Dell PowerProtect Data Manager Appliance: A Hands-on Review
In this article
Dell's earliest releases in the converged backup appliance market were modeled on the VCE vBlock architecture: a factory integrated hardware, software and storage solution. The solution as delivered provided a pre-integrated platform with mature software and hardware. There were also, especially in the earlier versions, challenges around software upgrades and configuration management:
- The products that comprised the Integrated Data Protection Appliance (IDPA) — Avamar, Data Domain and Data Protection Advisor — played extremely well together but the stack would require management at multiple layers
- The DP4400 release fully virtualized the storage and application stacks allowing for a more seamless user and management experience. Although this was a major step forward for the platform, it was still evident that there were multiple products running underneath the solution
Dell's latest data protection offering, the PowerProtect Data Manager Appliance, introduces a new generation of backup appliance. Its foundations are apparent: a PowerProtect Data Manager (PPDM) software layer that is tightly integrated with a software-defined PowerProtect Data Domain (PPDD) storage layer. PPDM is a modern codebase which has been integrated with PowerProtect DD platform from its inception. The resulting PowerProtect Data Manager Appliance provides an integrated, simple to use and secure experience.
The Data Manager Appliance runs on a Dell PowerEdge R740xd2 server which ships with up to 96TB usable storage, a flash tier and 10/25 GbE networking. Also included are a pair of 20 core Intel Cascade Lake CPU's and 384GB of RAM work with a hardware assisted compression card to drive performance, and licensed capacity scales from 12TB to 96TB usable (TBu) in 12 TB increments that fits into a 2RU hardware platform.
One of the things that we kept hearing prior to release was that the installation on this appliance was going to be 'a breeze.' Dell most definitely got that right. A little careful pre-planning around network and power configurations will result in a fast, trouble-free installation (start with the site readiness guide).
On initial boot up, we connected via iDRAC port on the back or the micro-USB on the front of the unit. After a mandatory change of the default administrator password and assigning the IP addresses, we were done in the server room.
Configuration continues remotely with support and telemetry configuration, licensing, asset discovery and the option to create a security user (which you should). The whole process took less than half an hour and is straightforward and easy to follow.
At this point, we were ready to discover vCenters, discover clients and create backup policies. No additional installation was needed.
We were able to very quickly connect vCenters, auto-discover the virtual machines (VMs) and configure backup policies.
We tested both traditional VMware's vSphere APIs for Data Protection (VADP) and Dell's new Transparent Snapshots Data Mover (TSDM). Everything installed as expected and the appliance has a built-in data mover (proxy) engine for the VADP snapshotting. Additional Data Mover virtual appliances can be deployed to improve performance.
For TSDM, no vProxies or additional data movers are needed. We didn't have the opportunity to benchmark or otherwise 'prove out' TSDM as our focus was around installation and configuration. However, we did notice that in an environment where it could use TSDM (VCenter 7.0.3 or greater), Data Manager was a little aggressive about defaulting to TSDM.
The vSphere plugin for the Data Manager Appliance is installed automatically when you discover a vCenter. This enables self-service VM backup and recovery as well as self-service file level recovery to and from VMs from within the vCenter UI.
One interesting development is the ability to utilize instant access technology on an overwrite restore of a VM. Essentially, instead of writing the VM recovery to the datastore and booting it, you can boot it on the flash tier of the Data Manager Appliance and perform a Storage vMotion all-in-one action – which takes about as long as a restore but gives you a login prompt much sooner.
SQL, Oracle and Filesystem backups were tested and worked as expected. Everything should be 100 percent familiar to someone who uses Data Manager on a regular basis.
We were able to deploy filesystem and database agents by downloading them from the appliance. Note that agents cannot be pushed for initial install; but, once an agent is registered with the server, updates to agents can be pushed from the Data Manager Appliance.
In all cases, creating backup policies were simple and had a clear logical flow. All the 'backup server' options and tasks are in the same UI as the 'storage' related tasks.
Data Manager: While it's not burdened by a legacy code base, it sometimes feels like a product on a maturity curve. The product has really hit its stride in the last few releases, but there are still occasional small UI inconsistencies and glitches that make the application feel unpolished.
Reporting: Reporting is on par with the equivalent release of Data Manager and still needs to grow into something more robust and usable. Enterprise-grade products deserve enterprise-grade reporting and monitoring.
Replication: Currently, Data Manager Appliances can only replicate to each other. While this is workable for smaller customers, some sort of fan in, many to one replication to an instance of Data Manager and a large PowerProtect DD system is going to be a necessity for wide adoption in the enterprise Remote-Office/Back-Office (ROBO) market. This current replication limitation also means it is not compatible with Dell's PowerProtect Cyber Recovery cyber-vaulting solution.
Right now, at 12-96 TBu with the current replication limitations, the Data Manager Appliance is aimed squarely at the small to medium business market, with a side helping of remote office for some of the larger enterprises once the many to one configuration is supported.
For the Data Manager Appliance to gain a share of the market, Dell needs to fill out the product line, make it scalable and iron out the reporting.
Dell is continuing to provide updates and capabilities like immutability support through retention lock compliance and appliance audit logging, replication support to DD/DDVE and CyberRecovery Vault, along with the Scale-up to 256TB are on the horizon.
Dell continues to provide updates and feature enhancements for the DM5500. Many of the initial concerns around replication and scalability have been resolved with subsequent code releases:
- The 126.96.36.199 (July 2023) release added support for Dell's Cyber Recovery Vault solution, DD Retention Lock for immutable storage and replication to PowerProtect DD Series virtual appliances.
- The 188.8.131.52 (November 2023) release added support for expanded capacity up to 256TB, PowerStore direct integration (PowerProtect Storage Direct), replication to physical DD Series appliances and standalone PowerProtect Data Manager Instances, as well as numerous code updates from the PowerProtect Data Manager software.
With the addition of these features, the Data Manager Appliance becomes a much better fit for larger enterprise customers looking for an all-in-one appliance that can integrate with their existing PowerProtect Data Manager ecosystem and provides a comprehensive solution for medium-sized enterprises; especially those who have implemented or are planning on implementing a Dell CyberVault solution.
Please consult the relevant release notes on Dell's website for the most up-to-date information.