Zmanda: Backing up - the Open Source Way
Date: Friday , May 01, 2009
Chander Kant, CEO and a founder of Zmanda, is hoping one thing from this recession continues: the opening of closed mindsets and cultures. As the CEO of Zmanda, the leader in open source backup and recovery software, he says mindset and culture are sometimes the barriers when it comes to adoption of open source backup vis-à-vis enterprise backup. This, he says, is despite the fact that over the past few years, the two have come on par in terms of features.
“Mindsets take a significant beating when things are down,” says Chander, and this recession has been one such occasion. So much so that some companies who Zmanda never thought of as part of its prospective customer list, in the short term, are signing up with the company all on their own.
“Difficult times call for innovative solutions. A large retailer who we would never have thought would be our customer in the near term logged onto our website recently, and filled in the contact sales form, and then purchased our product within two weeks,” he notes. Though the retailer in question bought the product for a specific project and not all of its operations, it is an encouraging sign.
“The project did not have the money to go for a Symantec backup product, and we had all the features they needed at a fraction of the cost, so they opted for us,” says Chander. So as companies keep feeling the heat, more unlikely clients will come Zmanda’s way.
In fact, when the economy hit its recent low in Q4 of last year, Zmanda witnessed a 60% increase in downloads of its solutions. As compared to a typical monthly 10,000 downloads of its free community solution from its website, the number of downloads shot up in Q4 to more than 16,000 per month.
Backup is not optional. Businesses of every size need it. Overall, more and more IT managers are looking at open source as a significant vehicle to dramatically reduce their costs. And when they do so, Zmanda profits the most, since it is the leader in open source backup solutions, says Chander.
That’s probably the value that Blue Run Ventures, Canaan Partners and Helion Venture Partners saw in the company when they invested in it.
Accolades also came Zmanda’s way recently when the company introduced a major upgrade of its flagship product — Amanda Enterprise, Version 3.0. The product now offers high-end features and functions like disaster recovery to the cloud and enterprise-level media and device management.
“Zmanda is challenging the way backup products and services are being delivered by offering more choice and flexibility — a refreshing proposition for users who don’t want to lock up data in proprietary formats or proprietary clouds,” said Lauren Whitehouse, analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group.
“The latest release of Amanda Enterprise introduces media and cloud enhancements that provide alternatives for how and where applications and data are protected and how customers pay for it. Given the economic climate, Zmanda may provide a welcome relief to customers’ backup ails.” Whitehouse added.
The backup space is fairly mature, characterised by big names like Symantec. The company accounts for nearly $1 billion of the $3.5 billion market globally, and to make a dent in such a mature market could be an uphill task. But, leadership in open source backup and cloud backup makes Zmanda a top contender in changing the landscape of this large market.
Cloud Backup, a market that Zmanda is defining, means two different things: backup to the cloud; and backup of the cloud.
Backup to the cloud entails application or database backup to a storage cloud for disaster recovery. Zmanda backs up on-premises data to a storage cloud of customers choosing, and such an arrangement saves the customer the hassle of buying expensive IT infrastructure and tape storage media.
The second one entails protecting applications running on a compute cloud. Zmanda has means to backup applications to a location of the customer's choice. This adds confidence to cloud computing, enabling ever more organizations to consider running their important applications on a cloud.
Zmanda’s quest for gaining a large share of the open source backup space is aided by the fact that it is supported, and the company employs, developers who were a part of the well-respected Amanda project, which is the world’s most popular open source backup project. This assures its presence in pretty much all countries worldwide – with paying customers in more than 45 countries. Amanda has been battle tested for several years (its first version was released in 1991), which boosts the confidence of Zmanda's customers.
