Will Rubrik’s time machine fix the mess of data protection?

0325150457fA couple weeks ago on the Speaking in Tech podcast I had a deja vu experience when the topic became a statement attributed to Microsoft that “backup software deserves to die.”   This came from an article by Simon Sharwood in The Register that quoted Microsoft as saying “If cloud storage had existed decades ago, it’s unlikely that the industry would have developed the backup processes that are commonly used today.”  Shazaam! The exact words I wrote in Chapter 2 of “Rethinking Enterprise Storage”  when I was on the StorSimple team at Microsoft.  It turns out that my former colleagues are publishing excerpts from my book in a Microsoft blog which caught Simon’s attention and he published his reaction. All understandable, but the context it was written in was left far behind.  As the conversation played out on the podcast, I found myself trying to cut Microsoft slack for what I had written, which morphed into a into a discussion about how I killed backup. A small bit of tech comedy, and all good.

0325150456Nonetheless, It’s inevitable that backup will be overhauled by cloud technology for the reasons I pointed out in the book: it’s far too complex, has too many points of failure and doesn’t scale. Cloud technology can fix most of those.

Lo and behold, just yesterday, another new startup, Rubrik, made their funding known to the world along with their intention of building a “Time Machine for the Enterprise”  Because it’s early and not much is known about them, I’m trying to read between the lines and guess what they are doing.

The most useful information was posted on Storage Review by Adam Armstrong, who describes Rubrik’s technology as a platform and used the graphic below to summarize the problem Rubrik intends to solve. Rubrik graphic

The most interesting thing about their graphic is it’s similarity to one that we used at StorSimple, as shown below on the left.  There are certainly differences, but the basic concept is the same: get rid of unnecessary, overlapping legacy systems.

storsimple consolidation

Rubrik apparently hasn’t provided the graphic for how their stuff replaces the legacy stuff, but I bet it will look similar to the right side of the StorSimple graphic with cloud (or object)  storage having a prominent role for off-site data protection.

The following phrases in Adam’s article hint at what else Rubrik may be doing:

“Eliminates the need for backup software or globally deduplicated storage”

Eliminating the need for backup software implies knowing about data that is being written, which means Rubrik will be in the data path – either as a storage device or some sort of cache. I suspect some sort of scale-out cache because they didn’t say they were developing a new storage system. There are a number of problems involved with fronting storage systems and nobody has been very successful doing it. It will be interesting to see what Rubrik is actually doing, but I’m sure they will be keeping a lot of metadata.

Rubrik founder Arvind Jain was at Riverbed and knows dedupe technology as well as anybody.  I’m not sure what “eliminating globally deduplicated storage” means, but I suspect it just means they dedupe data.  If it means they are trying to solve large-scale dedupe across many systems or even sites, they have to deal with very large hashes and hash tables which can have a big impact on performance.  But the performance problems of big hashes aren’t all that big if you are mostly working with secondary copies of data. That said, if they are making a caching thingy their method of deduping data will be interesting.

“Instant recovery down to the file level, where Rubrik claims is much faster than legacy backup solutions”

Yes, recovering files from disk or cloud storage is usually faster than recovering from tape, if that’s what they mean by “legacy backup solutions”.  Data has to be located on tapes and then tapes have to be located wherever they are stored. It’s not the fastest way to do it. It sounds like Rubrik is giving users an interface to historical versions of their files so they can recover their files themselves. That should be a good thing as long as they don’t recover shedloads of data without telling anybody, creating capacity problems. (There’s always something).

“Rely less on snapshots and more on their backup appliance”

The word appliance infers hardware, although it could certainly be a virtual appliance too. There would be value in having the equivalent of snapshots that don’t consume space on primary storage. There are a lot of ways this could be done. StorSimple does them with something called cloud snapshots – which also serves as daily offsite protection.

“Shows the IOPS throughput and speed as well as remaining storage capacity”

Presenting storage metrics is always a good thing – especially if you are operating as a cache.  Showing remaining storage capacity could apply to their platform or to downstream storage systems.  In either case, its good to have a handle on how full storage is so you can take action.

“Leveraging the latest hardware technologies including flash”

What storage platform these days does not leverage flash?  If you are doing a lot of dedupe you better be. This is not really an advantage as much as it is a requirement.

My take

Storage plays are always a lot harder than they appear, but Rubrik’s team appears to have sufficient knowledge about how storage works to have a shot at success.  Moving secondary data to the cloud or object storage makes perfect sense. The trick in eliminating backup software is circumventing all the best practices that are in place. Human habits are hard to change and Rubrik’s biggest challenge may be getting everybody on board with new ways of managing data that run counter to the old ways of doing it. For example, things like virus scanning and defrag can turn a storage cache inside out.



  1. How is this different to the Actifio solution which has been in the market for ~5 years?