Agent vs. Agentless

To effectively evaluate agent-based and agentless backup solutions, one must understand the similarities and differences between the two paradigms. Interestingly, both agent-based and agentless backup and recovery solutions claim similar strengths and weakness. Perhaps because of these similarities, considerable confusion exists when attempting to evaluate agentless vs. agent-based backup and recovery solutions.

For example, both agent-based and agentless backup and recovery solutions claim to do the following:

  • Remotely monitor and manage data to be backed up
  • Create full backup images and subsequent incremental images (deltas)
  • Backup file/folder and volume/disk/block information
  • Create hot backups for Exchange/SQL/SharePoint
  • Provide automated backup image file verification

That said, there are significant differences between agent-based and agentless backup solutions.

Note: The information in the agentless column assumes a continuous incremental backup strategy.

Agent-Based  Agentless
Permanently installs executable modules (agents) on each source system that you want to back up. Temporarily injects executable modules into each source system that you want to back up. 
The agent on the source creates the backup image and sends it to a predefined storage destination. The central control station actively connects to the agentless sources and collects the backup data.
Uses Microsoft-approved kernel installation processes. The agent becomes part of the storage driver stack while it is being built (at system boot). Uses either the built-in Microsoft volume snapshot driver for taking snapshots, or installs a proprietary snapshot driver using IRP Dispatch Table Hooking (injecting a driver into Windows without rebooting).

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