Disk Backup's in a Crunch

Some disk backup products say space-saving's a must. They meet with resistance

June 9, 2005

3 Min Read
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Storage managers looking at disk backup as an alternative to tape could find themselves in an uphill battle against the storage establishment.

Despite a fresh crop of high-profile disasters involving lost tapes, tape replacement can still be a tough sell in many organizations (see Diskers Enjoying Tape Woes and Choice Bits). Often, installing a disk-based product means dealing with startups and making substantial changes to internal procedures.

"Massive data reduction technology is needed... What's really going on in tape replacement is that most people are just applying plain block-level storage with or without VTL [virtual tape libraries]," says Frank Slootman, CEO of Data Domain Inc. "You can put a fast cache in front of tape, but that doesn't allow you to replace tape and achieve the economics of a tape library system."

Slootman maintains that his firm and others must reduce the footprint of data. That means getting rid of old methods that go with tape backup and using alternative data compression and reduction techniques to eliminate the duplication and copying that make backups such a chore. "Why not just revisit the entire architecture that's 30 or 40 years old?" Slootman asks.

Why indeed? Slootman acknowledges that's not music to the ears of big storage vendors such as EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). "Storage companies are not fans of people bringing efficiency to the game," he asserts. "We substantially reduce the amount of spindles... and that's not popular with people who are making a living that way."But customers are interested in tape elimination, even if their big suppliers don't like it. Slootman claims Data Domain has seen 50 to 60 percent revenue growth over its first six quarters, and now has 100 customers, to which 20 or 30 will likely be added this quarter. "There's incredible interest in this type of technology."

Another disk backup vendor, Avamar Inc., doesn't claim tape replacement. But ask Brian Anderson, Avamar's chief marketing officer, about claims that his company replaces traditional backup utilities, and his revolutionary side emerges (see Avamar Appoints New CEO).

"Are those utilities you wanted to keep anyway?" he argues. "After Avamar, some customers can do full backups in less than 20 minutes, compared with six hours and 60 hours incremental... Those aren't minor tradeoffs, those are huge, innovative tradeoffs."

While acknowledging difficulty in getting the message across, Avamar execs maintain there's no lack of interested customers. Anderson says Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is among them.

Other vendors soft-pedal the impact of their wares on existing tape libraries. "Tape replacement? Not exactly," says Asim Zaheer, VP of marketing at Archivas Inc. Instead, by reducing content and avoiding duplicates, he says, companies can obtain an online disk-based archive that makes them compliant with federal and industry regulations. Like Anderson, he says tape can still play a role after data is old enough to put out to pasture.At least a couple of disk backup suppliers have found "softer" paths for their wares. DataCenter Technologies Inc. (DCT) has been acquired by Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS), and, while it's future is unclear, it could wind up being an adjunct to existing backup systems that support Veritas (see Veritas Archives Another Startup). Another startup, Rocksoft Ltd., has just released a toolkit for OEMs that ensures "data redundancy elimination" for data center and storage equipment (see Rocksoft Offers Toolkit).

One disk backup supplier, Permabit Inc., is regrouping after a stinging slap in the face by Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK), which today ditched a Permabit OEM to tout its own new product (see StorageTek Rolls Its Own CAS). Clearly, the battle for backup continues to be a tough one for most of the newer players.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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