What is our primary use case?
We're backing up VMs with it. Our company has about 200 VMs and we're using Zerto on 30 of them in the main line of business applications. We're using it to replicate all that data over to our DR site so we can do our testing and reporting against that.
Within those 30 servers we've broken out into three different SLAs on which ones get spun up first. We have it all scripted with monthly plans to fail over, spin it up, actually use it over there, spin it down, bring it back into production, etc.
How has it helped my organization?
The business that we're in means we have to run our network 365 days, 24/7, with no downtime. If there's any kind of interruption to business processes — power outage, tornado, fire, etc. — we need to be able to get certain systems up and going in almost real-time. That's how we're leveraging Zerto, to guarantee that uptime and for the ability to spin these things up near-instantaneously.
I know my networking team loves the tool and the interface and being able to roll back and do the failover stuff very easily. But for me, personally, it's how it has impacted our business. The reporting functionality showing that our DR plan is rock-solid and stable, and my ability to generate summaries for our customers, have really improved business processes for us. It gives peace of mind to our customers that our systems are stable and the services that we're providing are stable.
Also, when we need to failback or move workloads, Zerto decreases the time it takes and the number of people involved. The failback feature, from a technical standpoint, is what sold us on Zerto. One of the challenges we had with Site Recovery Manager was spinning up and being in production at DR. If everything is equal, everything is patched and everything's working, both solutions offer a very similar experience: the ability to move a workload from production to disaster recovery works with both of them, no problem. Coming back the other way was just a bear of a move with Site Recovery Manager. With Zerto, it's almost seamless. With Zerto, it takes about four or five mouse clicks and stuff fails back over, and our end-users are none the wiser. And it's just one guy doing it. When failing back from Site Recovery Manager, we'd have to get one of our sys admins involved and we'd have to let our end-users know that they all had to log out.
While it hasn't reduced staff, we have become more efficient and it has allowed me to reprioritize some projects. It's freed up some capacity, for sure. We haven't reduced headcount, but it has definitely taken a big wedge out of the daily grind of our backup and recovery; the stuff they always had to check.
What is most valuable?
Personally, what I find valuable is the executive summary that says our DR plan is operational. I can then pass that out to our customers.
Per Mar has about 75,000 customers and, more and more these days, especially given all this [COVID] pandemic, we're asked: Do you have a business continuity plan? Is it tested regularly? Do you have documentation for it? Two years ago, a simple email from me saying, "Yes, we have this," sufficed. We're finding now that people want true documentation from an independent system that generates a report. The reporting that comes out of Zerto is a lifesaver for me. I'm able to generate that up, send it out to the customers that need it, and say, "Yes. Here are our SLAs. Here is our monthly test routine. Here is where it shows us being successful," and so forth.
We are doing continuous data protection. It works flawlessly. Our recovery points are measured in seconds. We have all these "baby snapshots" throughout the course of the day, so we can roll a VM back to any point in time, spin it up, and away we go. We're actively using that. It works great.
It's easy to use and there isn't a huge learning curve. Even some of the advanced features are very intuitive to folks who have been in this space before. If you have any kind of skill sets around any kind of backup and recovery tool, the user interface for Zerto is very natural.
What needs improvement?
One thing I would like to see, and I know that this is on their roadmap, is the ability to use long-term storage in the cloud, like in Azure or AWS, making that even more seamless. Whether it's stored in glacier or on-prem, being able to retrieve that data in a quick manner would be helpful. They're just not there yet.
For how long have I used the solution?
I've been using Zerto for about a year.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
It just works. We architected it pretty nicely. One of our licensed servers is a complete test solution for us to show that it is truly working. We're able to take a small test server, a Dev server is really what it is, and we can move from production, move it over to DR, have it run over there for a day, and then we move it back with no data loss.
It's never not worked and when you come from the SRM world, that's just unheard of. Now we're a year into this product and have gone through an upgrade, and our June test went off without a hitch. It's very rock-solid.
How are customer service and technical support?
Their tech support has been fantastic to work with. We ran into a glitch when we did our update in mid-May and our primary data center stopped talking to our secondary data center. We couldn't figure it out. We got their tech support involved right away. They identified a bug right away. They were able to roll us back and then stayed engaged with us as they figured out how to fix the bug. And once the bug was isolated and fixed, they got right back a hold of us to say, "We're ready to go," and then they walked us through upgrading both sides. There was a lot of hand-holding in that upgrade scenario. It was a fantastic experience.
It took them four or five days to fix the bug and they stayed engaged with us just about every single day, letting us know the status of it and when it went to QA. We didn't fall into a black hole. It was a very customer-centric experience.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
We were using VMware Site Recovery Manager. We're still a VMware shop. Zerto replaced SRM. It was probably cost-agnostic, but what it really came down to was that SRM breaks all the time. You apply some patches or a Windows update. Uptime and reliability for us are super-critical. We don't have a ton of time to spend on making sure it's always working. We were really looking for a solution that we could architect, deploy, and just let it run, knowing that we're protected without our always having to go back and mess around with it.
