3 Reasons MSPs Should Consider Agent-Based Backups

MARCH 9TH, 2020
What’s better: agent-based or agentless? Admins have taken sides in the discussion for years. The question affects everything from remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to backup solutions. But why should MSPs get involved with this discussion at all? For one thing, it’s an important decision when it comes to backups because a business’s data—essentially its very lifeblood—is at stake. The choice matters when it comes to effectively storing, protecting, and recovering client data. Handling backups incorrectly can force you to break service level agreements (SLAs) and could even open you up to legal liability. That said, there’s a valid case for both agentless and agent-based backups. Here are the arguments for your consideration:

The Pitch for Agentless

While an agent-based approach requires the installation of specialized software at the kernel level, agentless approaches simplify the process by leveraging software already on the system. That helps streamline deployment. You don’t need planned downtime for rebooting servers just to install an agent, you can simply back up systems right away. Depending on solution pricing, agentless offerings can be more affordable, as you don’t pay for an agent to be installed on every machine. When it comes to backing up virtual machines (VMs), agentless options typically satisfy requirements for most SLAs. With agentless, admins can back up any of their systems (virtual or physical) from one central location, without installations or downtime. But, while you may gain some simplicity on the administrative side, you lose some of agent-based solutions’ better-known benefits.

Agent-Based Reliability

A few minutes of planned downtime is nothing compared to the headaches associated with losing client data. Solutions like ShadowProtect leverage an agent-based approach to deliver something the IT industry has been chasing since its inception: bulletproof reliability. Since you install agents at the kernel level they have more direct access to data changes on disk sectors, which enables a backup solution to more quickly (and reliably) perform incremental backups.

Faster Data Transfer with Agents

According to a report by IDC, the global datasphere will grow to 175 zettabytes by the year 2025. With data blowing up, data transfer speeds matter more than some admins may realize. Agentless backups often use more network resources because they transmit both application commands and backed up data between devices. The result is an increase in network traffic that can impact transfer speeds and overall network performance (read on for more about this). Plus, data in transit is more susceptible to corruption or loss, so it’s wise for admins to keep transit times to a minimum. On the other hand, agent-based backups leverage resources that are installed on the machine that’s being backed up. With pre-processing and compression provided by an agent-based solution you can often improve transmission speeds.

Performance Impacts

We noted above that along with transfer times, agentless backup solutions can adversely impact the performance of a network. Agent-based backups live in the OS stack, which enables a backup solution to have more control with direct access to information on the host system. Meanwhile, an agentless backup takes time navigating file systems in order to identify changes between the last backup and the current backup, which can impact the speed and performance of incremental or differential backups. If you’re already pushing the limits of your network’s bandwidth, this added resource drain can impact performance, and, as a result, affect worker productivity and a business’s bottom line.


Just about every MSP would agree that backups are useless if they’re not reliable. If your offering includes disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS), backup, or anything related to data protection, your job is to find solutions that work without fail. When it comes to data protection software, agent-based solutions are typically most reliable for because they produce application-consistent backups. Hoever, agentless backups have their benefits, too, especially when scaling data protection for a couple hundred virtual machines (VMs). As you look for data protection, consider solutions like ShadowXafe, which gives administrators the best of both worlds: rock-solid agent-based backups for physical machines, and the choice of agent-based or host-based (agentless) backups for virtual workloads. Are you looking for backups you can count on with absolute confidence? Is backing up your hybrid environment more complex than it should be? Get a custom StorageCraft demo to discover a DR solution designed specifically for you and your clients.