Backing up to tape creates problems of backwards compatibility, cost

Companies shopping for back-up and data recovery products to safeguard valuable information need to look at several issues, including interoperability between backup products and the ability to read old tapes, before laying down their money.

Although backup products offer obvious advantages, there are still certain challenges to keep in mind such as extra costs and trusting one’s staff.

Interoperability between back-up products should a customer want to switch from one system to another is a top concern, said one industry executive.

“Often backups are required to be maintained for very extended periods in order to meet regulatory or business requirements,” said Craig Andrews, director of sales engineering at Symantec Canada.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp. last April released Veritas NetBackup 6.0 PureDisk Remote Office Edition.

Tapes hinder standardization
Ideally, a product should be able to read the old tapes created by the initial vendor, said Andrews. For this to happen, data must be recorded in a standardized way.

Today’s standards, however, fail to support all of the functionality that a modern backup system requires, he said. Problems may include the inability of a backup image to span more than one physical tape, or the inability to record data from multiple backup clients simultaneously onto the same tape cartridge.

“Due to these shortcomings, vendors are forced to adopt proprietary methods for recording data onto tape,” Andrews said.

He added customers wishing to buy another backup product must either use a lengthy data conversation process to convert old backup data to a format the new product may use, or keep the original software to restore data from old backups and use new software for new backups.

Compatibility is also an issue that extends to a firm’s existing infrastructure.

Most companies standardize on a single backup solution to cut costs and operational complexity, which is why the product they invest in should support the “unique capabilities and idiosyncrasies” of a range of operating systems, databases and hardware devices such as storage-area networking switches, disk arrays, tape libraries and tape drives, said Andrews.

Luckily, most vendors have figured out how to support various operating systems, databases and target devices, said Brian Babineau, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group of Milford, Mass.

Companies also need to keep track of who is allowed to perform backups, handle tapes and maintain the storage system, said Babineau. Since this aspect of security has no bearing on the choice of backup product itself, he said the onus is on companies to ensure they can trust their staff by, for example, doing background checks on prospective tape administrators.

As a customer moves data from a primary server to secondary storage, it needs to protect data by using flight firewalls and virtual local-area networks, Babineau said.

The greater challenge is securing data while it is based in one place. He said the key is adopting encryption tools and products preventing outsiders from gaining access to data in the tape drive or storage system. Since many tape drives are sent to secondary locations or outsourced to third parties, encrypting data means there is less of a risk if it winds up in the wrong hands.

Compressing data saves bandwidth
Despite the rising adoption of broadband technologies, analysts say compressing data is still important especially for remote offices.

“You don’t want to use all your bandwidth to protect data,” Babineau said. “By compressing data, you can utilize bandwidth for other things.”

Experts say using a disk allows you to restore data faster because, unlike having to search for a tape in a library, disks are already there and require less on-hands management. Disks may also be used easily by a remote-office team to back up data.

As technology advances, they say, a company may be unable to read its old tape cartridge. But a 10-year-old SCSI disk format, which may not change as rapidly, will demonstrate more staying power.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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