WAN Backups - Innovation for an Oldfangled Technology

Unless you have a real need to hold on to your tape stackers or you simply love the smell of backup tapes, it's high time you considered retiring them and moving up to the next generation of backup technology.

 By Beth Cohen
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Are you still backing up your systems the old-fashioned way – on tape? Have you been mirroring server disks and dutifully dropping tapes into the stacker year after year, only to see your company grow to 10 offices in five states with a recently opened outsourced branch in, say, Bangalore? And now your boss has just told you that you need to incorporate the new systems into the backup scheme, but your backup capacity is already maxed out. Before you look at buying yet another tape stacker, it’s time to consider an easier, cheaper way to back up your systems.

Or consider another example — as the owner of an engineering firm with offices worldwide, your engineers need to work on complex CAD designs from many different office locations simultaneously. As business becomes increasingly collaborative, your users must share files across the Internet or on your company WAN. Think of the improved efficiency if all your users could share the latest data files by using technology that delivers continuous synchronization and file system distribution over the Internet.

Face it, backup tape systems are old technology; they have been around since the beginning. Still, while backup can be boring, costly, and time consuming, ignore it and you jeopardize your entire enterprise. Fortunately, though, as the cost of disk storage has fallen to commodity levels and connectivity costs have plummeted, better methods for solving your backup problems have emerged. Today we will look at several network alternatives to the old-fashioned drudgery of tape backups.

WAN Backup Systems

The problem faced by many companies in the wired age is that the staff and their computers are no longer located at a single headquarters where the data on the mainframe servers can be conveniently backed up nightly while most people are sleeping. Data is scattered across the network, and people are working from just about anywhere and at anytime. Since the data is not coming back into the central data center anytime soon, backups must be designed to go out to where it does reside — on mobile systems, remote office servers, wherever.

Many years ago there was an apocryphal story going around the net about systems administrators who were using the old Usenet newsgroups as a form of cheap universal system backup. They would create fake newsgroups in the .alt area and populate them with their files. Since it might take weeks for the top-level server administrators to notice, the files were safely backed up on several high availability servers and could be downloaded or restored to any system that had Usenet access. Admittedly, there where some minor security and legal issues with this practice, but conceptually, they were on the right track.

Although the heyday of the Usenet newsgroups is long gone, the concept of file backup using other people’s high availability resources is not far from what those maverick admins were doing. Only now, it’s not only legal, but also encouraged — for a fee, of course. Using in-house installed software or a monthly Internet backup service, companies can back up their distributed systems for a fraction of the hassle and cost associated with the old methods.

Increasingly, companies are “solving the problem of storage access by removing the need for users to use a VPN solution or to connect to one of the central servers to access their files,” says Ellen Ohlenbusch, Sr. VP & Co-Founder, Availl, Inc. in Andover, MA., a vendor of distributed data mirroring and storage software. Her company’s flagship product, Availl 2.6, is a unique distributed replication solution for companies that need to share large data files between remote offices and scattered servers. “One customer is using Availl to synchronize complex CAD assembly files across their organization from engineering located on one coast and manufacturing offshore. This was something they had never been able to do before.”

Page 2: How WAN Backup Works

This article was originally published on Nov 17, 2003
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