IBM Spectrum Protect Review

Great stability, reliability, and scalability, but very difficult to manage and get support


What is our primary use case?

We use it for normal file system backups, database backups for Microsoft SQL, and VM image backups. We also use it for the backup of the Sybase database, which is an important backup for us. Sybase is the database for the SAP ERP systems. These are business-critical systems.

IBM doesn't provide its own data protection agent for Sybase. Therefore, we are taking Sybase backups by using the built-in API from SAP. We utilize Sybase ASE, which contains the API and allows us to connect with the TSM of IBM Spectrum Protect. We are currently on an older version, but we are going to upgrade to 8.1.9 very soon.

What is most valuable?

The backup of Sybase databases is the most valuable feature in the existing environment.

They have got the most documentation out there on the internet for its software protection. The documentation is excellent, and there are a lot of blogs, websites. Because it's still one of the oldest products out there for data protection, there are also lots of people who have a lot of experience in using this solution.

What needs improvement?

It is not easy to manage like other products in the market. It is okay only if you are command-line driven. Even though the operation center is there, it doesn't provide a single view of everything. You have to, for example, use TSMManager on top of it, which gives you a far better management capability, but it is a third-party product. Its management needs to be improved. There should be an HTML or graphical interface. 

It is a very difficult product. For example, you have a backup policy where you want a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly policy standard. It is an old kind of system where you have to keep retention for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly backups, which is very difficult in IBM Spectrum Protect. In other products, in a matter of five minutes, you can configure such a policy. In TSM, it takes you one, two, or three days because you need to configure a node for each of them. If you have 250 nodes, you have to configure each node for daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly retention. If you have 1,000 nodes, it is going to take you ages just to configure and register the nodes. You need to configure the schedule and the CAD daemons or services, depending on whether it is a Unix or Windows OS. Unfortunately, it is a very long and drawn-out process. You have to stop and start the services for changes to take effect. This is a very difficult part of TSM in IBM Spectrum Protect.

To configure a backup policy, I should be able to select the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly options in one screen and finish it. After that, everything should happen in the background. All the backup products in the market already do that, and they are very simple to manage. This particular part of this solution has really been a major pain area for us, and unfortunately, we could not find a workaround. There is nobody at IBM who can give us a way to configure all this easily through a GUI or even scripts.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using this solution for the last 12 years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

It is stable. Stability-wise, IBM Spectrum Protect is among the best. It doesn't crash like Data Domain. It is not unsteady, and it doesn't become unstable. Once it is configured correctly on the right hardware, it will run pretty well.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is definitely scalable. We are a service provider for another company, which has about 2,000 to 3,000 users. 

For its deployment and maintenance, we have 18 team members. We have 24/7 support. We have a couple of L3s, and the rest of them are L1s and L2s. 

How are customer service and technical support?

Their technical support staff is not the best. They are among the lowest in the whole market. They never want to come for a WebEx meeting and always ask for logs. When the logs don't reveal anything, they ask for traces, which is a big hassle again because you have to do many things. After you upload the traces, they are not able to find anything. The case goes on for weeks. From weeks, it goes to months, and sometimes, you have to escalate to just get something simple fixed. 

IBM support is very difficult. They have improved everything. The documentation is excellent, but when it comes to the support, they just don't want to get into a WebEx meeting. They don't want to help you online. Commvault or other companies would just jump into a WebEx meeting, simply look at this stuff, and quickly fix the problem in no time. I don't know why they are resistant to getting on a WebEx meeting. No other backup vendor out there says no to this. It may be because they have a lot of work, and they're busy, or they don't feel that they can solve it quickly enough. It could be because the product is like this, and the support can't support or fix it quickly.

They should be able to quickly get to the root cause, but they take forever to get back to us on certain issues. We can read a lot of literature out there. There are a lot of pros out there, but the problem is that the support guys themselves should be like those guys. Their certain messages are so cryptic that we don't even know what to do. They are hard to understand. I ran into a migration problem the other day, and they were just asking for more logs, which was causing issues in production because the pools were filling up. Technical support has to be really quick these days.

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

In the past, I have extensively used Oracle's RMAN backups. I have also used snapshot and FlashCopy Manager a lot for critical systems.

In our own data centers, we had IBM Spectrum Protect, and then we migrated away from them. We are now only supporting those customers who are running this environment. If you look at some of the companies where we are supporting IBM Spectrum Protect, they have been an IBM shop for very long, mostly because their systems are on IBM. Most of their infrastructure is IBM and their software is IBM, so they will naturally go for IBM Spectrum Protect to protect their infrastructure.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward.

What about the implementation team?

The initial implementation was done by a third-party vendor who was an IBM partner. I don't think it took long. It took a few hours.

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

We have capacity licensing. We use the front end. The capacity licensing is pretty okay on the licensing price. I used to use the old PVU-based licensing in the early environment, but now we use capacity-based licensing.

What other advice do I have?

The IBM shops would use it because it fits very nicely into an IBM environment, but even with the VM capabilities, it is more difficult to configure and support as compared to other solutions in the market. If you look at other solutions, even your IBM ProtecTIER, for example, would be a data protection appliance. I could mix and match technologies, but I think other products are easier to manage. 

There are many third-party products that do it all. TSMManager is really excellent for managing a multi TSM server environment. If you have got 10 or 20 TSM servers, you cannot manage them natively. It is difficult to switch from one to another. You can always connect them and then jump from one to the other. You have that option, but it is easier if you have one UI sitting on top of them all, like a single management layer. IBM does not provide it. I have heard something is coming out in version nine or ten, which is going to change a lot of things, but I am not very sure.

I would rate IBM Spectrum Protect a seven out of ten. There are many good things about it, such as stability, reliability, and scalability, but it is tough in terms of manageability and things like that. Its support is also not good.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

On-premises
**Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner
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author avatarTomas-Dalebjörk (CGI)
Real User

Have you seen the SPFS solution?
SPFS is a filesystem for Spectrum Protect, making it possible to mount the storage pool data as a filesystem directly on the servers, and in that way protecting almost any data with Spectrum Protect.
https://www-356.ibm.com/partnerworld/gsd/solutiondetails.do?&solution=56435&lc=en