Zmanda offers community editions of its products as free downloads on its website. The company sells Enterprise editions of Amanda and Zmanda Recovery Manager for MySQL as an annual subscription. This is very much along the lines of how Red Hat and MySQL (now part of Sun) sell supported versions of their open source software. In addition, the amount that Zmanda charges its clients for the backup to cloud functionality is dependant on the actual storage space and the bandwidth the client uses on a monthly basis. For instance, users of Zmanda Cloud Backup pay 20 cents per gigabyte for storage and bandwidth. Essentially they pay for what they use. Overall, says Chander, Zmanda’s backup solutions cost around one-fourth to one-tenth that of Symantec, depending on specific configuration. But why would companies use Zmanda backup, if many of the applications it provides backup for are covered by players like Symantec?
“No one comes close to us as far as protecting the open source ecosystem,” says Chander. For example Symantec still does not provide support for either of the two leading open source databases: MySQL or Postgres. Zmanda provides support for all major Linux distributions as well as OpenSolaris.
“We are the only one providing official backup for such technologies,” says Chander. “That explains the surge in customer numbers of late, given the preference of companies for open source technologies.”
Clouds and Commoditization
Chander says that clouds are the last chapter of the commoditization story of the IT stack. Linux commoditized expensive Unix solutions such as HP UX and AIX; Dell commoditized for expensive hardware; MySQL and Postgres have been commoditizing Oracle, but cloud represents the commoditization of the entire datacentre.
“And we are an integratl part of this ultimate commoditization story,” he beams.
So, did Zmanda cash in on the commoditisation story by getting its own cloud?
“We asked that question to ourselves early on, while starting the company. And we decided not to invest in one since we did not want to have a huge data center of our own. Also, we wanted to focus on innovating on backup software – our core compentency” says Chander.
The dilemma of cloud ownership was busted when storage clouds, like Amazon S3 came into the picture. Such clouds, says Chander, are scalable, and provide robustness which comes with significant investment and experience.
“It helps us provide best of both worlds to the customers: low-cost storage managed by intelligent yet low-cost software,” he reasons.
CIOs of all big companies are looking at open source as an option, says Chander. In fact, many companies have even set up independent offices in this regard, and Zmanda gets a seat at their table by default, being the default open source backup provider.
“The economies are staggeringly in our favour – so if our software meets the needs of the customer, we almost always win the deals,” says Chander.
Incidentally, backup for MySQL constitutes 25% of Zmanda’s business from the revenue perspective; 50% of its clients use MySQL in some form.
But, since MySQL provides its own backup utilities, how does Zmanda compete with that, one might ask?
Extraction of data from an application and managing backup of the entire data centre are related but independent problems, says Chander in explanation.
“While the extraction is a one-time problem, and the task, for example, can be performed by shutting down the system and copying the data, the management of backup is a tough job,” he notes.
Managing all applications and platforms creates the first layer of complication. The second layer of complication centres on compliance and retention policies. These two are solved, Chander claims, by Zmanda’s solutions.
Open Source Community Leadership
Zmanda, by definition, is open source - meaning it accepts code from one and all. However, as the company employs several of the developers working on the Amanda project, the core architecture of Zmanda’s solutions has been developed by employees of the company.
People often submit their own fixes for problems they encounter while using Zmanda’s solutions, and these patches are collected and introduced into the product on a regular basis.
In addition, Zmanda contributes significant development resources to open source data protection projects that share its vision. It also provides hardware, collaboration tools and financial assistance to key developers in the open source community.
"Zmanda has taken a leadership role in enhancing Amanda, while fully subscribing to the open source development methodology and by providing collaborative tools like Wiki and Forum," says Jean-Louis Martineau, current Amanda community lead developer and project gatekeeper, while commenting on Zmanda’s open source leadership.
Zmanda's Road Ahead
Chander states that finding the right people at the right time is a continuing challenge for the company. The company, headquartered in the Bay area, tried to solve part of the problem by opening a development centre in Pune.
“The Pune centre for us was not a cost-cutting exercise. It was established to increase the gene pool available to the company,” he says.
Zmanda’s website, incidentally, is a destination site. It attracts a lot of visitors, which are converted into leads by the company’s sales team and pursued. Some of these turn into Zmanda customers.
Also, the company has partnerships with large players like Red Hat and Oracle, and reaches some customers through their client lists. And, of course, Clouds are a great destination in Zmanda's journey ahead.