The one screen that no system admin ever wants to see is the dreaded blue screen of death (BSOD), especially when doing a recovery. Yet when recovering an application on a different hardware platform, BSODs become a distinct possibility. In this first installment of DCIG's executive interview with StorageCraft's Chief Evangelist, Matt Urmston, he explains the features that ShadowProtect offers to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of users encountering BSODs when conducting a recovery.
Charley: Tell me about your background and position and ShadowProtect.
Matt:I'm Matt Urmston, and I've been withStorageCraftfor six years. I've spent 20 years in IT and the bulk of that has been in HA, Archiving, and Backup and DR. I currently play a dual role at StorageCraft, I'm both the Chief Evangelist and Director of Product Management.
Charley: When did StorageCraft start?
Matt:The Company was founded in December 2003. For the first four or five years we funded the company through our OEM arrangements with other folks, basically licensing them our technology so they could create their own backup and disaster recovery solutions.
We are proud that StorageCraft continues to be completely self-funded, continues to be profitable.
Charley: How has StorageCraft moved away from being a point product?
Matt:StorageCraft was very development driven in its early days. The CTO and current director of development were "The Guys." The two of them, along with one or two other developers, pretty much developedShadowProtectaround a technology that they had OEM'd at a previous company.ShadowProtect is an image-based backup product that does a really good job of capturing systems in a stable state. It integrates really well on Windows systems into their VSS framework to make sure that when we're capturing those snapshots, that they are in a very clean, stable state, which lends itself well to a reliable restore.
One of the things that the founders wanted to focus on, and that they had noticed in the industry, was that performing the restore was often a very painful and time consuming process, especially when restoring from tape. Companies had to gather all their tapes and catalog all of the data before even starting the restore process. In a lot of cases that tape was not very reliable, so companies lost data at the time of restore.
Early Focus on Rapid Reliable Recovery and Hardware Independent Restore
The focus in the development of ShadowProtect was really on the recovery. We wanted to make sure that when it came time to recover, it was going to be able to do so reliably and successfully and in a timely fashion.
Our focus was on getting rid of that backup window and providing the ability to run backups continuously throughout the day by capturing changes as they occur. This allowed those backups to be taken as frequently as every 15 minutes, then once snapshots were taken, we wanted to give users the ability to quickly do restores.
Part of the recovery goal that StorageCraft set out to accomplish was to give end users the flexibility to recover to any hardware, not just the exact same hardware that the system was running on.
We went to market as a very stable "hardware independent restore." Customers could take the backup images they had created and restore them to disparate hardware, including going from a physical system to a virtual system or even from one hypervisor to another.
With ShadowProtect, it really does not matter where recovery takes place. ShadowProtect takes images from one system and drops them on another. Our technology makes sure all of the necessary drivers are in place at boot up time so that the system does not blue screen and force the customer to do additional work to get it up and running. ShadowProtect takes care of all of that for them.
The Move from Recovery Product to DR Solution
StorageCraft went to market and quickly realized that if it was going to grow as a company, it would have to move away from just being selling a backup and recovery product and move to providing a disaster recovery (DR) solution–theStorageCraft® Recover-Ability™solution
To do so, we introduced a product calledImageManager. ImageManager's role, first and foremost, is to manage the incremental chain and to verify images, protecting the integrity of the backup images created by ShadowProtect. Additionally, ImageManager provides the replication technologies that take those images, replicate them offsite, and create a remote DR location. Now in the event of a site disaster, an organization can use ShadowProtect to spin machines up at a remote site and provide for that true disaster recovery.
Companies all want more reliable backup and recovery, with short recovery times when things go awry. In part IIofthisinterview series withStorageCraft's Chief EvangelistMatt Urmston, we expandon how StorageCraftuses StorageCraft ImageManager and StorageCraftHeadstart Restore technology toprovide a full DR solution that can offer recovery in as little as five minutes,andalso howShadowProtectperforms equally well inphysical and virtualenvironments.
Charley: You can access ImageManager from anywhere?
Matt:Correct. And that anywhere access toImageManagerwas a rudimentary DR solution. StorageCraft included in ImageManager some replication technology based around FTP. Basically, StorageCraft told its customers at that time, that they could take that data and move it wherever they wished. In a lot of cases StorageCraft's partners were taking customer data and moving that either to a colocation facility, or to storage in their own offices.
StorageCraftfound it was continually being asked: "What's the best practice, what's the best way to do this, what should I do once I have the data at the remote site, is there a way that I can now run those images at my remote site for that customer?" So StorageCraft introduced some new technologies as it grew into that DR phase of development.
One of those DR technologies is VirtualBoot, which provides really rapid recovery. Take any recovery point, simply right click on it, and then select an option to VirtualBoot. It will spin that image up as a virtual machine, often in less than five minutes.
StorageCraft also introduced a technology called Headstart Restore that is designed for much larger data sets. As StorageCraft grew as a company and grew into some larger environments, it was finding that a traditional restore just wasn't fast enough to meet business requirements. As the data volumes grew beyond the TB size, it could take hours to do a recovery because of disk speed limitations.
StorageCraft wanted to provide a way for its customers to stage recoveries, so it introduced Headstart Restore. In a nutshell, Headstart Restore takes a base backup image and converts it to a virtual disk—VMDK or VHD—and then drip feeds incremental backups to that virtual disk. In the event that a production server crashes, now there is a virtual disk already in place sitting over on an ESX host or on a Hyper-V host. When recovery is needed, Headstart Restore can quickly finalize the process and get that system up and running as a virtual instance without forcing the customer to restore data back to some physical device.
