EMC or HP: Who is stretching the truth on deduplication system performance?

EMC proudly announced the availability of Data Domain 990 during EMC World 2012 on May 21st. The claim in the news release was that the system could backup up to 248 TB in 8-hour backup window with 31 TB/hr throughput. Further, it claimed that it is 6x faster than closer competitor.

The pride was shattered within 2 weeks. Even Kardashion’s marriage lasted longer than the claim. HP announced that it could protect up 100 TB/hr using its StoreOnce family of products. EMC looked at it with tears and finally responded as given here

EMC said HP’s decision was “puzzling”, and argued the comparison was not fair because HP’s claim was for four hardware systems working on four storage pools compared to EMC’s figures for one system and one pool. Deduplication, which removes copies of data from storage to improve usage, only works within pools of data.

Now is time for a reality check.

Number of systems involved in deduplication processing: EMC’s claim is that Data Domain 990 is a single head unit while HP StoreOnce B6200 is a multi-node system. From the first look, it sounds like a legitimate argument; but the reality is that EMC has no reason to shed crocodile’s tears about this. Here is why.

The 31 TB/hr rate for Data Domain 990 is coming from Data Domain Boost, the software component that offloads most of the processor-intensive deduplication processing to backup servers and/or application servers. The unit by itself is not doing all the work. The story is not different for HP B6200 either; it is making use of StoreOnce Catalyst software, which does similar to what Data Domain Boost does for Data Domain 990.

The absolute number of processing heads shouldn’t matter in this case as the actual performance numbers are skewed on account of distributed processing. I would even give credit to HP, as their solution is highly available with two nodes serving one storage pool. Backups are the last line of defense in an enterprise. High Availability brings additional customer value.

Number of name spaces: Single name space provides deduplication across all the workload ingested into the storage pool. Data Domain 990 is a single name space device with one processing head. You buy HP B6200 in the form of two nodes and storage known as couplets.  It is not crystal clear from HP’s documentation whether multiple couplets can share the same name space or they use dedicated name spaces. I am giving the benefit of doubt that EMC did the research and made the statement on this. Some of the defensive comments HP did after EMC’s reaction tend to indicate the HP stretched the truth a little here.

HP marketing veep Craig Nunes says an 8-node B6200 is a single system because it is managed as one and has a single namespace. The single namespace is segmented into four individual namespaces, one per couplet, and, he says, “next year I could do a firmware update and change that”.

So, I am inclined to support EMC from this point unless someone can confirm from HP’s documentation that a four-couplet unit uses a single name space.

Truth in comparisons: 

EMC’s claim: 6x faster than closer competitor. HP’s claim: 3 times faster (backups) than closest competitor

The statements won’t actually tell you how ‘closer/closest’ competitor is decided. EMC is defining closer competition based on IDC’s report on market share on Purpose-Built Backup Appliances (PBBA) and they are referring to IBM. They selected to compare IBM because they have the poorest number. The other vendors in the list with– HP at 25 TB/hr without Catalyst and Symantec at 23.7 TB/hr for its NetBackup 5220– have solutions superior to IBM! EMC cannot even claim 2x (let alone 6x) if the closest comparison was based on performance itself.

HP defined closest competitor in terms of the actual performance. They compared against EMC’s 31 TB/hr to make the 3 times faster claim with 100 TB/hr.

Verdict: Always ask questions on metrics! It is easy to make a claim while staying vague on details.

Not seeing your comments on this post? Please read this note.

Deduplication Storage Pool Reliability: The devil is in the details

As you guys already know, I do travel a lot and attend trade shows where I represent Symantec. While I was briefing a visitor at Symantec booth on NetBackup 5020 appliance, he asked a question which was quite interesting. “We have requested RFPs from multiple vendors for deploying deduplication solution for backups. EMC sales team told us that Data Domain 800 series is better than NetBackup 5020 appliances in terms of reliability. They said that if one node in a multi-node NetBackup 5020 goes down, the entire deduplication pool goes down. What do you think about it?”

