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Backing Up Your Data: Technologies on the Rise and Fall

By Mario Cywinski |

Regardless of your business size, protecting your business data just makes sense. IBM, Sun Microsystems, Dell, HP, and others were on hand at the Storage Networking Tour in Toronto recently to showcase new and emerging backup options.

In the spotlight were emerging technologies such as Fibre Channel (FC), iSCSI and Serially-Attached SCSI (SAS). Older technologies such as tape backup were still visible, but now play a secondary role in a typical back-up system.

What's best for smaller businesses?

Expense and ease of use remain the top points of concern when smaller companies select a backup solution. For these firms the backup solutions of choice continue to be: online backup, mirrored (or raid) drives and external drives.

Online backups, which send your data off-site to a remote server, are simple and costs can be quite low. Time and reliability are key concerns of this backup solution; larger backups can take a long time and reliability is in the hands of the remote server.

Mirrored hard drives (HDs) ensure that your data is written to at least two drives simultaneously, which provides excellent protection against a drive failure. An excellent set-up is to have two drives installed internally and a third drive installed in a removable bay. Simply swap drives in the removable bay on a regular basis to ensure that you always have an off-site back-up. This option can be technically complicated, so be sure to get professional help so that you can feel assured that your set-up is done properly.

External HDs usually connect to your computer through a universal serial bus (USB) or Firewire port and provide a simple way for you to back-up your data. This option is most likely to be used initially by smaller SOHOs (small office / home office) who need an easy way to back-up files on an existing computer system without the complication of adding mirrored drives.

Tape backups, once a top backup choice of small businesses, are fading and are now typically used as a secondary backup solution.

"What enterprises of all sizes are finding is that Tape is not fast or efficient enough to work as the primary backup media especially as the size of the backup increases. But tape can still have a roll for longer term backup," said John Sloan of InfoTech. "So Disk-to-tape gets replaced by disk-to-disk-to-tape. Tape is therefore not dead but I don't see any vendors expecting tape to be a big growth area."

Also on their way out are CDs and DVD-Rs, which have difficulty competing against USB flash drives that can store 2 Gb on a small keychain dangle for as little as $20 per drive.

One of the biggest drawbacks of CD and DVD backups is the low level of data reliability. Not only can disks become corrupt, but as time passes newer drives will sometimes have difficulty reading disks burned on an older drive. CDs and DVDs are an excellent way to backup non-critical data, but for business data you are better advised to look elsewhere.

Upcoming trends

As we have seen with other technologies like CRM, emerging backup solutions may be available to small businesses sooner than one would think.

Data de-duplication, where the backup process will erase information in a new file if it already exists in an older one, and Serially-Attached SCSI are just two interesting trends coming out on the market.

"Something to watch for this year will be de-duplication traveling up the chain to primary storage," Sloan said.

John Cardoulis, Brand Manager for IBM System Storage, gave us an overview of the today's most popular backup solutions.

Network Attached-Storage (NAS)

NAS is the way a server sees a disk device. It is connected over an IP or data network and is used to share files.

Pros: The data is not dependent on a server, so it is available even if the server is down. With NAS file sharing is done by the NAS system and not a server, which increases performance. As well it is easy to install and implement.

Cons: The NAS can reach its limitations if too many users are using it at once, or if the I/O or CPU is processing too many operations.

"This method of deploying networked storage is the 2nd most popular way in Canada of attaching disk storage," said Cardoulis.

Products: Sun Microsystems StorageTek 5220 NAS, EMC NS700 NAS, Snap 500 Series Adaptec - SnapServer (also available in iSCSI)

Internet SCSI (iSCSI)

iSCSI is an industry-standard way of attaching block storage over a TCP/IP or data network.

Pros: Can be run over existing ethernet networks, which Fibre Channel (FC) cannot achieve. Is a cost effective alternative to FC and has no distance restrictions, as it is run over an IP.

Cons: Speed can become an issue, but this can be resolved by using a Dedicated IP. Its reliability is not as good as FC and data has the potential to be corrupted.

"Many servers can share the capacity on an iSCSI device and because it runs over the IP network it's relatively cheaper to deploy than some other methods. Any business that is looking at moving to shared, networked external disk should look at iSCSI," said Cardoulis.

Products: HP AiO600 (also available in FC), NetApp S500 (also available in FC and NAS), EMC Insignia (also available in FC)

Fibre Channel (FC)

Fibre Channel, which enables extremely fast bi-directional network backup, is the most popular external storage networking method in use in Canada today.

Pros: FC is one of the most reliable storage technologies available. It is also high speed and is scalable, so that more storage can be added at anytime.

Cons: The Costs of FC are high compared to many other technologies and it can be complicated to deploy. FC also has a distance limitation, with a 10 km limit to interconnections.

"This is probably the most expensive method to attach storage devices because it requires special, dedicated host bus adapters and switches and cabling," said Cardoulis.

Products: Apple XServe RAID, Fujitsu Eternus4000 (also available in iSCSI), Dell AX150i (also available in iSCSI)

Serially-Attached-SCSI (SAS)

As the newest attachment technology Serially-Attached SCSI (SAS) provides great performance.

Pros: Data transfer speeds are now higher and the technology is backward compatible with Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) drives.

Cons: Technology is still very new so there are not many products available.

"It is expected to become the standard in the years ahead," said Cardoulis.

Products: Apple XServe, HP Proliant ML370, IBM System Storage DS3200

The final word for growing businesses

LeRoy Budnik, CEO of Knowledge Transfer, selected iSCSI as the best backup solution for the money, noting that it has a lot of the performance of FC without much of the cost.

"iSCSI appliances use inexpensive Serial ATA (SATA) drives, bundled with virtualization and other features. You can purchase huge amounts of storage for small amounts of money," said Budnik.

One thing to keep in mind is that prices of different storage options are constantly on the decline, so unless you need the newest and biggest storage solution, be sure to do your research before making a large purchase.

"Last week I found one IP Storage Vendor with 15, 1 TB SATA drives, about 12 TB usable for $6,000US - 10 years ago, that amount of storage was 12 million dollars," said Budnik.

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