Remote-office backups made easy

With plenty of economical disk-based backup products and cloud-based services available, remote offices can be brought back into the fold.

If backups are a headache for storage managers, backing up data at remote offices is a migraine. The traditional method of handling remote backups is to have a tape system on site so that local staff can run regular backups. This has a number of obvious drawbacks, not the least of which is reliability because of the need for human intervention.

To address the issue of the manual nature of tape-based backups, more and more companies are replacing tape with other solutions in their remote offices. The trend is nascent, but catching on fast.

Remote offices are generally characterized by relatively small amounts of data that have to be backed up, as well as a lack of technically adept staff. In an office with just a couple of gigabytes to back up, tape can be relatively expensive. While tape still has the lowest cost per gigabyte, that's only true of the system as a whole above a certain threshold. Tape drives aren't cheap, and tape loaders and libraries are even more expensive. If the backup volume isn't big enough, the cost of the tape system, especially hardware, dominates the economics. If you use a system that costs several thousand dollars to back up a few gigabytes' worth of files, the economics are seriously skewed.

The problem with tape

But the biggest hitch in a remote

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tape backup scenario, and the one most likely to jeopardize effective data protection, is that most remote offices don't have technically knowledgeable people on staff who can maintain a tape system. Backups are often handled by an administrative assistant or clerical staffer with little or no training in the tape technology. Even a grandfather-father-son rotation is hard to handle consistently and more complex rotation schemes like the Tower of Hanoi are just about impossible. A multi-tape loader or library mitigates the problem, but those devices are more expensive than a single drive and don't completely eliminate the difficulty. Even a grandfather-father-son scenario requires rotating the oldest tape out of the loader or library for offsite storage on a regular schedule.

"We often had problems," says Edward Ruffolo, IT director at Miron Construction Co. Inc., a Neenah, Wisc.-based firm that's in the process of converting its tape backup to an ExaGrid Systems Inc. disk-to-disk storage device. "You'd think something was on this tape, go to restore it, and there was something wrong with the tape or the drive was dirty," says Ruffolo. "Tape management is a problem; we felt a lot of time and energy was being spent daily just managing tape.

This was first published in March 2009

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