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EBSI: Is it right for you?

This tip offers advantages and disadvantages of the new backup initiative and products coming from the Enhanced Backup Solutions Initiative (EBSI).

EBSI, the Enhanced Backup Solutions Initiative, is a hybrid disk and tape backup approach. It promises faster backup at lower costs than conventional disk-to-disk backup approaches.

Is it right for your organization? The answer is a definite 'maybe'. EBSI is aimed at a particular part of the backup market and it is still a developing technology, but it is becoming more and more available and for the companies in its target market it offers some definite attractions.

EBSI's is good for companies who are running out of backup window but don't want the complexity or expense of high-end solutions. It is particularly attractive to companies that already have tape backup systems in place. EBSI is not as cheap as a simple pure-tape solution, although it can be cheaper than elaborate high-speed tape systems, and it isn't as expensive as some other disk backup solutions.

EBSI seeks to combine disk-to-disk and tape backup in a middle path that improves backup performance and reduces backup windows by backing up first to disk and then (usually) transferring the backup to tape while avoiding the very high costs normally associated with disk- to-disk backup. Part of this comes from the basic architecture and part of it from other technologies, such as using Serial ATA disks to hold down the costs.

Say 'disk-to-disk' and most people think of disk mirroring where the entire image is maintained on two (or more) separate disk systems and backups are made by breaking the mirror to take a backup off the secondary system while the primary continues to serve users. This is common in high-performance, high-reliability applications such as online transaction processing, but it is too expensive for most enterprises. Even the companies that use disk mirroring often only mirror the absolutely critical parts of the enterprise and rely on cheaper alternatives to back up the rest.

Instead of mirroring, EBSI attempts to trade performance and technical sophistication for cost. Rather than mirroring the disk system, the EBSI disk imitates the tape system. The backup disk looks like a very fast tape drive to the backup software. Like a tape, the disk receives and stores data in blocks rather than files and can write the information to the tape system at its own pace.

Another part of the EBSI approach is focusing on inexpensive Serial ATA drives to build the storage arrays. Serial ATA is based on the ATA/IDE interface which has been used in inexpensive desktop systems for more than a decade. However it updates it with higher performance and a serial rather than the conventional ATA parallel interface. The result, according to serial ATA's backers, is an inexpensive drive that offers much better performance and reliability than conventional ATA drives. The performance isn't up to that of modern SCSI drives, but neither is the cost.

EBSI was sparked by Quantum Corp., and the organization was formed in May of 2002. At this point it has more than two dozen members, including Network Appliance, Legato Systems and Qlogic. EBSI products are beginning to appear on the market and the initiative's backers say many more are to come in the next few months. The initiative is maintaining a very active program, including conferences and a Web site that includes a configurator and a step-by-step guide for companies interested in using EBSI technology.

Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

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