L.L.Bean Backs Up With SATA

Retail firm slashes backup times after gambling big on a SATA-based system

November 1, 2006

3 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage Networking World (SNW) -- Serial ATA (SATA) technology continues to carve out its niche within enterprise data centers, although IT managers are split on the benefits of SATA-based backup.

During a presentation at the show here today, L.L.Bean storage engineer Sandy Rideout explained how her company took a gamble on SATA as part of an 11-month IT overhaul which slashed the firm's database backup times to two hours from more than seven.

As part of the project, L.L.Bean replaced a 50-Tbyte IBM 3494 tape library with two DS4100 systems, containing a total 65 Tbytes of SATA drives. Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) software runs the SATA system.

"[SATA] is a new technology and we're a company that traditionally doesn't like to be bleeding edge," explained Rideout, adding that the shift from tape to disk-based backup was a major cultural change. "Totally tapeless technology was very scary for us, but the idea that it is just a commodity was very appealing."

Speed was also a factor in the firm's ultimate decision. The tape-based backup system involved hundreds of tapes, and often resulted in "excruciatingly slow restores," according to the exec.When the time came to switch out the 3494 library, L.L.Bean had a choice of either a virtual tape library (VTL) or SATA drives for backup. "It was very tough, we had a lot of heated discussions about VTL being proven," said Rideout, although ultimately the retail firm decided that VTL was just too expensive.

"The big plus of SATA is that is the fact that it is disk-based, so it is something that you can [easily] add to," she explained, although she would not reveal L.L.Bean's ROI. "We could easily outgrow the VTL solution, straining budgets and resources."

Last year, analyst firm The InfoPro said that SATA had crept onto storage managers' radars, with 90 percent of the companies interviewed planning to use the technology and 30 percent of SATA customers planning to spend more than $500,000 on additional SATA drives. (See Survey: SATA, Email Sizzling, Souping Up SATA, and Survey: SATA, IP SANs Hot Priorities.)

Enterprise users are also flocking to faster SATA, many for primary storage, according to vendors of disk array, which have been furiously upgrading their technology in recent months. (See SATA Speeds Up, Sun, Alcatel Collaborate, Seagate Unveils Barracuda , EMC, Dell Get Small With SATA, and SNW: Small, SAS-sy & Safe.)

Other attendees at SNW also highlighted the growing popularity of SATA, although this was tempered with caution. Marcellus Tabor, manager for storage and data protection at Yahoo, explained that more and more firms are now looking at the technology, although he described SATA-based backup as a "mixed bag.""There's more of a tendency to go towards VTL because SATA is difficult to manage," added the exec, explaining that there are still software challenges associated with SATA-based backup. "You're really relying on your backup software to manage images and the amount of available disk space that you have."

That said, the Yahoo storage guru admits that SATA-based backup has its benefits. "You're not really locked in [to a vendor]. If you want to roll-out a VTL, you're locked in to their software application and their appliance," he said. "There are ways to get round that, but it's not elegant."

An IT manager at a Florida-based vacation company, who asked not to be named, was similarly ambivalent about the benefits of SATA. "It has carved out its niche," he told Byte & Switch. "The cost per unit of storage is attractive, but it's not portable."

As a public company with lengthy data retention requirements, the exec added that his firm is much more likely to stay with traditional storage media, unlike privately held L.L. Bean. "SATA is not going to displace tape," he explained. "At any public company you're still going to have a need for tape."

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA)

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • IBM Tivoli

  • Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • TheInfoPro Inc. (TIP)

  • Yahoo Inc.0

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