Leap of faith

There’s a little storage industry group out there called the Enhanced Backup Solutions Initiative (EBSI) that knows what really bugs storage network administrators about their backup routines. Whereas similar groups such as Storage Networking Industry Association point to technical issues including the reluctance of vendors to share product APIs as reasons for end-user woes, the EBSI comes right out and says it.

Users don’t trust their backup products. At least not enough to relax. Meeting backup windows, getting a complete backup, and being able to restore data during this lifetime are pain points chipping away at user confidence, the EBSI says.

Chartered by member companies that include Quantum Corp., Atempo Inc., Legato Systems inc., Network Appliance Inc., OTG Software Inc., and QLogic Corp., the EBSI aims to reduce stress on storage administrators by designing backup solutions that shrink complexity and increase reliability. Ideas include backup systems that serve backups directly to a disk array for automatic archiving to tape; disk-based, self-reconstructing, incremental backup systems; and technology that consolidates the management of multiple distributed backup solutions.

Timing is on the EBSI’s side, because the arrival of high-capacity, high-performance, and inexpensive ATA and Serial ATA drives is providing users with the means to make faster, more frequent disk-to-disk backups that act as staging areas for data before it’s moved to tape and then off-site.

A high-speed disk array working as a cushion between online data and tape offers a world of other benefits as well. Data-restores from disk are faster than from tape, as there is no need for a mechanical picker to search and load cartridges.

Incremental backups, which copy only the data that has been modified, will also reap the benefits of high-speed disk arrays by automatically rearranging those incremental chunks into a database, ready to replace the online copy. And because a disk array is faster than any tape library, incremental copies can be taken more often, adding granularity to the backup process.

The ability to fire off a quick backup onto disk beats waiting for a tape spool to rewind any day. But let’s not start counting out tape, which still stands as a more durable storage solution when you consider the “bounce and break” factor.

Recognizing tape’s secure place in storage, hybrid disk-plus-tape storage backup products are arriving from companies such as StorServer Inc., which packs both tape and disk in its S10000 storage backup appliance.

As with most ambitious hardware strategies, software tools are still being refined to take full advantage of hybrid disk/tape storage backup systems. But thankfully, the early efforts of the EBSI are keeping many vendors focused on that part of a storage network that simply must operate smoothly: The storage administrator’s nerves.