Virtually Tape-Free

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James Wonder, the director of online technology at the American Institute of Physics (AIP), hates tape. He hates that every year he needs to refresh his tapes, because he doesn’t want to have any bit or byte errors in the event he needs to recover critical data. But migrating all of AIP’s data to disk has not been an option — so far. So a couple of years ago, Wonder did the next best thing, he bought himself a roadmap — and a virtual tape library (VTL) – from Sepaton, a data storage and retrieval company specializing in virtual tape libraries.

Wonder, an experienced technologist, has very high standards when it comes to data protection. Every year, he has his team test AIP’s disaster recovery system three times. If the system doesn’t score 100 percent, he needs to know why.

Until a few years ago, AIP, a leading publisher of physics journals and the umbrella organization for ten member-driven societies, was using Qualstar tape libraries and EMC NetWorker software to back up and restore its data — many terabytes worth each week. As the organization’s volume of data grew, however, so did its backup and restore times, to the point where they became unacceptable.

Virtual Search

In 2003, after checking out different storage solutions, including Magneto Optical (“too slow”), he went in search of a virtual tape library. “My main goal is to have no tapes, though that will never really happen,” says Wonder. “And I was looking at companies that had the right attitude.”

Wonder’s VTL wish list was pretty straightforward. He wanted a system that was flexible, scalable, that wouldn’t disrupt AIP’s existing infrastructure, that he wouldn’t have to re-train his operators on — or have to hire someone specifically to run it — and would support the organization’s long-term data protection plans, that bit about being tape-less.

Although there was a manufacturer of VTLs in the same building as AIP’s offices, Wonder liked Sepaton’s attitude — though he still insisted on testing the company’s VTL before he bought. Sepaton obliged and installed a demo unit at AIP, which Wonder and his team proceeded to evaluate in a full production environment. The unit passed with flying colors, and AIP purchased a 7 TB Sepaton S2100-ES2 VTL shortly thereafter, in 2005.

No Surprises

Has the Sepaton VTL performed up to expectations? “I haven’t been let down yet,” says Wonder, who reports that the system snapped right into AIP’s existing infrastructure and immediately started lowering back-up time. “Right out of the box, we were able to back up better, more, faster, and we’re able to get DR better as well.”

Restore times have dramatically improved, too, since installing the Sepaton VTL. “Every time we go to DR, we restore multiple terabytes, and we’re always looking to make that time smaller,” explains Wonder. “With the VTL, you back up to the VTL [as opposed to writing multiple systems to a single tape] and then you clone to real tape. When you clone, you do it as a single stream. So now your restoration is so much quicker.”

Additionally, AIP can keep much more information locally, “so I don’t have to go to Iron Mountain and get tapes back,” says Wonder.

AIP Gets De-duped

The next stop on AIP’s roadmap: data de-duplication. AIP recently purchased Sepaton’s ContentAware DeltaStor data de-duplication technology — and is looking to purchase and install Sepaton’s ContentAware Site2 technology to speed up restores at its remote sites, just as soon as the two technologies support NetWorker (early second quarter of 2007).

“Once I get that going, I’ll have much faster restores up at my DR,” says Wonder. “I’ll have all my data offsite at a secure location. And everything will be pretty good from a storage perspective.”

AIP is not the only customer Sepaton is helping to improve backup and restore times. More than 500 organizations worldwide currently use Sepaton’s VTL technology, including Citigroup, Wells Fargo, CitiStreet and Samsung Life Insurance. And many of these customers have also purchased the company’s DeltaStor de-duplication technology.

“Over 50 percent of our customers do repeat business with us,” says Linda Mentzer, Sepaton’s vice president of marketing. “They buy additional units. They buy capacity or performance upgrades.”

That loyalty is in large part due to Sepaton’s commitment to customer care (“Their support is, by far, the best I’ve had in the last year or two,” says Wonder) and its commitment to the VTL space. As part of that commitment, in the second quarter of this year Sepaton will offer its S2100-ES2 VTL customers 4Gb Fibre Channel media server connectivity and a high availability standby node. And its recently released DeltaStor data de-duplication software is also attracting favorable attention.

“So far, de-duplication has been out there, but it hasn’t been widely adopted across the enterprise, [because customers felt] they had to give up backup performance to do de-duplication, and they weren’t willing to do that,” explains Mentzer.

Unlike in-line approaches, where a chunk of data is basically assigned a hash value, Sepaton’s de-duplication product does comparisons at the byte level. “First we compare the object levels, because we know what objects came in. And we do this after the backup completes, so we don’t slow it down. Then we compare like objects,” she says. “The second thing that we do is we have an optional data integrity check,” which is very popular, particular with the company’s financial services customers.

And Sepaton offers customers the option of partial data de-duplication — something other vendors currently don’t offer and was one of the reasons AIP chose DeltaStor. “With de-dupe in the past, it’s been all or nothing,” says Mentzer. “You put an appliance in and it de-dupes everything that comes through. But we’ve come across some customers who’ve said, because of either regulatory constraints or internal business regulations, ‘I don’t really want you to de-dupe this particular data. Just back it up as is.’ So we give them that option.”

“In adding two new VTL models and announcing the availability of its DeltaStore data de-duplication technology, Sepaton continues to show it has the pulse on the data protection market,” notes Heidi Biggar, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “The company understands what users’ (enterprise, SMB and remote) needs are, and it has a history of rolling out the right technologies at the time. With data de-duplication, Sepaton’s value proposition just went higher.”

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Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff is a business and technology writer and a contributor to Enterprise Storage Forum. She also runs Schiff & Schiff Communications, a marketing firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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