I thanked him for his question. I took a good 20 minutes to explain the situation. I thought it will be nice to document this in a blog for a fair comparison.

Let us compare configurations based on Data Domain 860 and NetBackup 5020. Let us say that the customer is looking to create 96TB of deduplication pool right now. He may need more storage in future.

With Data Domain 860, it would require four ES30 shelves (with 2TB drives) to create this capacity. Plus you need the 860 head unit.  With NetBackup 5020, you would need three nodes.

Implementing a 96TB deduplication pool

Implementing a 96TB deduplication pool

Thus, the EMC solution has a total of 5 components (1 head and 4 shelves). EMC’s 96TB deduplication pool will go down if any of the five components fail.

Symantec solution has a total of three components (3 NetBackup 5020 nodes). Symantec’s 96TB deduplication pool will go down if any of the three components fail.

Observation 1: EMC solution has more single points of failure than Symantec’s solution for a given capacity.

Let us dig deeper. Let us look at the components that actually store data, the storage modules.

Each Data Domain ES30 shelf will have 15 spindles: 12 data drives, 2 parity drives and 1 hot spare. Each shelf can withstand 3 concurrent drive failures.

Each NetBackup 5020 nodes have 22 spindles (not counting the two drives in RAID1 for system disk): 18 data drives, 2 parity drives and 2 hot spares. This configuration can withstand four concurrent drive failures.

Both systems use SATA drives. The theoretical1 annualized failure rate (AFR) for a SATA drive is approximately 1.46%. Robin Harris’ StorageMojo2 blog has some great information on a study done by Google. He quotes the idea of calculated AFR to be 2.88%

Since we are actually comparing the overall storage modules (ES30 storage shelf vs. NetBackup 5020 storage shelf), let us not worry about the absolute value of AFR of a disk drive. For our discussion, let us assume that both Symantec and Data Domain are buying disks from the same manufacturer. Let the AFR be 3% to simplify probability calculations.

An AFR of 3% indicates that the probability of a SATA drive to fail within a year is 3/100.

In case of Data Domain 860 with ES30 shelves, you will lose data if more than 3 drives fail in a year and failed drives were not replaced. The probability of four drives failing in a year can be calculated using conditional probability3. The value is (3/100)4 = 0.000081%

In case of a NetBackup 5020 node, you will lose data if more than 4 drives fail in a year and were not replaced. The probability here is (3/100)5 = 0.00000243%

Note the probability of data loss is low in both cases even if you don’t replace the failed drives for a year. This is why RAID6 and hot spare play a significant role in delivering storage reliability. That is the main point I want to make here. However the probability of losing data on ES30 shelf is 33 times higher than the probability of losing data in NetBackup 5020! The reason here is the extra hot spare that you have in NetBackup 5020 node that provides additional protection.

Observation 2: From storage module perspective, although the absolute probability of losing data is quite low for both EMC and Symantec solutions, the relative probability of losing data on EMC’s ES30 shelf is 33 times higher than that in NetBackup 5020 if drives have identical AFR.

So don’t you disagree with what EMC sales rep has reportedly told about NetBackup 5020 appliances? The devil is always in the details, isn’t it?

Disclaimer: As I had already stated in About Me page in MrVRay.com, the thoughts expressed here are my own. My employer or school has not endorsed/supported any of the content in this blog. If there are errors in this post, contact me at @AbdulRasheed127 on Twitter and I will be happy to correct it. I am not entertaining comments until I invest in a good spam blocker, sorry for the inconvenience 🙁


  1. Annualized Failure Rate (AFR) and Mean Time between Failures (MTBF) in: Seagate Barracuda ES SATA Product Manual, Page 29, Chapter 2.12: Reliability
  2. Robin Harris. Google’s Disk Failure Experience
  3. Conditional Probability: P(AB) = P(A)*P(B|A)

If A and B are independent outcomes, P(B|A) = P(B)

In which case, P(AB) = P(A) * P(B)

Deduplication Dilemma: Veeam or Data Domain?

