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Archive appliances hold appeal for SMBs and IT shops with regulatory compliance requirements

Disk-based archive appliances aren't the hottest storage products on the market, but they tend to find a more captive audience with IT shops that need to comply with stringent

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regulatory compliance requirements to preserve data in an unchanged state.

Triggering the wave of purpose-built archiving appliances was the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act HIPAA), and various SEC and government body regulations that exerted a heavy impact in particular on financial services and healthcare firms.

Product capabilities needed by the appliances geared for regulatory compliance include write once, read many (WORM) locks to ensure data cannot be change or deleted; retention management; indexing; and single-instance storage or data deduplication. But for some, especially those in small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the appeal is far more basic.

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Disk archiving appliance types: High-end systems to low-end email archiving appliances

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Regulatory compliance issues drive some IT shops to data archive appliances

"The appliance just seemed easier to handle, easier to install, easier for long-term maintenance," said Kevin Herrington, senior vice president and chief information officer at Franklin Synergy Bank in Tenn., which uses Barracuda Networks Inc.'s Message Archiver.

Some IT shops equate archiving with backing up, especially if they designate point-in-time backup copies as their archives. But a true archive represents the primary copy of the data, and a backup is a secondary copy. Because IT shops need to keep archives for years if not decades and potentially query them on the fly, they require different functionality from their archiving systems than they do from their backup products.

"If you've got unchanging data sitting there that you're backing up constantly, that's a waste of everything. That's a waste of your primary storage resources. That's a waste of your backup infrastructure. That's one of the primary reasons for doing archiving," said Russ Fellows, a senior partner at Evaluator Group Inc. "Move it off your primary storage someplace else where it's cheaper and easier to manage and maintain."

To that end, an appliance isn't the only option for archiving data, or even the most popular one. Service-based cloud storage is slowly gaining a foothold among companies with no interest in maintaining an archiving system, but enterprise IT shops tend to favor separate software and hardware products configured with archiving in mind.

"A lot of what we find from our clients is that because they're going to have to add another software product anyway to drive the data to the storage device on the back end, they often go with either cheap SATA disks or some spare capacity that they have available on their SAN or some NAS storage" rather than buying an archive appliance, said Sheila Childs, a research director at Gartner Inc.

That approach is usually cheaper and also removes the burden of managing an extra storage layer, Childs noted. "The market for 'purpose-built [archive] appliances,'" she added, "is pretty small."

Although low-end appliances generally ship with data-capture software, high-end enterprise-class archive appliances often require the addition of a software-only archive product to move data from the email, file or database server to the back-end storage.

Software archive products such as EMC Corp.'s SourceOne, IBM's Content Collector and Symantec Corp.'s Enterprise Vault supply features that may include sophisticated search, full-text indexing, policy management, and legal workflow capabilities for regulatory compliance requirements or litigation purposes. But, at their most fundamental level, they provide the integration between the server-based applications and the storage.

EMC's Centera is generally regarded as the market leader in the enterprise disk-based archiving appliance category. But archiving appliances tend to hold the greatest appeal with organizations that have fewer than 5,000 employees, and even more typically, fewer than 1,000 employees, according Brian Babineau, a senior consulting analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International LLC, said he doesn't advocate appliances even for smaller companies, because less expensive alternatives are "too easy" to implement and don't require much tuning and specialization.

"In the experience I've had, people subset some of the data, and they put it over on its own little repository so that they can access it for historical reasons or whatever," he said. "That's all well and fine, but I can do that on generic disk. I don't have to do that on an archive appliance."

Toigo said he advises his clients to buy best-of-breed software, drive the data to an image on disk and then migrate that over to more affordable tape, which he said will be durable for 30 to 70 years.

"To me, the benefit of bundling [into an appliance] is offset by the cost of the underlying commodity components, not to mention the fact that you end up having to train a cadre of people to operate just that box," Toigo said. "There's a labor cost that's associated with deploying appliances as well."

This was first published in June 2010

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