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Plan on disk-based backup

Will 2004 be a breakthrough year for disk-based backup solutions? A new survey of Storage readers finds that while users are reluctant to completely eliminate tape from their backup environments, many are planning to deploy disk to complement tape in the next year.

How we gathered our data How we gathered our data: For a two-week period in September 2003, the Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA, conducted Web-based surveys with qualified subscribers of Storage magazine. Several questions and the subscriberÍs responses were used to qualify the survey respondents from the Storage readership list. The Taneja Group qualified the subscriber list based on job title, size of primary storage environment (more than 10TB) and by industry. Phone interviews were also conducted with IT executives at large (50TB+) and midrange (10TB to 50TB) storage environments as part of this study. A total of 235 subscribers took the Web-based survey with 20 one-on-one interviews. Anyone interested in buying the full study can e-mail for details.
As backup and recovery becomes more of a chief concern in the data center, storage managers are looking to new technologies to make the process easier. Tape isn't going away, but it will be increasingly joined by disk as a core backup technology, according to a new survey of 235 Storage magazine subscribers.

The survey, part of a comprehensive study called "Next-Generation Backup and Recovery Solutions: A Study of Customer Requirements" was recently conducted by Storage and the Taneja Group, in Hopkinton, MA, an analyst firm specializing in storage. The study examines how and why storage managers will deploy disk-based backup technologies in 2004 and beyond.

Taneja Group defines next-generation backup and recovery as "any software or hardware solution that leverages a disk-based storage platform to provide new functionality or new efficiencies to a secondary storage environment."

Disk on the horizon
While disk-based backup hasn't yet had an easy or swift acceptance, Storage subscribers say that disk-based backup solutions are poised to appear as staging areas in many large data centers in the coming year. In general, such disks will be used for a minority of the backup workload.

The survey also found that there's a high level of confidence that buying disk will be well worth it down the road. More than three-quarters of respondents report that they expect the TCO of disk-based backup to be better than tape, with 24% expecting disk to provide a substantially better TCO than tape. (See Figure 3) Going forward, it appears disk is an investment that many users are ready to make.

Vijay Sonty, the CTO of Foote Cone & Belding, a marketing services firm in New York City, says that "[there] is a very good possibility that no data will go directly to tape." Sonty praises the advantages of disk-based storage such as faster backup and recovery times, and storing data on a medium that "may have fewer compatibility problems with future technology."

Still, few end users are ready to throw away their tapes, as only a few respondents say they plan to deploy disk for all of their backup requirements. The respondents indicate that tape and disk will be living together for a long time. Only 5% of respondents plan to back up all their data to disk in the next year and the majority (76%) will have a mixed tape and disk environment. (See Figure 2) To confirm the entrenched nature of tape in most large enterprise environments, respondents were asked to quantify the media types they're using in their environments. On average, respondents are backing up 81% of their data to tape.

So, despite recent challenges from cheaper disk such as ATA, tape remains the preferred backup medium and cornerstone of most backup plans. This is especially true for most disaster recovery and remote backup storage. With tape archived remotely, says John Leitgeb, director of IT at a California manufacturing firm, "if something bad happens it won't wipe out your enterprise."

Yet, disk is looming on the horizon, not as a replacement to tape but as a complementary technology. Almost half of the end users we surveyed are in the evaluation stage for disk-based storage, with another sizable chunk (26%) already in the deployment phase (see Figure 1). While 28% have not yet evaluated disk-based technology for their secondary storage, this percentage is expected to drop as the benefits of disk-based backup become evident for many large storage users.

Profile of survey respondents
Forty percent are systems mangers/admins; 25% are IT managers
They back up an average of 5TB daily and 27TB weekly
The top three industries are: financial services (26%), manufacturing (17%) and government (16%)
Sixty-two percent have between 10TB and 50TB of primary storage at their company
More than half consider databases their most strategic applications

Disk to the rescue
Survey respondents said that disk is a better medium than tape in solving their top three storage challenges: hitting backup windows, meeting recovery time objectives and backup and restore reliability (see Figure 4).

David Nagurney, data center director of a large financial services firm, says "hitting backup windows is by far the biggest challenge." Nagurney says his company has been increasing its disk capacity 25% every year with faster and newer storage technology and he feels the capability of backing up to tape does not keep pace with that new technology. "We have to change," he says.

Many organizations plan to use disk for staging and then copy the data to tape. In response to the question, "How will you deploy tape vs. disk-based backup and recovery technologies over the next year?" 35% of respondents plan to back up to disk and then copy the data to tape (see Figure 2). Disk to disk to tape--disk used as a staging medium for tape--is becoming prominent on storage administrators' radar screens. At many organizations, plans for disk-based deployment are already in motion.

But why the relatively slow deployment of disk to date? Certainly, the higher price of disk is a reason, especially for cash-strapped IT shops in a lean economy. Yet there is another factor at play: the fear of change. If making a transition to next-generation backup requires a company to alter their current storage infrastructure, then they may resist, according to the survey.

Respondents listed "integration with existing tape backup solutions" as the top consideration when making a decision about purchasing disk. Along the same lines, one of the leading obstacles to deploying new backup and recovery products, according to survey results, is "requiring changes to existing infrastructure." Storage managers are also leery of "purchasing products from an emerging vendor" and "trusting new, untested technology." Most companies, it seems, are cautious and would prefer not to mess with their existing backup architecture.

But Arun Taneja, consulting analyst and founder of the Taneja Group, warns against playing it too safe in the data center. He says the pain level from a data protection perspective is getting so high in IT shops that something has to change. "I expect the way data is backed up, restored and archived will undergo a major overhaul within the next 24 months," says Taneja. "Those IT shops that are not actively evaluating their data protection strategies today will pay a big price."

A vendor you can trust
Because most organizations are hesitant to take chances with their backup operations, it's not surprising that a majority of survey respondents prefer established vendors. When asked what disk-based backup and recovery products they are looking at or have deployed, respondents listed products from well-known vendors, including EMC Corp., IBM Corp., Legato, Network Appliance Inc.,Quantum, Storage Technology Corp. and Veritas Software Corp. (See Figure 5).

"I have nothing against startups," says Terry Kieffer, an IT director at a financial services firm in Chicago. But he adds that when his company makes a substantial investment in a new backup product, the vendor must have the financial strength to back that product over the long haul. "The bottom line is that a firm's financial strength is very important in selection of a product," he says.

Yet other survey respondents expressed a willingness to evaluate emerging vendors for their backup and recovery solutions. "If there are more cost-effective new vendors that come into this space with similar functionality to the big players, then we certainly would be amenable to evaluating them," says data center director Nagurney.

Foote Cone & Belding's Sonty agrees: "I would look for a tested solution ... good functionality and a company that has financial strength." He adds that he'll also try to find out what kind of user perception the startup's product is getting and how competitively its service and support package stacks up against the major players.

While vendors position themselves for leadership in this market, 2004 is shaping up to be a year of evaluation, initial deployment and integration of disk-based backup solutions. Backup and restoration of data clearly remains one of the most significant parts of a storage manager's job. This survey shows that users are looking toward new technologies to solve their age-old backup challenges. Disk brings many benefits to the table, but tape is a reliable and relatively inexpensive medium that will be around for a long time. In the future, disk and tape will work more closely together to ensure hassle-free backups. It may not happen overnight, but this survey suggests that users are looking for answers now.

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