CommVault Simpana 9 Takes Backup To A New Level

CommVault introduces an updated version of their all-encompassing Simpana suite

CommVault is one of those enterprise IT companies that likes to go their own way. A spin-out of AT&T’s famed Bell Labs, CommVault’s Simpana software integrates many aspects of data management, from backup to e-discovery, under one umbrella. Last year, the company impressed me by adding cloud storage as a backup target equal in status to disk and traditional tape. Now the company is doing the same for storage-based snapshots, accelerating data protection for virtual machines.

Simpana 9: A Broad Update

Nearly every aspect of CommVault’s Simpana 9 is refreshed, though development and unveiling has been an ongoing process throughout the year. Following  Simpana 8 by two years, the new software integrates work done integrating cloud storage and virtual machine backup over the last year or so. The “data management” portion of the product (including backup, archiving, and replication) was detailed this week, and one expects more information about the other half (“information management”) to be forthcoming.

Simpana 9 is available as of October 5 from OEMs, resellers, also direct from CommVault.  Pricing is simplified this time around with CommVault using a capacity licensing model. Cost is based on the  largest backup or archiving job, though the old licensing model still still available. A “circuit breaker reset” allows the system to go over the licensed level temporarily in a pinch.

Pick Your Target: Tape, Disk, Cloud, or Snapshot

There has been a long-standing back-and-forth discussion in the enterprise backup community regarding snapshots as backups. My stance has been that, while snapshots are certainly a more-effective mechanism for copying data than dump-to-tape, it takes more than data to have a useful backup. Any system worth using must schedule, manage, organize, and recover data. Therefore, although snapshot-based backup is a good idea, it wasn’t ready for prime time until it was integrated with a solid backup management system.

Elevating snapshots as a first-class backup target is exactly what CommVault is doing. Just as their earlier releases added cloud as a backup target, Simpana 9 makes snapshots just another option. Commvault recognizes that needs change over the lifecycle of a backup, and the location of data should change, too. A snapshot makes an excellent “operational recovery” target, allowing frequent copying and quick restore, but is sub-optimal for long-term archiving. Conversely, tape is a poor frequent target due to its linear nature but has proven itself for long-term offline archive.

Simpana 8 supported HDS and Dell for snapshots, now Simpana 9 adds volume leaders EMC and NetApp, along with HP, IBM, LSI, and Sun. Data is indexed and cataloged, and these are stored with the data on disk, tape, or cloud for later access. Speaking of cloud, Simpana 9 supports  Amazon, Azure, Nirvanix, Rackspace, Iron Mountain, EMC Atmos, Dell DX, and HDS HCP.

You might also want to read CommVault Gives Cloud Storage A Seat At The Adult Table

VM Backup Acceleration

CommVault was demonstrating their abilities to back up machines using VMware VADP at VMworld. There, they took just 17 minutes to back up 500 machines using snapshots on an IBM XIV storage array. I imagine most of the supported platforms could do just as well.

Simpana 9 automatically  discovers running guests using VMware vCenter. This allows for daily movement of machines since they are located each time and the backups are coordinated for universal, consistent coverage. No machines will be missed, either. In fact, given that many snapshots work on a block level, it would be impossible to not backup up clients sharing the same LUN.

On the back side, Simpana uses an ESXi proxy to grab snap content and catalog the virtual machines contained there. It then moves the data off to disk, tape, or cloud just like any other backup content.

CommVault is also working on  Hyper-V support, using VSS rather than VADP.

Universal Dedupe

The third element of Simpana 9 is integrated source and target deduplication. Simpana’s client software deduplicates local data on its own before sending it to the server. These deduped blocks are then checked against the universal set on the server before being stored, potentially bringing a “best of both worlds” solution to the source-versus-target argument.

Migration to Simpana 9 From NetBackup and TSM

One of the long-standing criticisms of Simpana is that it was just too far-reaching for easy testing, migration, and uptake. It has been seen as an all-or-nothing proposition, requiring a commitment that is hard to win and harder to back away from in the event of trouble.

Simpana 9 addresses part of this concern with a so-called “Fast Pass” migration system that allows configuration to be pulled in from more-traditional backup products for a seamless transition. The Simpana  data connector talks to NBU 6.0, 6.5, 7.0 and TSM 6.1 master server, discovers backup policies, and imports these (clients, schedule, history, etc)  into the new configuration. Then automatic install software pushes CommVault agents into place and takes over operations, leaving the old system running for historical recoveries only.

Stephen’s Stance

I love the idea of promoting data from operational snapshots to tape or cloud for archiving. And I love the idea that end-users can choose the combination that fits their needs within a unified package. I’ve long been a fan of CommVault’s products, and this upgrade makes them that much more compelling. I’ll leave it to wiser minds to debate their implementation and effectiveness, but it sure looks good for me.  The simplified licensing and purchasing model is welcome, too — backup is a thorny combination of pricing models.

The idea of migrating seamlessly from old to new is interesting, but I wonder how well it will work in practice. My time as a backup consultant taught me that these environments tend to be complicated, finicky, and outdated. It’s nice that CommVault can read in a TSM 6.1 configuration, but what about older versions? The same goes for NetBackup. And will it correctly handle the weird rule sets found there? But a greater issue is whether it should import the old settings at all: Perhaps migrating to a new backup system is a good time to revisit the assumptions behind your configuration!

All in all, Simpana 9 looks like a compelling update for CommVault lovers or those disaffected by their current platform. Organizations having difficulty meeting backup windows should also give it a look, since the snapshot technology should be a big help there. And anyone looking at cloud storage as a backup and archiving target should start with CommVault. Others will certainly be intrigued, but I am not sure that they will be compelled to upgrade by these features alone.

About the author

Stephen Foskett

Stephen Foskett is an active participant in the world of enterprise information technology, currently focusing on enterprise storage, server virtualization, networking, and cloud computing. He organizes the popular Tech Field Day event series for Gestalt IT and runs Foskett Services. A long-time voice in the storage industry, Stephen has authored numerous articles for industry publications, and is a popular presenter at industry events. He can be found online at,, and on Twitter at @SFoskett.

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