ExaGrid ramps up scalability with enhanced deduplication, Oracle RMAN Channel support

ExaGrid, which competes against much larger players like EMC Data Domain, is in a growth spurt, has ramped up its internal sales which work with channel partners, and hopes to go public in between two and two and a half years.

UnifiedManagementConsoleImage sliderWestborough MA-based ExaGrid, which makes disk-based backup storage solutions, has announced the availability of version 4.9 of its software. There are two main enhancements, and they are related. First, the new release now supports global data deduplication across all NAS shares in a scale-out GRID. Secondly, the global deduplication greatly enhances support for Oracle RMAN Channels which enables the ability to backup Oracle databases much easier and to a much larger size than before.

When ExaGrid was originally established in 2002 they had a different area of focus, but they shifted to disk-based backup in 2006, and that’s what they’ve been doing since, backing up directly to disk. They cover deployments with between 10 TB and 500 TB of primary data – essentially from the midmarket to the enterprise, omitting only SMBs – and have been moving more upmarket recently, something the 4.9 release is designed to accelerate.

ExaGrid competes against companies which tend to be a lot larger and better known than them, such as EMC with its market-leading Data Domain product, and the HP StoreOnce and Dell DR series. The key to this is their architecture, which while not unique in the industry, is unique in the markets in which it competes.

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Bill Andrews, ExaGrid’s CEO

“We have a very different architecture, a landing zone with scale-out capabilities, that has a shorter backup window, faster restore times, and boots virtual machines up to ten times faster than inline deduplication appliances,” said Bill Andrews, ExaGrid’s CEO. “We can also keep a fixed-length backup cycle, even as the amount of data expands, because of the scale-out architecture, so we aren’t impacted by the shrinking backup window to get increased volumes of data backed up every night.”

The secret sauce here is the ability of the landing zone to keep the most recent backups in undeduplicated form, so that only the most recent data – a tiny part of the whole – is backed up.

“Our competitors dedupe on the fly, slowing backups down, and all the backups are deduped,” Andrews said. He said that the only thing similar in the market is the HP 6500 StoreOnce, but that it is more expensive and aimed higher in the enterprise.

Version 4.9 of the ExaGrid software has two major enhancements. One is an improvement in the deduplication, so that it now takes place globally across all NAS shares and all appliances in a scale-out GRID, instead of by NAS share, as before. Secondly, support for Oracle RMAN Channels has also been boosted.

“Deduplicated data globally across all NAS shares and all appliances in a GRID does give an increase of about four per cent in data deduplication efficiency,” Andrews said. “That’s nice, if not huge, but that’s not the main reason we did it. More important is the increased management flexibility that comes from letting backup jobs be redirected to any NAS share on any appliance in the GRID. It’s a lot more flexibility in management in terms of where you want jobs to go.” The global deduplication also maintains data deduplication when backup jobs are redirected.

Andrews also said that Oracle RMAN Channels were the real reason for global dedupe. ExaGrid now supports Oracle RMAN Channels targeted at multiple NAS shares across multiple appliances in a scale-out GRID. RMAN Channels automatically writes “sections” in parallel to all NAS shares and automatically redirects the next “sections” based on available targets.

“We can now set up multiple channels to multiple appliances,” Andrews said. “RMAN repoints to different channels, and that would have broke us up in the past, but now this doesn’t do anything to our dedupe anymore. It’s no longer limited by the size of our largest box, so it doesn’t have to be broken up.” An Oracle database of up to 800 TB in size can now be backed up in parallel to a single ExaGrid scale-out GRID. It now can benefit fully from the rest of ExaGrid’s technology. The most recent database is stored in an undeduplicated form in the ExaGrid landing zone to permit the fastest restores, while the backup window stays fixed in length regardless of data growth as full appliances are added into a scale-out GRID bringing compute with capacity. It now also provides automatic failover if an appliance fails, which is new.

“This gives us a tremendous leg up, not only in the size of Oracle databases we can go over, but also in performance,” Andrews said.

ExaGrid sells through channel partners, which Andrews said is essential in a storage market dominated by large entrenched players.

“We have about 600 resellers worldwide,” he said. “We use the channel to get in, because competitors are already entrenched players in the accounts. The partners bring us in and we co-sell the opportunity.”

Andrews maintains that once they are able to get into an opportunity, they are able to win 70 per cent of the time over the big players.

“We have 12 field sales people 16 quarters ago,” he said. “We now have 35 and are going to 50. We are in that hypergrowth phase now and it’s just about building out a big machinery, which our competitors have and we don’t have yet.” The growth includes Canada. They just opened up a Toronto office and are now looking at one in Vancouver.

The plan is that after two to two and a half years of this growth, they will be able to take the company public.

ExaGrid’s version 4.9 software upgrade is available at no charge to all customers who have an active yearly maintenance and support contract, which Andrews said will be about 98 per cent of them. Version 4.9 will be available to customers at the end of August 2015.