SSD backup
SSD backup
storage reliability
storage reliability ..
Data Recovery
Data Recovery ..

storage search
10 years - "leading the way to the new storage frontier"

Aspects of Disk Backup

reviewing the why? how? and where? of today's enterprise disk backup techniques

by Andrew Brewerton - Technical Director (Europe) - BakBone Software - published July 14, 2009

Why backup?
It is an inescapable fact that computers and their disk storage go wrong - not often, but they do. Even when they do not, they can be stolen, destroyed by fires or other disasters, damaged by power failures, or suffer one of a host of other events that cause data to be lost, such as a user deleting a file by mistake or saving the wrong version. When that happens, you need a backup.

Replication and mirroring do fill some very important data protection needs, because if one whole system is lost, the other should be able to take over. However, a replica or mirror is not a backup, because if data on one half of a pair is corrupted or deleted, it will also be deleted or corrupted on the other half.

Backup is all about saving data at a specific time and in a consistent state. It allows you to go back to a specific recovery point, for example to recover an earlier version of a corrupted or deleted file or database, to restore a crashed system to its previous working state, or to take a copy off-site for safekeeping. A backup traditionally has been stored on non-volatile and removable media, such as tape, due to that need to move copies off-site. Increasingly though, this role is being filled by non-removable media at a different site - either your own secondary site, or a facility managed by a service provider - with data networks replacing lorries as the transport mechanism.

When it comes to restoring data, disk's big advantage over tape is that it is random-access rather than sequential access. That means that if you only need one file or a few files back, it will be faster and easier to find and recover from disk.

What backup and recovery methods you use will depend on 2 factors
  • the recovery point objective (RPO), i.e. how much data the organization can afford to lose or re-create, and
  • the recovery time objective (RTO), which is how long you have to recover the data before its absence causes business continuity problems.
For instance, if the RPO is 24 hours, daily backups to tape could be acceptable, and any data created or changed since the failure must be manually recovered. An RTO of 24 hours similarly means the organization can manage without the system for a day.

If the RPO and RTO were seconds rather than hours, the backup technology would not only have to track data changes as they happened, but it would also need to restore data almost immediately. Only disk-based continuous data protection (CDP) schemes could do that.

Ways to use disk

Most current disk-based backup technologies fall into 1 of 4 basic groups, and can be implemented either as an appliance, or as software which writes to a dedicated partition on a NAS system or other storage array:

Virtual tape library (VTL)

One of the first backup applications for disk was to emulate a tape drive. This technique has been used in mainframe tape libraries for many years, with the emulated tape acting as a kind of cache - the backup application writes a tape volume to disk, and this is then copied or cloned to real tape in the background.

Using a VTL means there is no need to change your software or processes - they just run a lot faster. However, it is still largely oriented towards system recovery, and the restore options are pretty much the same as from real tape. Generally, the virtual tapes can still be cloned to real tapes in the background for longer-term storage; this process is known as D2D2T, or disk-to-disk-to-tape.

Simpler VTLs take a portion of the file space, create files sequentially and treat it as tape, so your save-set is the same as real tape. That can waste space though, as it allocates the full tape capacity on disk even if the tape volume is not full

More advanced VTLs get around this problem by layering on storage virtualization technologies. In particular this means thin provisioning, which allocates a logical volume of the desired capacity but does not physically write to disk unless there is actual data to write, and it has the ability to take capacity from anywhere, e.g. from a SAN, from local disk, and even from NAS.

Disk-to-disk (D2D)

Typically this involves backing up to a dedicated disk-based appliance or a low-cost SATA array, but this time the disk is acting as disk, not as tape. Most backup applications now support this. It makes access to individual files easier, although system backups may be slower than streaming to a VTL.

An advantage of not emulating tape is that you are no longer bound by its limitations. D2D systems work as random-access storage, not sequential, which allows the device to send and receive multiple concurrent streams, for example, or to recover individual files without having to scan the entire backup volume.

D2D can also be as simple as using a removable disk cartridge instead of tape. The advantage here is backup and recovery speed, while the disk cartridge can be stored or moved offsite just as a tape cartridge would be.
d2d ad - click for more info

This takes a point-in-time copy of your data at scheduled intervals, and is almost instant. However, unless it is differential (which is analogous to an incremental backup) or includes some form of compression, data reduction or de-duplication technology, each snapshot will require the same amount of disk storage as the original.

Differential snapshot technologies are good for roll-backs and file recovery, but may be dependent on the original copy, so are less useful for disaster recovery.

Many NAS vendors offer tools which can snapshot data from a NAS server or application server on one site to a NAS server at a recovery location. However, in recent years snapshot technology has become less dependent on the hardware - it used to be mainly an internal function of a disk array or NAS server, but more and more software now offers snapshot capabilities.

Continuous data protection (CDP)

Sometimes called real-time data protection, this captures and replicates file-level changes as they happen, allowing you to wind the clock back on a file or system to almost any previous point in time. The changes are stored at byte or block level with metadata that notes which blocks changed and when, so there is often no need to reconstruct the file for recovery - the CDP system simply gives you back the version that existed at your chosen time. Any changes made since then will need to be recovered some other way, for example via journaling within the application.

CDP is only viable on disk, not tape, because it relies on having random access to its stored data.

