SGI, Legato Jackup Backup

Vendors clock SAN-based tape backup at a smokin' 10 Tbytes per hour. But can you afford it?

July 21, 2003

3 Min Read
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Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) (NYSE: SGI) and Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO) are touting test results they claim show their products performing backup at a blistering 10 Tbytes per hour -- nearly three times faster than the previously claimed record.

There were no tricks up their sleeves, says Craig Schultz, storage product manager at SGI. "We've used real-world applications and data," he says. "These are the actual results -- they're not extrapolated... We didn't extract this and say what it could be or would be."

Fair enough. But check out the ultra-high-end configuration of the SGI Origin 3000 used in the test: It had 32 MIPS processors and eight I/O modules for a total of 48 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel connections.

That's just for starters on what easily looks like a million-dollar-plus SAN (the companies did not disclose how much all the equipment used on the test would cost). The primary data was hosted on an SGI TP9500 storage array that is a rebranded version of an LSI Logic Storage Systems Inc. array with 17 Tbytes of disk. The data was backed up to (and restored from) a Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK) PowderHorn 9310 library with 48 T9940B tape drives. The server, storage, and tape library were connected via 2-Gbit/s Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) switches configured in a redundant 120-port SAN fabric.

The data set used in the test was provided by one of SGI's customers, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, the weather research arm of the U.S. government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The total size of the data set was 10.297 Tbytes, comprising files ranging in size from 2 to 42 Gbytes.For file-level backup, the setup delivered 10.1 Tbytes per hour, according to the vendors. That's 2.8 times faster than the previous record of 3.62 Tbytes per hour, claimed by Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) in April 2003 (see HP Busts Backup Record).

Restore was clocked at 7.9 Tbytes per hour -- also a new speed record, 3.6 times faster than the 2.2 Tbytes per hour claimed by Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) (NYSE: CA) in October 2002 (see CA, Microsoft Claim Fastest Backup and Microsoft Picks Backup Buddies).

Meanwhile, an image-level backup-and-restore test of a single snapshot file (of more than 10 Tbytes) measured backup at 7.2 Tbytes per hour and restore at 7.9 Tbytes per hour. A "wall clock" test, which records the actual time it takes to back up data, found that the setup backed up a 1-Tbyte file in 7 minutes, 9 seconds, and restored it in 15 minutes, 29 seconds.

But how many enterprises really need to dump data to tape as fast as 10 Tbytes per hour? SGI says many of its customers in vertical industries such as scientific computing and media and entertainment have several hundred terabytes of data that they need to protect on a daily basis. And with corporate storage requirements continuing to grow -- and new regulations mandating that organizations archive more data -- the performance of backup-and-restore operations is becoming a bigger concern.

The fact remains, though, that not many companies can justify shelling out millions of dollars to achieve the level of backup performance demonstrated by SGI and its partners. We can covet a screamingly fast vehicle, but that doesn't mean we can afford it.Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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