So what does Katmai's backup compression offer? Well, it offers you the ability to compress your backups. Period. That's it. There's no centralized reporting, there's no object-level recovery, there's no resource management. Resource management is another one that's important. Sometimes, I want to open up my compression to all CPUs, or maybe 1/4 of the CPUs, etc. And you just don't have that kind of ability with native SQL backups. Another aspect of resource management is the ability to choose your compression algorithm. Native SQL compression offers you only one. You either compress the backup or you don't. The other tools offer you several algorithms. The advantage of this is clear. On a prod system when you need good compression, but you also need the speed, you can set a lower compression rate. But on dev systems where the backups can take longer, but need to be much smaller, you can use a higher compression rate. Typically dev systems will hold several backups of the same DB so you can restore back to several points in time. This is why you typically want higher compression on these systems.
So now that I've talked about the actual features, what about the implementation? How has MS's specific implementation affected it's usefulness in the field?
Well, simply, it's too limited. Even if you could put up with the missing features, backup compression in Katmai is limited to the enterprise edition. Personally, that's unacceptable as a backup solution because I don't want to have several backup processes to manage.
Let's look at an example. You've got 30 SQL2K boxes, 50 SQL2K5 boxes, and let's say you're really keeping up with the times and you've got 100 Katmai boxes. And of those Katmai boxes you've got say 3-5 with enterprise installed. Just to be generous I'll say 5. So you've got 5 boxes with compressed backups. What about the rest? You still need something for those too, right? Just because they're not enterprise doesn't mean they're not big or important. OK, so let's say you go with LiteSpeed... or it could Red-Gate, it doesn't matter in this discussion. You're getting centralized reporting for all of your boxes except your 5 native SQL backup boxes. So now you have to find a way to merge those boxes' reporting info into the LiteSpeed repo so you can report from one place with one method. And the time and effort it may take to do that and support it may be more trouble than it's worth. And you can't just leave it out because now you're supporting 2 methods for backups and that's just not good practice. So you're better off installing LiteSpeed (or Red-Gate) on your 5 Katmai enterprise boxes and not only getting the extra functionality, but also having a single method to support. It's really a no-brainer. Why would you limit yourself like that? Even if you had 20 servers and they were all Katmai enterprise, the other features still make the 3rd party tools more attractive.