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Issue of March 2003 
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Vendor Voice: Enhanced backup
Enhancing backup with disk-based systems

When it comes to data security, the goal is to provide the highest level of protection without sacrificing the usefulness of critical data. Here's how Enhanced backup products address this requirement. by Sunny John

Data protection decisions are driven by three main challenges. These include the need to backup ever-increasing amounts of data in a fixed period of time; the demand for quick restoration; accessibility of stored data on which business-critical decisions are often made; and the constant need to derive more value from existing infrastructure.

Traditionally, organizations relied on tape automation products to provide low cost-per-gigabyte storage solutions for backup/ restore applications. Tape libraries proved reliable, with the added benefit of utilizing removable media that could be used for archiving or off-site disaster recovery. Today, growing data sets, shrinking backup windows and the ever-increasing demand for accessibility and rapid restores—paired with the dropping price of disk space — have fuelled the development of enhanced backup products.

Enhanced backup is the use of disk-based storage subsystems instead of tape to perform backup and restore operations. Simply put, inserting disk or other faster-access/higher-reliability technologies within the existing storage architecture will add speed, reliability, and flexibility to a company's data protection capabilities. With an enhanced backup solution in place, organizations are also free to re-purpose tape libraries to perform off-line archival and disaster recovery (DR) operations, tasks that rely less on blazing performance. By separating backup/ restore operations from archival and DR functions, existing investments in storage infrastructure are preserved and data protection is greatly enhanced.

Market Potential
Since most organizations currently rely on a single tape-based backup/restore system, the market for enhanced backup is very broad. Specific industries may find enhanced backup solutions to be the perfect antidote to looming data protection issues.

Financial institutions, driven by the proliferation of online transactions, are typical of organizations requiring the quick and confident backup of databases. In an environment driven by globalization, 365x24x7 operations and speedy decision-making, such institutions cannot tolerate network downtime to perform backups. A dedicated device must perform these operations without impact to bandwidth. Thanks to a disk's faster performance, backups can be accomplished much quicker. Further-more, the higher reliability of disk-based systems allows backups to be conducted without manual intervention. Once the data is backed up to disk, it can be archived to tape whenever the IT organization requires that.

Intense production environments, such as engineering departments or software development teams, create a need for the timely restoration of backed up data. Usually, incremental backups of the day's fresh data, such as code, test results or technical drawings, are backed up from application and file servers. Restore requests are common in these situations, accelerating the need for a system that can deliver the data quickly. Unlike tape products, enhanced backup systems experience little latency in processing these requests. There is no need for a robot to locate a specific tape, load it into a drive and begin the read process. Enhanced backup products speed time to restore data, increasing its business value.

Although various industries may have very specific requirements concerning backup and restore operations, the challenges are common: the need for a high performance, highly reliable system that augments both data protection and availability. This commonality of challenges suggests that diverse industries can benefit from an enhanced backup solution. However, the matter is complicated by the significant differences each enhanced backup vendor brings to their products.

Different Approaches
Since the market for enhanced backup is quite broad, storage vendors have been quick to bring their own enhanced backup products to market, resulting in a wide variety of approaches to design and functionality.

Though the concept of enhanced backup is simple—augmenting existing systems with disk to accelerate and secure backup/restore operations—potential customers must carefully weigh the benefits and potential drawbacks of each type of enhanced backup product. There are currently four significant types of enhanced backup products, each with its own set of relative advantages and disadvantages.

Easily the most ambitious take on enhanced backup is being played out by several vendors, which will henceforth be referred to as "Disruptive Innovators" in this article. Their goal is to bring an entirely new approach to backup/restore systems. In addition to highly sophisticated hardware systems, these vendors also bundle proprietary software for an inclusive solution. The claimed benefits of these systems include fast, online access to information, efficient use of hard disk storage, local and remote fault tolerance, and enterprise-class administration.

However, the initial capital investment required for such inclusive solutions, is steep. Storage administrators must be trained to use the new system, and previous investments in storage management software and hardware be discarded. While advanced, it is yet to be proven that the high cost of ownership for these systems is justified.

When vendors cannot justify developing a system from the ground up, they often re-purpose an existing device. In the case of vendors offering the "Swiss Army Knife" approach, this is achieved by modifying highly-evolved primary storage units. These re-purposed primary storage devices are then sold as secondary storage (disk-based enhanced backup). While these units retain their ability to operate effectively with storage and backup management software from popular Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), in many ways the hardware and embedded software is simply overkill for the task at hand. The disadvantage of this approach is that customers are asked to buy sophisticated hardware with more features than are required for specific backup and restore applications. Other, more cost-effective designs can perform these operations as easily, and more elegantly.

Unfortunately for consumers, many manufacturers are simply filling the market void for enhanced backup with generic disk devices that are neither optimized for backup/restore, nor are they recognized by popular storage management software as secondary storage. The principle these devices employ is simple disk-to-disk data copies—like having two hard drives in a PC with the same data on both. While initial cost is low, so too is the performance of these devices, negating the very purpose of enhanced backup.

Lastly, customers can choose optimized backup appliances. These enhanced backup products have been designed specifically to perform secondary storage functions as a direct complement for tape. In fact, they appear as tape libraries to storage software—mimicking drive, cartridge and robotic operations. Because of this advanced functionality, these devices are easy to deploy and operate. No special training is needed. In fact, optimized backup appliances offer the best mix of simplicity and power available in the enhanced backup market. Customers realize the performance, availability and reliability benefits of disk, while operators continue following procedures previously established and proven with tape devices.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide the highest level of data protection without sacrificing the usefulness of critical data. Enhanced backup products, when fully optimized to perform their specific duties, do exactly that. With the speed, reliability and accessibility afforded by disk, enhanced backup products are poised to make a significant and positive impact on storage operations, IT budgets and overall productivity.

The writer is Country Manager, Quantum Corporation, India

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