Storage vendors eye disk for quicker data recovery

Disk is definitely in.

At least, that’s the way the data back-up and recovery market has been moving recently, according to industry experts.

Between this year and next year, there is “a very clear trend” towards disk as primary back-up and recovery tool, said Gartner analyst Ray Paquet at a recent international forum sponsored by Symantec Corp.

And a big reason for this shift in the storage market is the continuous drop in the price of disks. According to IDC, the average dollar cost per gigabyte of disk has gone down from $28 to $12 between Q2 2003 to Q2 2005.

“It’s a [known fact] in the industry that back-ups fail fairly frequently. With disk, you can back up data without actually moving it…by using disk our failure rate decreases,” said Paquet.

Does this mean tape is out? Definitely not, says a Canadian expert. Vasu Daggupaty, an analyst at Toronto-based IDC Corp. does not believe this is the end of the road for tape back-up technology. He said tape would merely take on a new role in the storage market.

Analysts are predicting tape technology will no longer be primary storage choice but will be used for data archiving, which will help companies address compliance and audit issues, said Daggupaty.

He noted that in the disaster recovery area, “disk-to-disk has taken over the tape space.”

According to Daggupaty, the increasing popularity of disk-to-disk back up may lead to a multi-tiered storage market, where disk would become the primary resource for storing crucial data, providing quick and easy recovery. At the bottom layer would be tape-based data archiving, the IDC analyst said.

The efficiency of tape back-up is also under scrutiny as disk vendors promote the benefits of disk over tape. A company that has upgraded its data infrastructure may not be able to retrieve data from a tape back-up that’s several years old, Daggupaty said. “There are perceptions in the market – not all well-founded, I might add – that because it’s on tape, there’s a possibility you won’t get at your data when you actually need it.”

He added that a tape from two or three years ago may not be fully compatible with the current tape system.

But disk and tape do not necessarily have to compete for space in the market. Microsoft Corp.’s recently announced disk-based back-up system dubbed, System Centre Data Protection Manager (DPM), functions as a complementary tool for tape-based storage, said Derick Wong, senior product manager, Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada.

DPM provides “near-time” back-up and recovery that allows the end user to retrieve lost data from the DPM server quickly and easily, without need for assistance from an IT administrator, said Wong.

While the product addresses the need to provide companies with quick and easy recovery process for mission-critical data stored between zero and 30 days, Microsoft maintains DPM does not replace traditional, long-term storage systems, said Wong.

“DPM is designed to help combat the zero to 30-day [data recovery] issue,” Wong said. “It’s not a long-term storage solution. [DPM] is very complementary to an organization’s current storage solution.”

DPM backs-up designated files and folders for a user-specified time period. In the event of data loss, users could just go in the DPM server, find the file or folder, and drag and drop it back on to their system.

As it is not a long-term storage tool, Microsoft recommends companies link DPM with existing storage systems. DPM is a component of Microsoft’s Universal Distributed Storage strategy, which aims to deliver storage products that interoperate with industry-standard systems, said Wong.

Symantec Corp. also recently announced its new disk-based back-up technology, Backup Exec 10d for Windows Servers, which the company claimed delivers the industry’s first Web-based end-user file retrieval functionality offering disk-to-disk-to-tape data protection.

“We improve productivity by allowing for retrieval of files through a simple Web browser interface. This allows IT to devote resources and time to business critical needs and empowers end-users to retrieve files immediately,” said Jeremy Burton, senior vice-president, data management group, Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp.

The product provides continuous data protection in real-time and eliminates the traditional process of backing up files at specific times.

“With the pure disk technology of Backup Exec 10d, files are protected continuously. Simplifying management and freeing IT resources, block-level file changes are automatically captured and protected,” Symantec said.

The product also allows the option of user self-service data recovery through Web-based applications. Because the data is stored on disk, the need to locate, load or restore back-up tapes is eliminated, Symantec said.

Microsoft’s DPM and Symantec’s Backup Exec 10d both offer disk-based backup systems that allows self-service user interface. But Symantec claims it’s offering the whole storage package of disk-to-disk-to-tape, while Microsoft is merely offering part of that package.

But Microsoft’s Wong claims the value of the DPM offering is in lowering the cost of backup and recovery.

“Recovery of files that have been deleted or corrupted normally takes two to four weeks and there’s a lot of cost associated with two to four weeks,” Wong said, adding that by reducing that recovery period to mere minutes, companies could save huge amounts in time and resources.

Storage offerings in the market, he said, are often “very expensive to maintain” that, generally, only large companies could afford them. DPM would make storage available to small and medium-sized businesses.

Wong maintains Microsoft’s DPM does not compete with the larger storage products in the market, but enhances companies’ data protection tools.

With its recent acquisition of storage player Veritas Software, however, Symantec aims to acquire a significant slice of the data recovery market, said IDC’s Daggupaty.

The strong value proposition is a combination of Veritas’s strength in the storage space and Symantec’s edge in information security and availability, he said.

The significance of the consolidation will further be realized over time as Veritas’s Backup Exec product becomes fully integrated with Symantec’s LiveState family of offerings, Daggupaty said.

Symantec Backup Exec 10d will be available in the market next month at a price starting at US$795.

Available immediately, Microsoft’s System Centre DPM retails at US$950, which includes one server license and the management licenses to protect three file servers.

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