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Macy's struggles with Mac backup

Macy's Northwest division tried backup products from EMC and Software Generation before settling on BakBone's NetVault product to back up its Macintosh and Apple XRaid data.

As the northwest division of Macy's department store chain experienced data growth over the last two years thanks to digitizing its catalog photographs, it found its Apple XRaid SAN was keeping up -- but its backup infrastructure had to go.

At the time, Macy's was using Software Generation Ltd.'s FlashNet backup and recovery software to back up its approximately 10 terabytes of data to an Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC) Scalar i2000 tape library and found that daily backups were taking from eight to 10 hours. Recovery times on lost files were even worse -- sometimes taking days to find and restore the data from tape.

Worse, the backup application was compounding the problem. "It was awkward and hard to use, even with help from tech support staff, said Uwe Nausner, director of technology marketing for Macy's Northwest. "It wouldn't reliably backup our data -- it would start and then not finish the backups, and we kept getting different reasons for why it was happening. We kept winding up with no backup again and again."

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It wasn't the first time Macy's had struggled with backup software. Prior to FlashNet, the company had been using EMC Corp.'s Dantz Retrospect software, which Nausner said became unwieldy as data grew and was difficult to use with a heterogeneous environment.

In addition to the XRaid SAN and 25 XServ Macintosh servers running Mac OS X, Macy's uses two Sun Solaris servers, two Windows 2003 servers and about half a dozen Linux servers in its environment.

With Dantz Retrospect, Nausner said, Macy's had to first migrate data from the Solaris servers to a Mac server before Dantz would write them to tape, slowing backup times further. Nausner also said Dantz's upgrade from supporting OS IX to OS X was slow, and when it did arrive some three years ago, he wasn't happy with the way it was configured.

"It was tedious to use," Nausner said. Also, he said, Dantz had "reached its limits" as his system grew. "It was not good at supporting very large tape systems."

Macy's came across BakBone's NetVault at a trade show a year ago and was pleased with the demonstration it saw of its backup capabilities for Mac systems.

"At the time," Nausner said, "Mac support was either nonexistent or inefficient."

Nausner said he was intrigued by BakBone's virtual tape library (VTL) offering, which it calls a Virtual Disk Library. He bought BakBone's NetVault Backup software and mounted its VTL on one of his XRaid arrays. The VTL still writes backups to the ADIC library after saving them to virtual tapes on disk.

With a disk-to-disk-to-tape infrastructure in place, Nausner said he was pleased with the response times both for backups and restores. Backups that had taken 8 to 10 hours on average are now down to under an hour, and restores can happen in minutes using primary backups on disk.

But the real difference the NetVault software has made is in supporting the Mac environment, as well as the data coming in from heterogeneous servers, Nausner said.

"Based on our experience, this is the only system right now that can support our environment this well."

BakBone has made an effort to reach out to Mac customers, most recently adding NetVault Backup and NetVault Replicator On-Demand support for Intel-based Macs running Mac OS X Tiger. BakBone's software is also compatible with PowerPC-based Macintosh computers and offers Universal Application versions for heterogeneous environments.

The one place in which Nausner said he was less than happy with BakBone was in its licensing structure.

"They need a more up-front and transparent licensing system," he said. "They should do more to help customers to know what their costs will be up front when they want to add more modules."

"For customers with heterogeneous environments that want to back up Solaris and Linux in addition to Macintosh, we recommend that they use the Retrospect for Windows product because the Retrospect for Macintosh product does not support Solaris or Linux clients," said Jennifer Dreyer, commercial, and small and midsized business public relations representative for EMC in an e-mail to

BakBone did not comment on whether or not it was looking to update its licensing system. Software Generation also did not return requests for comment on the user's assessment of their backup products.

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