What we kept finding with Site Recovery Manager was that every time we wanted to do a full-scale, failover DR test, we would have to spend a week ahead of time prepping for it, to make sure everything would work flawlessly during our test. It always worked, we knew how to patch it and get around it. But disaster doesn't give you a two-week notice. You don't know you're going to have a tornado in two weeks. You get about a 10-minute notice and then you've got cows flying through the air. We wanted a tool that we know would just run and work and be reliable.
It was cost-neutral to the budget, the timing was right, and the solution was rock-solid so we made the change.
How was the initial setup?
Ease of use and deployment are fantastic. This is a solution that we started with a proof of concept. We threw it in a lab and said, "Hey, let's just see what it looks like." Next thing you know, we never even had to tear down the proof of concept. Once we started seeing it working we said, "This is definitely something that we want." All we really ended up doing was negotiating licenses, applying the license key, and we were off to the races.
Soup to nuts, it took us five hours to spin the whole solution up and to create our protection groups. It was very fast. That includes downloading the software, spinning the VM up, and protecting and backing up data.
We worked with one of their engineers through the proof of concept. Once we said, "Hey, this is going to work," we tested it on a few servers and then we became a paying customer. They worked with us to help us define what made sense for the 30 licenses that we bought and what machines to deploy it to. But it's really not a complicated tool to deploy. There wasn't a ton of architecting and solution-building around it. There was some, but it was a very simple solution to install.
What was our ROI?
We have seen ROI. And even when you cost-compare against Site Recovery Manager, none of these solutions is cheap. But we are folks who need to have uptime and these things have to work. When you start comparing it against Site Recovery Manager, Zerto blows it out of the water, in my opinion.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
If it were easier to license, and to scale it out a little bit more economically, that'd be a godsend. At the end of the day, my druthers would be to have all 200 of our servers protected by this platform. But for a company of our size, that stretches our IT budget and it just doesn't make economic sense. I would really love to be able to just apply Zerto to every virtual machine that we spin up, drop it into the right SLA bucket, and just be done with it, knowing that it's protected, soup to nuts. Unfortunately, that's just cost prohibitive.
My advice would definitely be to leverage the number of VMs. It's not a cheap solution by any stretch, but it delivers on its promise. There's definitely value in the investment. With hindsight, I would have gotten a better cost per VM if I was able to buy, say, 100 licenses. It would have been easier for me to put other servers under the protection of Zerto. I wish I would have had that flexibility at the time. Eventually, budgets will open up and I'll be able to go get another 50 or so licenses, but I'll still be paying a higher price, more than if I would have negotiated a higher quantity to begin with.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
We took a look at a couple of other solutions. The other ones fell off the table pretty quickly. We're based in Iowa. We have a good account team here in Iowa from Zerto that knew our account from previous relationships. They came around and said, "This is a tool that you guys really need to take a hard look at."
The sales process took about six months. They came in about six months before my renewal with VMware. We had a few conversations and, about two to three months before the renewal, designed a proof of concept to see if it was actually going to work. They came in and did that. My guys were raving about it and I saw some of the reporting out of it. At that point I said, "Okay, done deal." It was cost neutral. When Site Recovery Manager came up, we canceled that portion of the renewal. There wasn't really a need for us to go out to market. I just trusted the account guys. They knew who we were. The tool worked the way they called it. I don't get too picky. If it works, it's good enough for me.
What other advice do I have?
Take a hard look at it. Don't pass it by, don't be scared off by the price. Definitely take them up on the proof of concept. Have the team come in and do that. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
They talk about technology that can just actually do what it promises. I've been doing this for over 20 years and sometimes you get jaded by the fact that people over-promise and under-deliver. Zerto was definitely on the opposite end of that spectrum. The solution went in so easily that I had to do a double-take when my guys were telling me, "Hey, it's already up and running." I said, "It can't be done already." I'm used to complicated deployments. They promised and it does exactly what they said it would do. Don't be so skeptical. Keep an open mind to it and explore the possibilities.
I just sat through ZertoCON. They put a lot of emphasis on long-term retention. It really started putting a question out there as to whether you need a different backup and recovery solution. We use a different partner called Rubrik for backup and recovery. The challenge that we have with Zerto is that we're only protecting 30 VMs, whereas with Rubrik, we're protecting all 200. There's a little bit of a dance between value and return. So we're not using Zerto for long-term storage right now. We're evaluating it. I don't know if it makes economic sense to do so, but we are taking a look at it. And we're not protecting all 200 servers because of cost.
In terms of using the solution for a data recovery situation due to ransomware or other causes, knock on wood, we have not had to use it in that capacity just yet. We have a very mature cyber security posture and we haven't been popped by ransomware in the last year. But it does give me peace of mind that we also have that ability. That's just another layer of our cyber security posture and we know that we're protected against those threats. So there's definitely a peace of mind around that.
The only folks using it are on our IT team, about five or six of us. Five of my guys use it on a regular basis and know how to manage it. I'm the sixth guy. If I ever have to get in there, we're in trouble.
Which deployment model are you using for this solution?