Double-Take’s take on low-cost DR: back up the lot with rock solid reliability

Written By: Peter Williams
Published:
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

While a fair few
vendors now provide continuous data protection (CDP) as part of providing
real-time data (file) replication and failover, their claim to provide low cost
disaster recovery (DR) is somewhat exaggerated. But if the process is extended
to cover the server operating system (physical and/or virtual) and
applications, then this claim becomes more credible.

A full-blown DR
involves mirroring the whole live system, hardware and software, to a remote
location—but that is hugely costly. Using CDP to write out every system as
well as file changes to a remote system via a WAN or across internet comes close
to matching this at a fraction of the cost.

Most such products,
however, do not deal with operating system or application changes, but one that
does is Double-Take. Although the need to quickly recover the operating system
should be rare—with operating system corruption rarer—this can occur; a
system not totally recovered might not then run. So this facility reduces failover
and recovery risks versus software that does not provide this.

Despite this,
having a few extra ticks in the features box is not alone enough to set the
world alight; another couple of elements are equally important. There is every
need for the replication software itself to be super-reliable or recovery will
be a hit-and-miss affair. Then it has to be easy-to-use or potential users will
generally turn away from it. So Double-Take Software has spent time and effort
addressing both of these. That approach seems to have been a major catalyst in
bringing the company of the same name success.

“Our biggest asset
is our reputation,” Double-Take’s CEO Dean Goodermote told me. “We
have a very promotional customer base and we get many sales by word of mouth.” So
here is one acid test: the users themselves like it enough to tell others.

Emphasising this
point, Goodermote said of the Double-Take product that the company tried for
perfection and, while obviously this was not totally achieved, it was known for very high
reliability. It was also non-intrusive to run and straightforward to install—and he described his own work-force as “a respected group of people.”

There is, of
course, some advanced technology behind the product’s success, with its byte-level
replication claimed as unique and versions covering Windows, virtualised
(VMware) and Linux. The software is also well-suited to replication as part of
re-configuring or upgrading the infrastructure. A fairly recent acquisition has
led to an ability to do fast network booting of images from iSCSI disk to speed
recovery, facilitate a low-cost software-only Storage Area Network (SAN) on the
server, and boot images from desktops (taking the company into new market
areas).

Yet I suspect it
is more important to users that they have a hassle-free life without the fear that
system failures might not be quickly recovered because of software flaws.

The method by
which the software is now sold is also telling as it bucks the market trend through
bundling annual maintenance and support with the software itself. This means
the initial purchase price is a little higher. However, Double-Take’s channel
partners like the maintenance renewal rates after the first year soaring over
the 90% mark (versus a typical 70% renewal level). This is not because service
calls are frequently needed—rather the reverse—but because users want to
keep using their software!

This licensing
approach could deter potential customers if the software demonstrated anything
other than the rock-solid reliability with high functionality suited to
backup and DR regimes. As it is, it is helping maintain a healthy and
predictable cash flow, as a useful hedge against the present difficult economic
conditions.

In these straitened times, some vendors could learn a lesson or two
from Double-Take about setting high and comprehensive development standards.

Goodermote hinted
at future plans that will widen the scope of the software; but right now Double-Take
looks to me to be positioned well enough.