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Making disk-based backup work

Learn how to improve performance and reduce management problems by incorporating low-cost disk into your data protection plan.

This article first appeared in "Storage" magazine in the September issue. For more articles of this type, please visit

What you will learn from this tip: How to improve performance and reduce management problems by incorporating low-cost disk into your data protection plan.

For those struggling with nightly backups, the arrival of low-cost disk promises to be the greatest breakthrough for improving the process since the introduction of centralized, networked backup in the early 1990s. Done properly, incorporating disk into a comprehensive data protection plan will improve the performance of backup and restore, reduce day-to-day management problems and provide an enhanced degree of data protection. To realize these benefits, it's necessary to answer these questions:

Where disk can help

In survey after survey, users cite the same reasons for adopting disk as a backup medium: faster nightly backups, shorter restore times, better reliability of backup and restore and better overall manageability. Here's how disk can help realize these efficiencies.

  • Faster nightly backups. The impact of disk on individual backup jobs can vary dramatically. There are many potential causes for bottlenecks in the backup process, many of which are unrelated to whether disk is part of the picture. If these issues are causing your backup problems, just adding disk won't help. However, disk can help most with performance problems, such as queued jobs unable to start because of resource constraints and file servers that have many small files that can't keep a tape drive streaming.
  • Shorter restore times. In many environments, the majority of restore requests are for individual files. Recovery performance for a small number of files is usually not a problem in a tape environment -- assuming, of course, that the actual tape media is available. The time to load, seek and recover a file from a tape, while certainly greater than with disk, is often within acceptable limits.

    Where disk does help significantly is with recovering a large numbers of objects, such as a full file system restore, or in a disaster recovery (DR) scenario where data is likely to be stored on multiple tape volumes.

  • Improved reliability. One of the biggest complaints about tape is reliability. Tape isn't inherently unreliable, but because of differences in how it's managed, stored and handled, there can be wide variances and little predictability. This uncertainty is the real point of frustration. Disk, through RAID, can at least provide protection against media failures. Disk also benefits -- from a reliability standpoint -- from not being handled and transported.
  • Better manageability. This is the area where disk truly has the potential for the greatest impact. Many of the everyday problems of traditional backup are related to the idiosyncrasies involved in managing tape and tape devices. The failure of one tape device can have a cascading effect that impacts a number of backup jobs; managing and tracking tape cartridges is a process that invites all sorts of glitches. Disk, if integrated correctly, can smooth the process enormously, resulting in better reliability and faster backups and restores.

It's important to approach disk-based backup with a solid understanding of how disk impacts each of these areas in order to realize the potential benefits.

Read the rest of this article in Storage magazine.

For more information:

Tip: Backup budgets have it MAID with cheap disk

Backup School: Lesson 2 -- Backup media

Tip: Experts pick top backup products


About the authors: Jim Damoulakis is CTO and Bill Peldzus is director of storage architecture for GlassHouse Technologies in Framingham, Mass.

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