valuable?

Every product is good and bad, but its claim to fame is that it is scalable. We're doing more than 3,000 VMs. Every single night a complete image backup to disks and replication are easily done in under four hours.

It is stable, and it ties very well with VMware API. If you've got VMware in-house, it is a very solid product.

What needs improvement?

It is very scalable, and that's its claim to fame, but that also makes it hard to make changes. Anytime there is a large piece of software, changing that piece of software is harder. You've got a larger install base, so you can't just rapidly change. We also use another product called Veeam, and it has this new feature called Continuous Data Protection, which basically lets you get very close to the way the system was in time. We have a system or two up there on which we have set 10 minutes Continuous Data Protection. So, we can roll it back to whatever it was 10 minutes ago, 20 minutes ago, or 30 minutes ago. This feature doesn't exist in Avamar Data Domain. That's the one feature I'd like to see first.

It can maybe have customized automatic routing. We have a Cisco ACI network. It is like a point-to-point network for everything, even multiple locations. It is flat, and that confuses Avamar Data Domain because it changes underneath Data Domain. It has some problems. They could do a little bit more on having an adaptable network or what's called a dynamic route network where it can be given a route and not care about it, as opposed to having to predefine it.

For how long have I used the solution?

It has been in this shop for seven years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It is very stable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is unlimited. Basically, it is great.

Being a backup solution, there are no users. We have the backup administrators to operate it, and if a user or a system administrator makes a request for our system, we restore that for them, but there are no users on it, per se. For our three locations, we have one backup administrator. Oklahoma City has two physical locations, and we have one location in LA.

It is currently being used extensively. We're going to the system as a software model where basically everything is deployed like the Kubernetes model. You basically have a few systems, and then everything is layered on top of it. It is sort of like a hypervisor but without the hypervisor layer. If we truly go that way, we'll probably have to go for a different backup solution that manages that better. We're testing that right now, and we're not sure how it's going to work for our shop, but that's what we're looking at.

How are customer service and technical support?

I have interacted with them several times. We've had problems where we've got to have their help. They're average. It takes a while to get to the guy who knows what he's doing, but they've got support 24/7. You can call anytime day or night. So, they're average or a little better.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We used to use HP Data Protector. It was a nice product. It was an old-school kind of roll the tape, and we don't do tapes. We used Data Protector directly to tape. That was a nice product for physical boxes if you had a few. At that point, we had 200 or 300 physical boxes, and we backed them up. It took about a 10-hour cycle from about the time we quit work to about the next morning. We would run through this whole cycle and get that done.

How was the initial setup?

It was complex. You have to have proxies. You can't just have one piece of hardware to back up all the systems in two facilities. You have to deploy proxy servers to every single VMware cluster. We've backup on a private backup network that had to be configured because we fundamentally do web service and financial targets out front, and we didn't want it to cramp that network. So, it is not simple; it is complex.

To do the primary site, it took very long. At that point, we were doing physical and virtual machines. We had some HPX physical, and we also had a mini mainframe seven years ago. It probably took a solid week to get it installed and get it completely operational. There were a few more details to it, but basically, we were up and running within about a week, but it is not going to happen in a day.

What about the implementation team?

The first time we deployed it, they came out and set it up like a demo or a proof of concept. We took the model that they provided in that proof of concept, and we installed it ourselves, but we did have a proof of concept before we ever bought it. It was in-house for 90 days, and it included one Avamar, one Data Domain, and a couple of proxies in one of our clusters.

I had to mash a vendor. EMC is out to make money, and then they want to capitalize their ability to make money. That's not necessarily a negative thing in the business world, but I don't care for a lot of that. Once a product is in-house, I want to talk technical, and they technically knew what was going on. They were good and very professional. They knew their products.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Its licensing is weird. It is not just the licenses; we also purchase hardware. With most software products, such as Veeam, Commvault, and Data Protector, there is no hardware purchase at the same time. Because Avamar and Data Domain are tied together, they have an integrated pipe. You can separate them, but basically, they're designed to work as a couple. Because the Data Domain backend is designed to do dedupe and compression, we get 60:1. When you count it, you count it as a straight compression, but of course, that's with dedupe and some other stuff. You have to buy the hardware, the licensing, and the software at the same time. So, it's not just software.

It is expensive. The maintenance comes with it for five years. So, you buy the whole thing for five years, and your maintenance is included with it, but it's a big chunk of change upfront. We like capital expenses because we can CapEx them. We pay once every five years, so we spend a big chunk of change. You'd have to divide that out by the five years to come up with how much it costs. It's just about three-quarters of a million dollars for five years.

What other advice do I have?

Be sure it is what you need. We bought it simply because we're a VMware shop, and we knew we were going to grow that particular core from our business and discontinue using physical hardware altogether. If that's a model that you're doing, it's a nice product. If it's not, you don't need it. 

I would also upfront negotiate the licensing model with them so that you know what to expect before you get into it. What we did not do is buy the cloud extension or an archive solution, and that is now becoming a fairly predominant piece of the pie that we don't have any licensing for. So, make sure it fits your environment, and you get the pieces that we didn't—the more modern archive and cloud control—so that you can have part of your environment out in the cloud. Many people are doing that. We're doing that. We just don't back it up that way.

I would rate Dell EMC Avamar an eight out of 10 simply because it is stable. It does a very good job of tying into the VMware API. EMC owns VMware, so they are more or less the same company. So, they're not going to make a change in VMware that adversely affects their software products. I've got to give it an eight just for that. 

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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