Recently I came across a blog post from Szamos Attila. He ran a deduplication contest between Data Domain and Veeam. His was a very small test environment, just 12 virtual machines with 133GB of data. His observations were significant. I thought I share it here.

Veeam vs. Data Domain
Veeam vs. DataDomain Deduplication Contest run by Szamos Attila

You can read more about Mr. Attila’s tests at his blog here

What does this tell you right of the bat? Well, Veeam’s deduplication is slow; not a big deal as they do not charge for deduplication separately. Not a big deal, right?

Not exactly; there is much more to this story if you take a look at the big picture.

First of all, note that this is a very small data set (just 133GB, even my laptop has more data!). Veeam’s deduplication is not really a true deduplication engine that fingerprints data segments and stores only one copy. It is basically a data reduction technique that works only on a predefined set of backup files. Veeam refers to this set of backup files as a backup repository. You can only run one backup job to a given repository at any given time. Hence if you want to backup two virtual machines concurrently, you need to send them to two different backup repositories. If you do that your backup data is not deduplicated across those two jobs. Thus your data reduction strategy using Veeam’s deduplication and concurrent processing of jobs are inversely proportional to one another. This is a major drawback as VMs generally contain a lot of redundant data. In fact, Veeam recommends to run deduplication mainly for a given backup set where all the VMs come from the same template.

Secondly, note that even with a single backup repository; this tiny data set (of just 133GB) took twice as long as Data Domain’s deduplication. Now think about a small business environment with a few terabytes of data. Imagine the time it would take to protect that data. When it comes to an enterprise data center (100s of terabytes); you must depend on a target based deduplication solution like Data Domain to get the job done.

So, can I simply let Veeam do the data movement and count on Data Domain do the deduplication? That is one way to solve this problem. But you have a multitude of other issues with that approach because of the way Veeam does restores.

Veeam does not have a good way to let application administrators in guest operating system (e.g. Exchange administrator on a VM running Microsoft Exchange) self-serve their restore needs. First the application administrator submits a ticket for restore. Then the backup administrator will mount the VMDK files from backup using a temporary VM that starts up in a production ESX host. Even to restore a small object, you have to allocate resources for the entire VM (the marketing name for this multi-step restore is U-AIR) in the ESX host. As this VM needs to ‘run’ from backup storage, it is not recommended for the backup image to be on a deduplicated storage being served through network. As target deduplication devices are designed for streaming data sequentially, the random I/O pattern caused by running a VM from such storage is painfully slow. This is even stated by the partners who are offering deduplication storage for Veeam. HP did tests with Veeam using HP StoreOnce target deduplication appliance and have published a white paper on this, please see this whitepaper in Business Week . See the section on Performance Considerations.

It is to be further noted that only the most recent backup typically stays as a single image in Veeam’s reverse incremental backup strategy. If you are in an unfortunate need to restore from a copy that is not the most recent copy, the performance degrades further while running the temporary VM from backup storage as a lot of random I/O needs to happen at the back-end.

Even after somehow you patiently waited for VM to startup from backup storage, the application administrator needs to figure out how to restore the required objects. If the object is not there in the currently mounted backup image, he/she has to send another ticket to Veeam administrator to mount a different backup image on a temporary VM. This saga continues until the application administrator finds the correct object. What a pain!

There you have it. On one side you have scalability and backup performance issues if using Veeam’s deduplication. On the other side, you have poor recovery performance and usability issues when using a target deduplication appliance with Veeam. This is the deduplication dilemma!

The good news is that target deduplication devices work well with NetBackup and Backup Exec. Both these products provide user interfaces for application administrators so that they could self-serve their recovery needs. At the same time, VM backup and recovery remains agent-less. The V-Ray powered NetBackup and Backup Exec has the capability to stream the actual object from the backup; no need to mount it using a temporary VM.