The Harsh Truth About PBBAs

Appliances, VTLs, PBBAs (Pre-built Backup Appliances) seem to be all the rage. Indeed, since the first VTL – the imaginatively named IBM Virtual Tape Server – appeared on the market in 1997, the industry appetite for these systems seems to have been on the up and up.

What’s not to like? Well-understood hardware, a super-tuned OS that can eke out every last Kb of bandwidth, IOP or MIP from the system and deliver scorchingly fast performance in a predictable and reliable manner.

So far, so good.

But wait! Since the inception of the VTL, hardware has become significantly more performant. With the advent of production-quality Software Defined Storage, do we really need to cling on to these appliances?

A PBBA has a lot going for it, however the harsh truth is that many vendors operate their PBBAs as hardware lock-in to their software products. This means the customer has little to no leverage over their supplier: If you don’t like the hike in maintenance prices for your PBBA, what are you going to do? Move hardware AND software supplier? Retraining your staff on the way? Thought not. Now shut up and pay your S&S renewal.

Other vendors claim software defined, but upon closer inspection there are missing features like deduplication, encryption or replication. Either that or there are limits on those features, forcing purchase of a PBBA version of the product.

Then there is feature lag: The overwhelming majority of PBBAs can’t scale-out; many can’t add new storage without going offline; they don’t offer distributed RAID (only legacy parity RAID5/6). Many PBBAs are lacking CPU power – drastically slowing down restore operations, vanishingly few offer disk tiering and even fewer offer meaningful tape-out or cloud object storage options.

What’s that you’re hearing? Your PBBA provider is saying that the system is good because it’s commodity hardware? There’s nothing special in your PBBA? Well, that’s not an advantage! Commodity hardware shouldn’t be locked to the vendor supplying the software, you should have the choice of the components you wish to install. And where’s that super speedy Linux install gone? It’s turned in to a generic distribution with little to no tuning. Your software provider limits your use of software defined dedupe on your commodity hardware, but doesn’t limit it on their own? That’s just insult carefully balanced on injury.

IBM is doing things differently.

IBM’s software defined-storage range is currently the only one of its kind, as it does not require the customer to purchase any of the software vendor’s hardware. Sure, IBM’s hardware is great, you’ll probably want to buy it – but the point is that you don’t have to and you’re not locked in. All the features you want are run in software, not an appliance. More importantly, if you want to change the spec of your system, you can configure it to be what you want, not what a PBBA vendor second guesses that you might want.

Isn’t it really difficult to design a data protection infrastructure though? Not any more: IBM publishes “Spectrum Protect Blueprints”. Just lookup the hardware/OS platform you want, chose the size of server appropriate to your workload – and there are detailed walk-throughs and configuration scripts that take a bare metal server and return a Spectrum Protect Backup Server in next to no time. All from a detailed order list for the hardware needed for your system. Just click and buy one…


Technology is on the move, Software Defined is the way forward, be part of it!