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Users eye snapshot to cut back on tape

As the push for better recovery times intensifies, snapshots are quickly becoming a critical alternative technology to tape-based recovery. But while the advantages of snapshots may seem apparent, there are some management issues related to the technology that should be considered.

"Backups are not going away; but how people are doing backups, and the frequency of backing up to tape, is changing," says Patrick Rogers, VP of products and partners at Network Appliance (NetApp).

User demand led Symantec and NetApp last year to begin integrating Veritas NetBackup 6.0 with NetApp's NearStore appliance. And this summer, CommVault announced RecoveryDirector 6.1--a management layer added to its QiNetix 6.1 Unified Data Management Suite--which lets users perform backup and snapshot-related tasks through a single interface regardless of where the snapshot tools reside.

This movement toward deeper integration clearly reflects concerns about how to better bring backup and recovery closer together, while reducing or possibly eliminating tape dependency. Graeme Hackland, IT manager for the Enstone, UK-based Renault Formula One (F1) Team, saw a dramatic change in his tape environment once he implemented a combined Symantec Veritas NetBackup 6.0 and NetApp NearStore solution.

"Reduce the reliance on tape is the task I set the guys on to," says Hackland, who decided on NetApp's NearStore in part because NearStore was deeply integrated with NetBackup, which they'd been using for quite some time. Hackland snapshots data every four hours and keeps a total of six months' worth of snapshots on the NearStore system. Because most of the required restores are typically performed within that six-month range, Hackland was able to significantly downsize his tape environment.

"We used to have this tape library that took up the same space as three 19-inch racks," says Hackland. He was able to replace that with a single 19-inch rack system holding 300 tapes.

"I clawed back some extra space in my data center," he says. "That's a side benefit we hadn't expected."

Using snapshots to move away from tape entirely seems a goal for some users. Randy Cairns, assistant VP for distributed technology at American Republic Insurance Company in Des Moines, IA, is considering snapshot replication between his office and the company's second location in Omaha, NE, as a possible means to that end. Cairns says that if he can find a way to snapshot data at the first site and apply it to copies at the second site, it's likely that tape could be almost completely taken out of the mix.

"I would stop using tape altogether," says Cairns. "Our goal is to get the other city [Omaha] sub-incremental backups, so throughout the day I could be sending data."

The problem is that managing snapshots can be cumbersome if, for example, you have a mixed environment and you're using multiple array-based tools from different vendors to manage snapshots. Even if you rely on tools that came with your hardware, ease of use may still be an issue.

"[Users] will have the storage device, and sometimes they'll even have licenses for snapshots, but they haven't figured out how to use them," says Kelly Polanski, director of product marketing at CommVault Systems.

"End users are looking for ways to not only improve RTOs/RPOs [recovery time objectives/recovery point objectives], but also streamline or automate the management process," Heidi Biggar, a research analyst at Milford, Ma-based Enterprise Strategy Group, writes in an e-mail. "Integrating snapshot and backup processes," she notes, "is a means toward this very important end."

--Trina MacDonald (TM)

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