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Branch backup goes tapeless

Better way to back up branch offices

Want to rein in remote office backup, and bring it under the purview of the central data center? You're not alone. Increasingly, IT managers are coming to terms with this simple truth: "The farther you move from the data center, the less likely your backup is going to be completed successfully," says Stephen Terlizzi, VP of global marketing at backup software maker Atempo.

Today, a majority of remote branches and offices get backed up at the remote location itself, according to a survey of Storage readers conducted this March. Of the 88% of companies with remote offices, more than half (54%) said those locations were backed up locally, compared to the 34% that back up to a central data center.

Mohawk Industries, Calhoun, GA, used to be one of those companies that allowed its remote sites to back up locally. A manufacturer of carpet and tile flooring, Mohawk has 500 locations in the United States--manufacturing facilities, distribution warehouses and retail locations. About a year ago, the company embarked on a project to replace outdated "green screen" terminals at its remote locations with Iomega NAS boxes to give them up-to-date file, print and software distribution capabilities. At the same time, says Leon Verriere, manager of systems engineering, Mohawk wanted to solve "the endless problem of people at the [remote] facilities not changing out the tapes."

Mohawk's first stab at the problem involved Microsoft's Distributed File System (DFS), coupled with File Replication Service (FRS), but "it didn't work the way we expected it to on a large scale," says Verriere. "I think [DFS] is great for 10 to 15 locations," but for Mohawk, with 500 locations and more than 400 servers, DFS was out of its league.

To fix DFS' scalability limitations, Microsoft referred Mohawk to NuView, which makes a global namespace product called StorageX, built on top of DFS. StorageX had another unforeseen benefit, Verriere says: improved replication. "NuView's replication does what you expect it to do--with FRS, that's not the case." With reliable replication in place, Mohawk copies data nightly from its remote locations back to the data center. It has already removed tape drives from 65 locations.

But a replication-only approach for remote office backup may not be enough, says Frank Jablonski, senior product marketing manager at FilesX, a Southborough, MA-based startup. "What happens if you have a virus? You need to have the security of a known, good, point-in-time copy," he says. This spring, FilesX announced Tapeless Branches--software that does block-level backup to a local disk and then replicates that backup over IP to a central vault. Based on its Xpress Restore, restores can be done at the file, volume or application level, or can be used to perform a bare metal restore. Pricing for Tapeless Branches is approximately $15,000 per branch, not including storage or server hardware.

The abundance of cheap disk on the market is prompting traditional backup vendors to get in on the act. Atempo Time Navigator users, for example, are increasingly taking advantage of the product's split-stream backup feature, whereby the software can write the backup stream to two different targets, says Atempo's Terlizzi. In the case of a remote office, one stream is typically written to a local Atempo virtual library system (VLS) or virtual tape library--new in TimeNavigator 4.0--for fast local restores, while the other is sent over IP to a central data center to be written to tape.

Centralizing storage--and by extension, backup--is also the raison d'etre of a new generation of wide-area file system (WAFS) products. By combining caching, protocol optimization and compression technologies, WAFS providers claim they can dramatically speed up file access over the WAN. If WAFS can reduce the pain users experience when accessing files over high-latency, low-bandwidth WANs, storage administrators may be able to use it to justify keeping storage resources out of the branch. WAFS players include Cisco, with its File Engine; as well as DiskSites, Peribit, Riverbed Technology and Tacit Networks.

Last month, newcomer FineGround made its appearance with its Velocity-FS appliance. Unlike earlier WAFS players, FineGround doesn't try to optimize CIFS per se--it seeks to replace it with the network-efficient HTTP. By remapping remote CIFS drives as HTTP drives, FineGround estimates that it can speed up remote file access between two and nine times, without the need to install an appliance at the remote location. Its Velocity-FS appliance sits at the central data center and converts traffic between CIFS and HTTP. Pricing for Velocity-FS starts at $20,000.

Thus far, storage consolidation of remote resources has been slow to take off, observes Jay Mellman, VP of marketing at FineGround, Campbell, CA, whose roots lie in Web application optimization. "But we thought if we could provide [people] with better access in a centralized manner, people will probably do it."

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