It's really all about recovery time objectives.StorageCraft finds that many managed service providers (MSPs) are competing on their service level agreements (SLAs). StorageCraft technology allows MSPs to get very aggressive with those SLAs, and talk about recovery time objectives in terms of minutes as opposed to hours or days.
Charley: Are you focused on SMB or enterprise?
Matt:StorageCraft is almost exclusively focused on SMB. It also sells almost exclusively through the channel, its network of value-added resellers and managed service providers. StorageCraft also works with some distributors who have some direct to market customers that they work with. But yes, StorageCraft is focused on SMB. Later on, StorageCraft will look at products and services that might appeal to larger companies.
Charley: Physical and virtual backup. StorageCraft addresses both?
Matt:Absolutely. The StorageCraft backup agent,ShadowProtect, is run in both physical and virtual environments. The agent that runs on an endpoint does not know the difference between a physical machine and a virtual machine. Once ShadowProtect creates an image, the file format is exactly the same whether the source server is a physical box or virtual server. That is really what allows ShadowProtect to take those backups and then restore to wherever the customer prefers.
At the hypervisor level, if a customer has a VMware environment and wants to migrate to a Hyper-V environment, they can migrate by taking backup images of guest machines that are in an ESX environment and then performing a restore of those images to a Hyper-V host. With ShadowProtect, migrating is that simple.
InPart Iof DCIG's executive interview with StorageCraft's Chief Evangelist, Matt Urmston, he explained the features that ShadowProtect offers to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of users encountering BSODs when conducting a recovery.
In Part III of this interview series, we discuss what the competitive landscape looks like for StorageCraft and why its customers choose StorageCraft over other solutions.
Matt Urmston, StorageCraft's Chief Evangelist and Director of Product Management, has worked in a variety of roles in backup, archiving, data recovery and high availability. In this third blog entry of this interview series, Matt emphasizes that StorageCraft's value is in the recovery process–getting systems back online quickly and efficiently, and having that work every time.
Charley: What do you hear as customers' reasons for choosing your company?
Matt:I can tell you that across the board the one thing that we always hear back fromStorageCraftcustomers is, "It just works." The product does what it is supposed to do.
Your question is interesting because a lot of people are out evaluating backup software. Often times their testing will be heavy on the backup aspect. "How long does it take to run a backup job? Do I see a lot of additional processor cycles being used? Is there a lot of IO? Is it dragging my system to its knees?" This becomes the main focus and extent of the evaluation–it is all about the backup and the performance impact backup is going to have on the systems. They say, "Okay, I have my backup and that all works great.
Many companies will make buying decisions based on the backup aspects of a particular solution, where really they need to be evaluating recovery. In most cases when they compare the recovery process between StorageCraft and one of its competitors, they quickly realize thatStorageCraft's value is in the recovery process–getting systems back online quickly and efficiently, and having that work every time.
StorageCraft also has had partners who occasionally get wooed away to a competitor because of pricing. We've seen some of our competitors get pretty aggressive, especially when they're going after managed service providers (MSPs). StorageCraft had a few who have come to us and said, "Listen, I'm negotiating prices with this competitor, is there any way you guys can try to match their pricing?"
Although StorageCraft works very closely with our partners during sales cycles and do what we can to help them win business, there have been times that we've just had to say 'no'. StorageCraft is comfortable where it is at with its pricing and technology and what it is offering. In most cases those partners have come back after they have had a customer's system go down and they had to perform a recovery.
Charley: What products do you compete against?
Matt: It kind of goes in waves. It is really interesting. We will have some competitor crop up, we will have an account rep say, "Hey listen, I am really getting beat up by AppAssure." For a while AppAssure was a big competitor. There was a time when they were making a big push, but then they kind of went away. We do not run into them much anymore.
Acronis traditionally is a competitor. StorageCraft would go head to head in competitive situations with them. They have also just kind of drifted away. I do not know if they have made some decisions to try to go after some larger environments or not, but StorageCraft does not really run into them a whole lot anymore.
Symantec's System Recovery has been a direct competitor in the past as well. But, as with so many other competitors we have been comfortable with our ability to win deals against them just based on our reputation for reliability when it comes to recovery.
Those are StorageCraft's traditional competitors. Some that are cropping up now are in the Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) space where they are offering backup appliances. Then there are a lot of smaller players or newcomers that will pop up on certain deals. It's rare to have a week go by that I don't get that email with a company name in the subject line asking "Have you ever heard of these guys?"
But today if you were to ask our sales team who they are running into most often, it is probably going to be Unitrends, Veeam, or Axcient. There really seems to be a trend toward the hardware solutions.
Charley: Are you looking to move into hardware?
Matt: This is a recurring topic of discussion internally. I believe the first time StorageCraft talked about offering a BDR device it was about two years ago. StorageCraft decided it is not interested in getting into the hardware business because of low margins, refreshes, maintenance, etc. Plus we have some great partners who are already providing hardware solutions based on StorageCraft Technology.
As we include our partners in this discussion, especially our MSP partners, for the most part they are saying, "Do not force me into using hardware that I am not familiar with or a device that doesn't meet my standards. I already have relationships with Dell or whoever it might be. Let me buy the hardware." Most MSPs are already providing hardware to their customer. They know what type of hardware they like to use and support.
InPart Iof DCIG's executive interview with StorageCraft's Chief Evangelist, Matt Urmston, he explained the features thatShadowProtectoffers to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of users encountering BSODs when conducting a recovery.
InPart IIof this interview series, we expanded on how StorageCraft usesImageManagerto provide a full DR solution that can offer rapid recovery in less than five minutes, and also how ShadowProtect performs equally well whether it's placed in a physical or virtual environment.
In Part IV of this interview series, we delve into how StorageCraft fits itself into the cloud storage landscape and what cloud replication looks like for backup and recovery.
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