ExaGrid EX Series Appliances
The EX Series is positioned as backup to disk (B2D) appliances. The ExaGrid system was originally designed as a Scale-Out NAS system but has since been optimized to be a backup to disk target. Since the system presents a standard NFS or CIFS/SMB interface, it can also support other file-based applications, especially secondary storage workloads.
Each appliance has a fixed amount of processing power and storage capacity, simplifying configuration decisions. There are nine different models starting with the EX3000 and growing to the EX63000E. Any generation of any model can be intermixed in a single grid, up to the current limit of 32 nodes. By adding appliances to the grid, performance and capacity scale together. The ExaGrid system will automatically balance the data among the nodes when new ones are added to the grid.
The most recent backup copy is kept in a complete, un-deduplicated form in order to speed recovery of VMs, full systems, or files. ExaGrid refers to this capability as the Landing Zone. Local restores, instant VM recoveries, audit copies and even tape copies do not require rehydration. Deduplication and replication are performed in parallel with backup jobs from the Landing Zone to the backend storage of the system. Only deduplicated data is replicated. ExaGrid’s positioning is that this provides the fastest backup with the shortest window when compared to inline deduplication systems.
Because of the grid architecture with many models, the ExaGrid appliances can be utilized in a broad range of environments, from SMBs to large enterprises.
ExaGrid has been in the scale-out data protection market for more than a decade. More many years, this market was considered more of a niche solution area but that has changed over the last few years as more companies build scale-out solutions. By some metrics, ExaGrid is a leader in this space with over 10,000 systems installed in the field and over 350 published customer success stories. They have a broad partner ecosystem with a number of backup software partners they support as well as relationships with primary storage vendors. Many of those relationships are well established and they actively co-market with these partners. Some of the relationship offer technology integrations. For example, ExaGrid has integrated a portion of the Veeam Data Mover within their operating system. This allows them to execute the synthetic full when Veeam tells them to rather than having the Veeam software do it.
The most significant technology differentiator ExaGrid has in the scale-out data protection market is their Landing Zone approach to storing a full copy of the most recent backup and then deduplicating the data against other backups in parallel (described in the first section). They have some compelling use cases where that approach beats the alternatives.
Version 5.0 released in 2018 and has been rolling out to customers. There does not appear to be an architectural limitation to the number of nodes per grid. The latest software upgrade increased the number of nodes to 32 (from 25 previously), so increasing the number of nodes be grid appears to be a straightforward possibility. All basic functionality (dedupe, replication, encryption, WAN optimization) are included with the nodes. No hidden costs, everything is included in the single price for each node.
ExaGrid has spent years replacing tape (and still do) but are now replacing disk systems that are older or can’t scale any larger. This is where the benefits of scale-out data protection systems are finding traction with customers and ExaGrid’s solution meets all the requirements. ExaGrid’s grid architecture scales performance along with capacity and customers can non-disruptively add nodes of any size and any generation to the grid when needed. There does not appear to be an architectural limitation to the number of nodes per grid, however the latest software upgrade increased the number of nodes supported to 32 (from 25 previously). With nine models already in the product line, ExaGrid can relatively easily keep adding models at the top end if customers demand. The top seven models are also available with self-encrypting drives providing optional encryption for data at rest.
ExaGrid recently began to support public clouds such as AWS as a secondary site, using the virtual appliance version of their solution. The company claims this is only the first step in their planned cloud activities. They also have several service providers who can offer ExaGrid as a Service to customers, by acquiring and hosting ExaGrid systems at their facilities.
Overall, ExaGrid appears very focused on their approach to this market and has one of the longest tenure in this space. For customers that are dedicated to an existing backup application, want to consolidate multiple secondary storage workloads into a single system or can benefit from the unique capabilities of the Landing Zone approach, ExaGrid should be included in product evaluation process.