Portable Disks Bolster Backup

Idealstor, Dell, and Tandberg tout portable disk drives as a tape replacement

December 15, 2006

4 Min Read
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More and more vendors are touting removable disk media as an alternative to tape backup, claiming superior reliability and speed. Next week, for example, Idealstor will take the wraps off a 750-Gbyte disk drive in an attempt to lure users away from tape.

Other vendors have been getting in on this act recently. Last month, for example, Dell unveiled its own PowerVault RD1000 disk-based device, a few weeks after Tandberg took the wraps off its RDX QuikStor offering. (See Dell Adds Removable Drive and Tandberg Ships Device .)

The idea is that firms can use disk, as opposed to tape-based backup appliance, and send the disk drives offsite for longer term storage. Users have already voiced their concerns about the weaknesses of tape, citing reliability issues and the need for a controlled storage environment so that tapes don't stretch and contract. (See Users Open Up on Optical.)

Because disk drives are sealed units, the technology is regarded as more robust than tape, where the media is exposed to the environment. Tape technology, unlike disk, also requires physical contact between the tape head and the media, which can eventually lead to corruption.

On Monday Idealstor will unveil a 750-Gbyte drive and caddy, or portable cartridge, for its Backup Appliance and FrankeNAS devices. The appliance, which contains 8 drive bays, and the FrankeNAS, which contains 2 Tbytes of RAID and four bays, run software such as Veritas NetBackup and CA's Brightstor ARCserv.The vendor is touting this hardware as a target for backup data, although up until now the devices could only handle 500-Gbyte disks. This, though, is still more than Dell and Tandberg, which offer a maximum capacity of 120 Gbytes on their respective removable disks.

Idealstor is using standard 3.5-inch SATA drives from Hitachi and Seagate, according to Ben Ginster, the vendor's channel marketing manager. "The whole point is that you're getting the speed of disk, but the portability of tape," he adds.

At least one analyst agrees that speed could be the key selling point for the technology. "It could take an hour or two to do a recovery from tape, but with a disk drive, you could recover the data in minutes," says Arun Taneja, founder of the Taneja Group.

These sentiments were echoed by Robb Doom, CIO of Franklin, Tennessee-based National Renal Alliance, which has deployed an Idealstor Backup Appliance running 750-Gybte drives. "Whenever we want to retrieve data from disk, it's hours faster than tape, it's instantaneous," he says.

The exec explained that his firm, which manages dialysis centers across the U.S., replaced a DLT tape infrastructure with the Backup Appliance thanks, in part, to reliability concerns. "Sometimes, if you use a tape over and over again, as you try to write data to it, it will become garbled," he says.Despite the speed and reliability benefits, Taneja feels that Idealstor's technology may be more relevant for SMBs than large enterprises. "I suspect that it would have the largest appeal to the SMB customers where a 750-Gbyte disk drive would be enough for months of stuff," he explains. "I don't see anybody using this if they have 20 Tbytes of backup data."

Larger firms looking for the speed of disk backup are likely to consider a high capacity appliance, according to Taneja. (See VCs Add $15M More to Data Domain A Storage App Without the Storage and Data Domain Gains Patent .) "I would suspect that if you have got terabytes and terabytes of data, then the customer would be likely to buy a Sepaton, Data Domain, or Diligent Technologies solution where the data stays on disk at the local site and is then replicated to a disk-based system at another remote site," he says.

Users relying on removable disk drives, of course, also run the risk of losing media in transit as has already happened to a number of firms, including Iron Mountain and Time Warner, which suffered a high profile tape snafu. (See Tape Security Trips Up Users and Can't Quite Kick the Tape Habit.)

National Renal's Doom admits that this is a worry, although he told Byte and Switch that he has his own solution to this problem. "I choose to have our guys be responsible for taking the disk drives off-site rather than using a service from another company," he explains. "If I have got someone's patient data, I can't just allow that to fall off the back of a truck."

Idealstor told Byte and Switch that Microsoft's Windows Server, running on the Backup Appliance and FrankeNAS boxes, can also be used to encrypt the disks before they are sent off site.The vendor's 750-Gbyte disk drive, which is available now, is priced at $550.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Data Domain Inc. (Nasdaq: DDUP)

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Diligent Technologies Corp.

  • Idealstor LLC

  • Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM)

  • Sepaton Inc.

  • Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA)

  • Taneja Group

  • Time Warner Inc.

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