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Retrospect Backup Software Acquired by Sonic Solutions

In an extremely quiet move, EMC has sold its Retrospect software to Sonic Solutions, the parent company of Roxio. For reasons that remain unclear, neither EMC nor Sonic Solutions has issued a press release about the acquisition, so few details have been forthcoming. The acquisition price was not revealed, though sources indicate that much of the product team will move over to Sonic Solutions.

Retrospect was created by Dantz Development in the early days of the Macintosh, and it grew to become the dominant Mac backup program by the late 1990s. However, its long history (and the extreme care with which backup programs must handle the data entrusted to them) made for a somewhat slow and rocky move to Mac OS X.

In 2004, EMC acquired Dantz, but Retrospect languished within EMC for several years, coasting on its reputation. Only in 2008 did EMC start devoting resources to Retrospect development again, bringing back some of the original developers and testers. About a year ago, EMC shipped Retrospect 8 (see “EMC Ships Modernized Retrospect 8,” 23 March 2009), but the release was premature, lacking PowerPC support (many small businesses use older Power Macs as backup servers), documentation, FTP support, and a smooth upgrade path. Although there have been additional minor releases of Retrospect since, the program still isn’t fully baked, and a quick scan of the archives of the MacEnterprise mailing list reveals dissatisfaction with Retrospect’s progress.

Eric Ullman, Director of Product Management in charge of Retrospect at EMC (he also worked on Retrospect at Dantz), said that the Retrospect team is looking forward to being able to finish the job that they returned to EMC to do, namely, rebuild Retrospect for Macintosh into a product that’s deserving of the trust of network administrators.

Regaining that trust will take time, unfortunately, and the backup world has evolved since Retrospect ruled the market. Back then, Retrospect Express was used heavily by individual users, which helped introduce them to Retrospect’s capabilities; if those users went on to become network administrators, they tended to rely on the beefier versions of Retrospect. Now the market for individual backup is largely owned by Apple’s Time Machine, with additional capabilities provided by programs like CrashPlan, SuperDuper, and Carbon Copy Cloner. And they’re by no means alone; Joe
Kissell lists over 100 backup programs in the online appendixes of his “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups.”

Time Machine, CrashPlan, and others have also traded scheduled backup for constant operation, backing up changed files every 15 to 60 minutes. And Internet backup services like CrashPlan Central, Backblaze, and Mozy (also now owned by EMC) provide an easy solution for offsite backup by backing up over the Internet, either to a centralized service or, in the case of CrashPlan, to another copy of the program that you or a trusted third-party controls.

Though it’s unlikely to become a dominant backup solution for individual users ever again, Retrospect now competes in the small and medium business world, where the players are largely different, with primarily CrashPlan PRO and MozyPro playing in both spaces. And while constant backup, backing up only file differences, and offsite backup features would be good to add, Retrospect still stands apart with its strong support for tape drives and optical media, which are important in the business world.

The next step up is the enterprise, where tape support is essential for creating versions of backups and where there’s a significant split in capabilities between administrator and user. In the enterprise world, Retrospect will need to focus on performance and reliability to earn back the trust of network administrators. For a look at some of the other enterprise-level Macintosh backup software, see District13 Computing’s PDF-based white paper on Enterprise Backup Solutions.

There’s no question that rebuilding the Retrospect brand to its former glory won’t be easy, but speaking as someone who has fond memories of the Retrospect of yesteryear, I’m extremely happy to see the team getting the chance to try again under Sonic Solutions.

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