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How to modernize your backup infrastructure

W. Curtis Preston | Sept. 3, 2010
The technologies to vastly improve backup and recovery performance and reliability have arrived

SAN FRANCISCO, 2 SEPTEMBER 2010 - Ever get the feeling that your backup system is behind the times? Do you read trade magazines and wonder if you're the only one still using an antiquated backup system? The first thing you should know is that you're not the only one. But your backup system could probably use some modernization.

New technologies have changed the nature of the backup game in a fundamental way, with disk playing an increasingly important role and tape moving further into the background. Many of the liabilities and performance issues that have dogged data center backups forever now have plausible technology solutions, provided those solutions are applied carefully and dovetail with primary storage strategy. It is truly a new day.

Before you contemplate a modernization plan, you need a working understanding of new high-speed disk based solutions, schemes that reduce the volume of data being replicated, and how real-time data protection techniques actually work. With that under your belt, you can start to apply those advancements to the real world data protection problems every data center faces.

The disk in the middle

D2D2T (disk-to-disk-to-tape) strategies have gained popularity in recent years due to the great disparity between the devices being backed up (disks), the network carrying the backup, and the devices receiving the backup (tape). The average throughput of a disk drive 15 years ago was approximately 4MBps to 5MBps, and the most popular tape drive was 256KBps, so the bottleneck was the tape drive.

Fast-forward to today, and we have 70MBps disk drives, but tape drives that want 120MBps. Disks got 15 to 20 times faster, but tape drives got almost 500 times faster! Tape is no longer the bottleneck; it's starving to death. This is especially true when you realize that most backups are incremental and hold on to a tape drive for hours on end -- all the while moving only a few gigabytes of data.

D2D2T strategies solve this problem by placing a high-speed buffer between the fragmented, disk-based file systems and databases being backed up and the hungry tape drive. This buffer is a disk-based storage system designed to receive slow backups and supply them very quickly to a high-speed tape drive.

The challenge faced by some customers (especially large ones) was that many backup systems didn't know how to share a large disk system and use it for backups. Sure, they could back up to a disk drive, but what if you needed to share that disk drive among multiple backup servers? Many backup products still can't do that, especially Fibre Channel-connected disk drives. Enter the virtual tape library, or VTL. It solved this sharing problem by presenting the disk drives as tape libraries, which the backup software products have already learned how to share. Now you could share a large disk system among multiple servers.


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