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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: August 2008

Alive and kicking

1 August 2008
Brett Haggard

Try as you might, you cannot deny that tape is the primary backup technology being used by enterprises today.
And it is with good reason too. Modern businesses have become extremely risk averse and as such see good sense in continuing to use a set of technologies (like tape) that they understand and have heavily invested in for more than a decade.
But it is not just about trust and track record. For many enterprises, tape is a money saver.
Companies with existing tape backup solutions simply need to upgrade regularly in order to continue getting predictable value from their backup solution.
I am not saying that businesses should take the easy route and not be experimenting with new technologies. When they experiment they should just ensure that they do not do so at risk of upsetting elements of their IT system that are designed to be infallible - like their backups.
While tape remains popular in the enterprise space largely because of its proven track record, SMBs are keen on it because of its low cost.
SMBs generally do not have a ton of infrastructure in place, so they are able to switch from one technology to another relatively quickly and with far less cost than enterprises can, something that theoretically makes them perfect candidates for the adoption of newer technologies.
SMBs like ROI too
Just like any large enterprise however, there has to be sound return on investment. While the plummeting price of entry-level hard disks makes concepts like disk-to-disk backup look very promising, the costs are still prohibitive.
160 GB of entry-level hard disk storage weighs in at about three to four times the price of an 80 GB DAT tape that can be compressed to store 160 GB - that is quite a cost difference.
Now, although there is the price of the tape drive to consider, nobody is likely to implement a disk-to-disk backup solution without buying an enclosure that offers some form of redundancy with it. And taking that into consideration, the setup costs of tape and disk work out more or less the same.
The one advantage hard disk technology did have over tape was the fact that it could be placed in an external USB, external SATA or Firewire enclosure and be transported around the company in order to backup multiple client machines.
This gave the IT administrator sufficient flexibility to backup and restore wherever he needed.
Portable DAT
But now the tape folks have levelled the paying field and begun to think out of the box about how tape can become more useful.
Just this month, HP announced the availability of an enterprise-capable DAT 160 solution that can be connected to a computer over USB. And most importantly is available at an SMB-friendly sub R7000.
Since DAT is an enterprise technology, it has proven reliability and speed (50 GB/hour). In fact, DAT is the most successful tape backup technology of all time - analysts say more than 17 million DAT drives have been shipped since the technology's introduction in 1989 and that it has current world-wide installed base of over 6 million drives.
With USB as an option DAT becomes portable, flexible and most importantly, plug and playable. And that makes this technology suddenly apply to companies of all sizes.
HP reckons that backups can commence within a couple of minutes of unboxing their new USB-based DAT 160 and that the drive can either be mounted as a standard file volume (ie, logically represented to the operating system as an external hard disk) or be used as a fully-fledged tape backup drive by installing the same bundled software the drives destined for the enterprise ship with.
HP might just be on to something and it is likely that other vendors will follow suit.


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