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Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliances – A Comparison

For data protection, physical backup appliances have been the preference of businesses because they offer simplified installations and high performance. With software-defined data centers and virtualization paving way for virtual backup appliances, do physical backup appliances still make sense? Should organizations transition from physical backup appliances to virtual?

How do you know what to choose? In this blog, we’ll be taking a closer look at physical vs virtual backup appliances to help you find the answers and the right data protection solution for your project(s).

Before we compare the pros and cons of physical vs virtual backup appliances, let’s briefly define the two for context.

What is a Physical Backup Appliance?

A physical backup appliance comes with its own set compute, storage, memory, and networking resources. An operating system (OS) is installed to a bare-metal which is then used to host backup applications such as Veeam, Commvault, Veritas, Rubrik, etc.

The primary advantage of physical backup appliances is that because of the dedicated hardware, there’s no impact on the production or resource contention between backups and production workloads.

Furthermore, in the event of primary hardware failure, physical backup appliances can also function as a secondary site – facilitating disaster recovery and business continuity.

What is a Virtual Backup Appliance?

Virtual backup appliances work the same as a physical backup appliance. However, they share the storage, compute, and networking resources of the host infrastructure with other VMs. Instead of an OS on bare-metal that directly communicates with the hardware, a virtual backup appliance uses a hypervisor such as VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, KVM, Citrix (formerly XenServer), or StoneFly Persepolis.  

Physical Backup Appliance vs Virtual Backup Appliance – What Should You Choose?

Now that we’ve established what physical and virtual backup appliances are, let’s compare the pros and cons of both to help you decide which one you should choose for your business.

Performance of Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliances

When comparing the performance of physical vs virtual backup appliances, it’s important to bear in mind that the purpose of backups is to ensure data recovery. The faster the backup and restore process, the better the performance.

Physical Backup Appliance Performance

The performance of a physical backup appliance depends on the hardware specifications and software features. For instance, a physical backup appliance with NVMe SSDs will be faster than an appliance with SATA drives. Similarly, a 28-core processor will deliver better throughput than a 4-core processor.

Moreover, RAID configurations, software features such as deduplication, can help optimize the process and improve overall performance.  

Instead of going for the highest possible spec, which is a waste of resources, it’s important to understand your requirements and customize your physical backup appliance to your needs and budget.

Virtual Backup Appliance Performance

On the other hand, the performance capabilities of a virtual backup appliance depend on the available resources of the host infrastructure. If you’re not using a dedicated backup host, and running your virtual backup appliance on your production infrastructure, then the performance will be limited based on allocated virtual compute, storage, memory, and networking resources.

If other VMs on production are using the majority of the available resources, introducing a virtual backup appliance to such a system will only add to the overhead, affecting the performance of production and backups.

A dedicated physical backup appliance will always perform better than a virtual backup appliance which is sharing performance capabilities with the production workloads. Alternatively, a virtual backup appliance with sufficient resources will be faster because the source and target are on the same host.

Moreover, if your production infrastructure is affected and offline, the physical backup appliance functions as a secondary host to recover your critical workloads and resume operations.

Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliance: Which is more secure?  

Physical and virtual backup appliances prevent data loss but they’re also vulnerable to threats such as ransomware, human error, hardware failure, and more. To remedy this, data security features such as air-gap, immutability, encryption, and snapshots are necessary.

Depending on the vendor and the solution, both physical and virtual backup appliances support the abovementioned data protection features. For instance, StoneFly DR365V physical appliances support automated air-gapping, immutability, snapshots, and encryption. And StoneFly SCVM, which provides virtual backup targets on VMware, Hyper-V, KVM, Citrix (XenServer), support all of the abovementioned features as well.

The advantage physical backup appliances have over virtual backups appliances, in terms of data security, is that if the virtual backup appliance is running on production and production hardware fails, the backups become unavailable and data cannot be restored.

Furthermore, physical backup appliances provide the secondary site to recover to, in the event that the production hardware is unavailable.

Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliances: Which is better for disaster recovery?

Disaster recovery focuses on getting your mission-critical operations back up and running in the shortest amount of time, with the minimum amount of data lost (shorter RTOs and RPOs). The shorter the recovery time and point objectives (RTPOs), the more expensive the solution gets.

In a data center environment, a disaster can be ransomware attack, power outage, hardware failure, human error, malicious deletion, failed software update/patch, and lastly natural disasters.

If your primary production infrastructure is hosting your virtual backup appliance and it suffers hardware failure or a ransomware attack, disaster recovery will be painful and time consuming. If you have other instances of your virtual backup appliance running in the cloud or offsite, then there’s a better chance of recovery provided you have the secondary infrastructure ready.

Alternatively, even if your production hardware fails, a physical backup appliance can help you restore operations and provide you the secondary site to host your workloads while you repair/replace your production hardware.

The speed of data recovery for a physical backup appliance will depend on the hardware specifications, software capabilities whereas the recovery speed of a virtual backup appliance is determined by the allocated virtual resources and the capabilities of the host infrastructure.

It’s important to note that relying solely on a physical or virtual backup appliance isn’t practical which is why we recommend backup strategies such as 3-2-1, 3-2-1-1-0, and 4-3-2.

Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliance: Which is easier and faster to deploy?

Purchasing and setting up physical backup appliances can take days, to weeks, and even months depending on the procurement process. After purchase, the configuration, testing, and shipping can take days – and then it depends on your in-house IT team (or service provider) to set up your backup appliance; which can take longer.

On the other hand, virtual backup appliances are relatively quicker and easier to set up. Once you’ve purchased the appropriate license(s), you can download the software, install it, configure it, and have it running in a few hours.

To help our customers, we offer faster shipping and remote professional services to facilitate configuration and set up – for both physical and virtual backup appliances.

Cost of Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliances

The cost of a physical backup appliance depends on the hardware specifications such as storage capacity, processor, etc. and the cost of the OS and backup software license(s).

Whereas for virtual backup appliances, if you’re using your production, then you just pay for the OS and backup software licenses.

Due to the cost of the hardware, the physical backup appliances cost more upfront and maintenance, power, and cooling adds to the expenses. However, running virtual backup appliance on production is risky as it’s vulnerable to data loss if your production hardware is compromised.

The costs of physical and virtual backup appliances vary depending on the vendor and chosen subscription licenses. For reference, StoneFly DR365V physical backup appliance starts at $2495*.

If you’re looking to run a virtual backup appliance with storage in Azure, StoneFly offers Veeam cloud connect to Azure starting at $75/TB*.

* Prices are subject to change without notice. For updated pricing, contact StoneFly sales.

Physical vs Virtual Backup Appliance: Which is easier to manage?

The easier a backup solution is to manage, the less time and resources it consumes, the more efficient it is, and the better the ROIs are.

In comparison, because physical backup appliances have dedicated hardware, they take up more time and resources than virtual backup appliances.

Typically, for both physical and virtual backup appliances, the backup and restore jobs can be managed via a centralized interface.

Conclusion

Whether you choose to set up a physical or virtual backup appliance, it’s important that you follow backup strategies such as 3-2-1, 3-2-1-1-0, or 4-3-2 to make sure you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket.

While physical backup appliances provide the secondary site to restore your operations, virtual backup appliances are economical and leverage virtualization to provide much needed flexibility.

When it comes to backup and DR, there’s no “cure all”. For some, physical backup appliances are the right fit. For others, virtual backup appliances make much more sense. What’s important is to analyze your data lifecycle and choose the right fit for your needs.

Need help choosing the right backup solution for your business? Talk to our experts today!

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