Solving backup woes?

The Enhanced Backup Solutions Initiative (EBSI) is a group of vendors that's been quietly trying to figure out how best to do backup on a large scale. They're proposing an interesting mix of tape and disk that walks a middle ground between the two worlds in terms of performance and cost.

While this may not be the right answer for everyone, it certainly may be optimal for some. It's great if you've already got tape backup systems in place - which includes all large shops and most medium-sized ones. The EBSI says the disk/tape approach is best for customers who are having problems completing their backups in their current windows.

The way the technology works: back up first to a serial ATA drive, then the drive transfers data over to tape. Costs are lower than pure disk-to-disk solutions because instead of mirroring data on two disks simultaneously, it uses only one ATA disk. According to the EBSI, "The basic idea is to separate the backup target (the interface to the online data system) from the backup archive (which preserves and manages the records). In essence, a disk-based subsystem is inserted between the backup application and the existing tape archive."

Further, the group says, "Backup software continues to operate as it always did, although now it writes to disk rather than tape. Thanks to disk's faster performance, backups can be accomplished in much less time. Further, the higher reliability of disks allows backups to be conducted without manual intervention. Once the data is backed up to disk, it can be archived to tape whenever the IT organization specifies." The disks back up data in block format, just like tape.

In addition to the core standard, the EBSI is working on reference models, implementation guidelines, best practices, certification and training programs, case studies and bulletin boards to help IT-ers solve problems. Its executive director is Michael Peterson, founder of Strategic Research Corp. and a long-time consultant in the storage arena. Vendors including LightSand, Quantum, Legato, Network Appliance and Avamar are involved. Over 500 IT professionals have signed up as members (individual membership is free; corporate membership starts at $5,000 for "emerging" companies and goes up to $25,000 for full voting rights).

According to the EBSI, anyone can join because it's more about figuring out how to make existing and new "enhanced" backup systems work, and work together. The group adamantly says it is not a standards organization, and is talking with the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) to see how the two might cooperate. Products are starting to appear. Quantum's DX30 comes in around $16 per gigabyte, the company says, versus around $10 per gigabyte for pure tape-based solutions and around $80/gigabyte for synchronous, mirrored disk-based systems.

The EBSI's Web site – -- already has some nifty tools, including a "configurator" and, even better, a step-by-step guide that provides tips on how to do a storage needs assessment.

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