VMware Mozy acquisition sets heads scratching

Why would VMware acquire an online backup service from its parent company EMC that’s not good at backing up virtual machines? Observers suspect it has something to do with cloud.

VMware Inc. said Monday it has acquired EMC’s online backup service, Mozy, with an eye toward developing the intellectual property beyond backup. But at first glance, virtualization pros are confused as to what direction VMware will take Mozy.

How useful can cloud-based data protection be?

Keith Norbie, vice president, Nexus Information Systems

According to a VMware blog post about the acquisition from its parent company, VMware’s short-term goal is to take over an established cloud service and learn more about how it operates: “Over the past five years, Mozy has built one of the best examples of a globally distributed, large-scale cloud offering,” wrote Steve Herrod, VMware’s CTO. “We believe that, by being directly engaged with the delivery of such a service, VMware will further ramp our own cloud-related learning and accelerate new IP, scale, and capabilities into the products that we provide to our customers and public cloud partners.”

“It’s about the fit. VMware is the cloud company, and EMC wants to supply, rather than compete with, cloud services,” said Wikibon.org analyst Stu Miniman.

Still, Mozy is not known for its ability to back up virtual machines per se, but more for its ability to back up Windows and Mac clients to the cloud. It has about one million customers -- mostly consumer and SOHO shops -- and stores more than 70 petabytes of data, but Mozy has traversed a rocky road since becoming part of EMC.

Red-headed stepchild
Mozy’s future at VMware may be uncertain, but it was even more so under EMC, said Lauren Whitehouse, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.

“Mozy has been the red-headed stepchild at EMC since its acquisition,” Whitehouse said. “At least the orphan has a home … maybe it will get nurtured now and become something more serious.”

Mozy isn’t part of EMC’s Backup Recovery Systems division, nor is it part of EMC’s consumer storage products division, which caters to the Windows and Mac client market in the SOHO and SMB space. There have also been complaints about the service’s performance, specifically on restores, though EMC has claimed that those problems were resolved with MozyPro 2.0

Even so, recent reviews of Mozy have not been favorable. Eric Siebert, senior systems administrator for Boston Market Corp., said he tested out Mozy about two months ago when looking for a home backup product. “I didn’t really like it, as it would not back up [network-attached storage] units on my network with the home version, and it was too pricey and slow,” he said. “It uses an agent installed on the OS and is not aware of the virtualization layer.”

But Siebert said the move from EMC to VMware makes sense to him “from a strategic standpoint, since Mozy is a cloud-based service. It fits better under VMware than EMC.”

VMware could probably remedy Mozy’s lack of virtualization awareness with a minimum of effort, said Wikibon’s Miniman. After all, VMware didn’t used to be known as an enterprise software vendor either; “people knew VMware mostly for its desktop products.”

Nevertheless, some VMware partners still aren’t seeing the logic. “How useful can cloud-based data protection be?” asked Keith Norbie, vice president at Nexus Information Systems, a VMware partner in Plymouth, Minn., pointing out that in enterprise environments, 90% of restores happen from local sites. “If you want to recover something from an online service, you click a button and request it, and they notify you when it’s ready. It’s not instant … That’s where Mozy and everybody else are going to have their limitations.”

Moreover, since Mozy raised its rates for personal users, customers have been jumping ship, Norbie said. “Everyone I know has jumped off it,” he said. “It seems like Mozy is perceptually a sinking brand, and I don’t know if VMware will be able to resurrect it.”

VMware hints at bigger plans
Right now, the further development of Mozy intellectual property is capturing more users’ imaginations than the prospect of a new VMware online backup service.

VMware touched on the prospect of developing Mozy intellectual property as a long-term strategy: “We also see the opportunity to leverage Mozy’s data compression, synchronization, client integration, and analytic tools to extend several existing and not-yet-announced VMware products,” Herrod wrote on the VMware blog.

These unannounced products could potentially include intellectual property EMC acquired from stealth startup Pi Corp. in early 2008. Pi Corp.’s CEO, Paul Maritz, has since become VMware’s CEO, but his startup’s intellectual property does not appear to have seen the light of day. Little was known about Pi’s unreleased product, but generally, the company was said to be aiming to create a service that delivers files to multiple devices, from laptops to iPhones, from a centralized repository in the cloud. 

At the time of the Pi acquisition, EMC created a new Cloud Infrastructure and Services Division with Maritz at the helm, and Mozy fell into this division as well. A VMware spokesperson said Tuesday that some Pi intellectual property has already been incorporated into shipping versions of the Mozy product.

In the meantime, theories abound about the ultimate future for Mozy under VMware. Norbie speculated that VMware could use Mozy technology with its vStorage APIs for Data Protection to enable the promised host-based replication in vSphere 5, or use it to enable service level agreements for recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives in vCloud Director.

“The first thing VMware should do is adapt it to integrate with virtualization and increase its scalability,” said Siebert. “They can do this by adding Mozy support to [VMware Data Recovery] or by creating a Mozy virtual appliance that can be used to back up virtual environments,” he said. VMware could also leverage Mozy’s customer base to become VMware customers, furthering their cause among SMBs, he added.

Mozy could also evolve into a sort of poor-man’s disaster recovery, suggested Phil DeMeyer, an information technologist at an early-childhood education program in the Midwest. “If [VMware is] able to offer something along the lines of what Amazon has but better, and more in the VMware vein, especially if it could allow me to avoid maintaining a disaster recovery site or just relying on one SAN [for disaster recovery], that could be interesting.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com. Senior Site Editor Colin Steele contributed to this report.

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