Tape autoloaders for medium sized business.

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Backup and Recovery
We're a relativly small company (about 80 employees), but due to our business model we're rather heavy on the IT side with about 20 servers including file/print servers, Exchange, SQL and Web-servers. We currently use an online backup solutions provider, we do a full backup once a week and incremental backups nightly. This solution tends to work well if we ever have to do small restores such as recovering specific documents for users and the like. However we recently had a scare where it seemed our entire Exchange database would need to be restored. Due to the size of the database, downloading it was not a viable option (we're limited on bandwidth) and the hosting company could only offer to send the backup overnight. Luckily it turned out a restore was not nescessary, but the realization that if we ever needed a restore of this magnitude again we would be down for 24+ hours caused us to seriously look for a new alternative. Right now we are looking at some different auto-tape loading units such as the Dell Powervault or HP Storageworks. I was wondering if anyone could share their experience with such systems as opposed to other backup solutions, what the advantages and disadvantages are etc. Neither I nor my Sysadmin colleague have much experience with them so any insight would be appreciated -Kjell Andorsen

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Overall you may be better served by high capacity standalone tape units if you fall below the expensive jukebox level. HP actually makes very good standalone or internal mount addon units.

But you really need to say what amounts of data and in what time you expect to backup. All commnets about speed assume the selected SCSI interfaces can keep up. LTO-Ultrium format drives are generally the fastest and highest capacity per single tape (up to 400GB uncompressed). LTO drives can record full tapes in as little as 2-6 hours. LTO is the largest selling type now too. http://www.lto.org/newsite/html/format.html

http://www.lto.org/newsite/html/format_datasheet.html

SUPERDLT are not quite as fast and high capacity. IF you are looking to pick up clearance priced drives, a single AIT tape can often back up 60GB/75GB uncompressed to a single tape in about 12 hours.

Remember to calculate Tape costs over drive life. Tapes can cost as much as the drives — especially if you buy from a drive manufacturer. Yes you will want to look for recognizable name brands at a discount mail-order/online store rather than just buy everything from the drive vendor. Most drive vendors cost up to 100% more for tapes and do not change the warranty on the drive.

You should realize that Dell especially lags about 2 generations beind current hardware standards just to make sure that support is painless for them as well. That is reliabilty first and performance/cost a distant second. they do tend to have nice integrated disk/tape packaging though. Nor does Dell very often support upgrading units with newer technology parts — buy a whole new unit.

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  • Mortree
    P.S. Drive manufacturers are often not the cheapest source of their own drives either. Pricewatch.com might be a place to get a feel for the going street price of an HP Storageworks LTO-Ultrium drive. Looks like simple Ultrium-LTO2 (200GB uncompressed) drives are goes for around $1700. Also I would tend to stay away from autoloaders if you can. The extra mechanical complexity greatly decreases drive and tape loading reliability. With LTO-Ultrium single tape capacities you really should have no need capacity-wise and really no ability to get more data to the drive. So the only real reason for autoloaders is so you don't have to change tapes but once every 1-2 weeks. Learn to check and change your tape back up every weekday morning. Usually weekends don't have nearly as much activity and combine with slow start Monday easily. Putting successive days backups on a single tape by appending is probably almost as unwise from the all eggs in one basket viewpoint of accidental overwrites, miscalculation of end-of-tape, and tape failure. Even missing a weekday on occassion is generally no big disaster. Also many third party backup softwares will buffer backups to disk of a special backup server first for speed then dump to tape all day if needed. So really you have two backup of a given day or two cahnces at tape changing. However, third party backup software like Veritas Backup Exec can be far more expensive to license than all the tape drives and tapes if done inefficiently.
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  • Mortree
    There are alternatives to local tapes if retrieval and email downtime time are your only concerns. Exchange 200-2003 Enterprise version lets your break that email into several storage units instead of one monolithic block. Small blocks will download faster or use less bandwidth. Also have you considered a secondary server and mailboxes to just let you collect and response to the current days email? That is if previous days' email is not 24 hour time sensitive. Finally consider setting up a backup file server with hard drives simply to buffer yesterday's backups to the Internet. This also means yesterday's backups can be retrieved without going to the Internet until they are overwrittten (almost 24 hour availability). Of course you could just increase disk space and buffer more days of backup.
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  • Mortree
    P.S. A backup file server for buffering to the Internet can be cheaper than a single tape drive. Realize it does not contain your primary copy of data nor is it your ultimate safe backup if you are going to an Internet storage provider. Nor is file backup that CPU intensive. So often a regular workstation clone (not even name brand) with a modest single CPU and lots of standard drive space works great. Oh SATA RAID controllers ($200 each?) for backup data storage might be nice for more speed and a little more reliability under RAID-5. So basic workstation $500 plus $200 RAID controller and extra four 500GB SATA drives for $800 = about $1500 for 1500GB backup buffer. A you could add a second 1500GB RAID 5 array for $1000. I would hope you aren't sending 1.5TB to 3 TB of data over teh Internet for backup now even on a monthly basis.
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  • DataEvailability
    The online services I am familiar with, keep a local copy (in a compressed format) of saved files. If you need to restore the previous backup then this is done from the local copy on disc, and is fast. This assumes it is not a hard disc issue. Bit confused by your statement that you do weekly full save, and daily incrementals. The on-line services I am aware of do an initial full save and then only do changes. Some use delta blocking to reduce the nightly backup size, and others do byte level changes to further reduce backup size. Suggest you chat with your supplier about the detail of how the service works, and whether the previous backup is restored from local copy or has to be pulled back from remote storage. Also confirm if the service does a full exchange 'brick level' backup - not all do. Some offer backup at storage group level. Others generate pst files using exmerge and backup those - this will not backup public folders. Agree with previous comments about splitting Exchange into multiple storage groups to reduce database size. You should also do periodic test restore to practice the procedure and so develop a recovery script. You can use the recovery storage groups facility in Exchange 2003. Ideally you should test on a separate server for those events that will require you to rebuild the server. It also means you can make mistakes without putting your live environment at risk. Another issue with tape not mentioned so far is the cost of off-site storage for the tapes, and the time of shipping tapes between sites. Tape also has a security issue of unencrypted data being removed from your controlled environment. A fact not lost on a number of US organisations that have lost tapes in transit. Recovery from a storage group corruption is very dependent on data restore times. However, with hardware failure and site based incidents the availability of replacement hardware / recovery data centre become far more significant. The questions to ask are: What am I trying to protect myself against? What is the likelihood of such an incident? What is the business impact over time of such an incident? Answer the business impact question and you know how much you can afford to spend on data backup. And the required recovery time. You will also have an answer to the recovery point question. Speed of recovery may be important, but the amount of data lost may equally be important. On your current procedures you may lose completely up to one days email. Is this acceptable to the business? If you need (near) zero data loss you need to consider (off-site) data mirroring. It is not a cheap solution. Regards Dave Bowra
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