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Serverless backup solutions -- testing the waters

By Alan Earls

People have been doing backups since the beginning of IT time. It is one of those necessary and sometimes time-and resource-consuming processes that is a fact of life. If something goes wrong in a backup process, it can disrupt critical day-to-day processing tasks by eating into processor power and network bandwidth during prime time. Needless to say, ways to improve upon and speed backups have long been a focus in the industry.

Among the schemes have been both LAN-free and serverless backup -- each of which seemed to promise 24/7 backup capability that would be more affordable and reliable. According to Illuminata, Inc., a Nashua, NH-based analyst firm, as SAN technologies have evolved, it has become more difficult to distinguish between LAN-free and serverless backup, with different flavors of serverless backup now also beginning to emerge. However, they warn, the two are different creatures, and they are at very different stages of development.

"In the Client/Server/LAN environment, typically data moves from the server over the LAN to a dedicated backup server attached to a tape drive," explains John Webster, an analyst at Illuminata. Webster says in small offices, this arrangement presents no problems. For larger operations, however -- just as for mainframe-based shops -- backup glitches are a major source of headaches.

For now, LAN-free backup means a separate storage network -- a SAN. However, servers still play an important role. As demands for storage continue to skyrocket, other options (serverless backup, for instance) are getting attention.

Serverless backup, in Illuminata's view, builds on the idea of LAN-free backup but permits direct disk-to-disk, disk-to-tape, or tape-to-tape backup within a SAN. Taking the server out of this ample mix makes for complex software. According to Webster, players like Computer Associates, Legato, and BakBone Software are playing in the space with specially coded backup software (e.g., CA's ArcServeIt Image Option or Legato's Celestra). Then what's needed, says Illuminata, is a copy agent or data mover (e.g., SCSI Extended Copy), and a transport device (e.g., bridge or router). The result is the ability to move data between storage devices in a SAN with hardly any load on the server.

"You will probably see big SAN players like EMC respond in this area within a few months," says Webster.

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About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, Mass.

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