Which Backup Technology Is Best? Who Cares?
VARs should be asking how they can make money combining complementary backup and recovery technologies.
Twenty years ago, there was no viable alternative to using tape to back up computer data. In 2006, the story is quite different. Tape still rules the roost, but now we have a variety of data backup options to complement tape. Disk-based backup is the latest technology to emerge for data backup. Optical technology continues to evolve, and Internet-based DR (disaster recovery) service providers are telling customers not to bother with backup hardware at all. Holographic recording technology promises increased capacities and shelf life, while disk cartridges are available to replace tapes in tape libraries. Vendors love to pontificate on how their particular technology will displace the others. As we have seen with the longevity of tape, it’s doubtful that any one technology is going to be so disruptive that another is completely displaced. Is one backup technology better than the others — and does it even matter? We asked four industry experts for their thoughts.
Chris Stone, VP of sales and marketing for Breece Hill, LLC, says, “Disk will not replace tape, but it is probable that some other technology will replace tape — working in conjunction with disk.” Stone suggests that solid-state disk technology might be a good replacement for tape — eventually. When it comes to optical storage, Stone says, “I think solid-state has a better chance of displacing tape than optical. I just don’t think optical will get there. It still has problems that have not been overcome.” Stone also talked about dipolymer technology that uses lasers to store data in an archival fashion — very inexpensively. Although it is not available yet, Stone says the dipolymer/laser technology will be game-changing because it is the first technology to offer ultra-high storage capacity at a price that will be competitive with tape.
Solid-state is most likely the future of storage. It’s hard to argue with the incredible performance of solid-state disk. The problem with solid-state today is that it is not even close to the cost-effectiveness of disk, let alone tape. Solid-state applications are in a different class. They cannot be justified merely by comparing them on a cost-per-gigabyte basis with disk. Solid-state shines in mission-critical, high-transaction volume data processing, where cost justification is measured in the speed of the data transfer.
Will tape be replaced by disk? “No,” says Molly Rector, VP of marketing for Spectra Logic Corporation. Spectra Logic manufactures both tape and disk products. “Tape continues to account for more than 90% of our sales. We hear a lot of discussion about disk-based backup from our customers,” adds Rector. “However, our customers that have implemented disk in their backup architectures have done so using existing disk in conjunction with their backup tape libraries. Very few are going out and buying new disk for backup today. We see our disk-based products as being complementary to our tape-based products.” Rector says the natural evolution of backup will begin to move more toward disk, but it will take years. “Both disk and tape backup are necessary, and our customers have told us that is the case.”
Frank Jablonski, director of product marketing for CA, Inc., agrees with Rector. “No, disk will not replace tape. Customers still want to send tapes off-site for long-term storage. However, the increasing use of disk-based backup instead of tape will reduce the number of tapes being stored off-site. Companies will shift from sending tapes off-site every day, to sending one backup set per week.”
SMB Market Provides A Big Opportunity For Tape Automation
“Most SMBs think that tape automation is far too expensive for them,” says Kerry Brock, VP of marketing for Exabyte Corporation. “Our goal is to make tape automation available to the SMB at a price in line with a single tape backup drive.” Brock has an excellent point. Most SMB customers aren’t aware of the benefits that a tape automation system can provide. Those benefits range from tape backup consistency to increased backup performance when compared to a single drive. “SMBs may also be unaware that prices on automation units have dropped significantly,” adds Brock. “There is a terrific market opportunity for VARs in the SMB market.”
Even though our experts agree that disk-based backup will not replace tape, disk-based solutions will provide a great sales opportunity for VARs. “By far, the shift to disk-based backups is one of the hottest trends in storage,” explains Jablonski. “That is due to the fact it reduces backup times by as much as 100% and improves recovery times more than 400% compared with tape backup methodologies.”
CDP (continuous data protection) and data replication are also becoming more popular as customers look to meet more stringent RPOs (recovery point objectives) and gain control of remote data via replication to a central site. Spectra Logic’s Rector says that deduplication technology and storage management software will also provide great sales opportunities for VARs. Deduplication and storage management technologies address storage challenges from a different perspective — don’t store every file multiple times; be smarter about what data to store and where you store it.
Backup Technologies And Real-World Advice Lead To Trusted Advisor Status
So, is one backup technology better than the others? Rather than asking that question, VARs and integrators should be looking for ways to combine those technologies to increase profits. For instance, Spectra Logic’s Rector says customers know about the new technology on the market. They need help to understand if and how that technology fits into their businesses. That is where the biggest sales opportunity lies for VARs.
Breece Hill’s Stone agrees. “The real opportunity for VARs is to achieve trusted advisor status by implementing the right solution for the customer, regardless of the technology.” One way to achieve that status is to make sure customers are fully utilizing the backup and recovery technology they have invested in. For instance, why recommend a 50 TB, disk-based backup solution when the customer only needs a 20 TB tape solution? Exabyte’s Brock summarizes by saying that it’s up to VARs to take the risk out of backup operations for their customers.