Depending on how the CDP process functions, one potential drawback is that the more granular you make your CDP system, the more it impacts performance of the system and application. So technologies that do not rely solely on snapshot technology offer an advantage. In addition, it can be necessary to roll forward or backward to find the version you want. One option here is to use CDP to track and store changes at very granular level, then convert the backed-up data to point-in-time snapshots for easier recovery.

Beyond data protection, a well designed CDP solution can bring other advantages, such as a lower impact on the application and server. It also moves less data over the network than file-based protection schemes, as it sends only the changed bytes.

Coherency and recovery

In order to be useful, a backup has to be coherent - a copy of something that is in the middle of being updated cannot reliably be restored.

With traditional backup methods, applications would be taken offline for backup, usually overnight, but newer backup methods such as snapshots and CDP are designed to work at any time.

Snapshots provide a relatively coarse temporal granularity, so are more likely to produce a complete and coherent backup. However, they will miss any updates made since the last snapshot. The fine-grained approach of CDP is less likely to lose data, but it may be harder to bring the system back to a coherent state.

How you achieve a coherent backup will depend on the application or data.

For instance, with unstructured file systems you need to find a known-good file version - typically the last closed or saved version. For files that can stay open a long time, you need to initiate a file system flush and create a pointer to that in the metadata.

To recover data, you would then find the right point in the CDP backup, wait for the data to copy back to the application server and then reactivate the application. However, that means that the more data you have, and the slower your network is, the longer recovery will take.

Fortunately, technologies are emerging to speed up this process. These provide the application with an outline of the restored data that is enough to let it start up, even though all the data has not yet truly been restored; a software agent running alongside the application then watches for data requests and reprioritizes the restoration process accordingly - in effect it streams the data back as it is called for.

Schemes such as this can have applications up and running in less than 10 minutes, as the quickly recovered shell-file is just a few megabytes. Of course it does still take time to fully restore the application, but it does allow users to start using it again immediately.

One other issue that may affect the choice of snapshots or CDP is the level of interdependency within the application and its files. If there is too much interdependency, it will be more difficult to find a consistent recovery point. A potential solution is to choose software that is application-aware and can apply granular recovery intelligently, because it knows the dependencies involved.

Power and efficiency issues

One thing that must be said in tape's favor is that its power consumption for offline data storage is very low - potentially as low as the cost of the air-conditioning for the shelf space to keep the cartridges on. Removable disk cartridges can match that of course, but only for traditional backup processes with their attendant delays.

To use newer backup processes such as snapshots and CDP requires the disk storage to be online. D2D hardware developers have therefore come up with schemes such as MAID (massive array of idle disks), which reduces power consumption by putting hard disks into a low-power state when they are not being accessed.

MAID-type systems from the likes of COPAN, Hitachi Data Systems and Nexsan Technologies, and related technologies such as Adaptec's IPM (intelligent power management) RAID controllers, therefore allow banks of disk drives to operate in different power states at varying times.

For instance, they can automate drives to go into standby mode or even spin down completely during idle periods. If a drive is accessed while powered down, the controller will spin it back up; alternatively the administrator can define peak IT activity periods when drives will never be spun down. The controller also monitors drives that have been powered down for a while, to make sure they still work OK. Conversely, when drives do need to be accessed these storage arrays implement staggered spin-up techniques. This is to avoid overloading an array's power supply by trying to power up all its drives at the same time.

It is claimed that these power management techniques can be configured to reduce a drive's power consumption by up to 70%, without sacrificing performance. Higher reductions are possible, but may come at the cost of added latency and/or lower throughput.


There is more to using disks for backup than merely speed. A big advantage of disk over tape is that disk storage is random-access, whereas tape can only be read sequentially. That makes it feasible to reprocess the data on disk once it has been backed up, and as well as snapshots and CDP, that has enabled another key innovation in backup: de-duplication.

This is a compression or data reduction technique which takes a whole data set or stream, looks for repeated elements, and then stores or sends only the unique data. Obviously, some data sets contain more duplication than others - for example, virtual servers created from templates will be almost identical. It is not unusual for users to report compression ratios of 10:1 or more, while figures of 50:1 have been reported in some cases (by ExaGrid ).

In the past, de-duplication has typically been built into storage systems or hardware appliances, and has therefore been hardware-dependent. That is changing now though, with the emergence of backup software that includes de-duplication features and is hardware-independent.

The technology is also being used for backups between data centers, or between branch offices and headquarters, as it reduces the amount of data that must be sent over a WAN connection.

D2D in branch offices and remote offices

There are many challenges involved in backing-up branch offices and remote offices.

Who changes the tapes and takes them off-site, for instance?

Plus, local data volumes are growing and more sites now run applications locally, not just file-and-print, so what do you do when the backup window becomes too small?

One possibility is to backup or replicate to headquarters, preferably using CDP or de-duplication technology to reduce the load on the WAN by sending only the changed data blocks. The drawback with anything online or consolidated is how long it takes to restore a failed system, however. Even if you have the skills on hand and a fast connection, it can take an enormous time to restore just a few hundred gigabytes of data.

D2D is the obvious next step - it can be installed as a VTL, so it functions the same way as tape but faster, but it also gives you a local copy of your files for recovery purposes. That local copy will probably answer 90 to 95% of recovery needs.

Add asynchronous replication to headquarters, and you can store one generation of backups locally with more consolidated at the data center. Layer de-duplication on top, and there is less data to backup from the branch office and therefore less bandwidth consumed.

Consolidating backups at the data center can bring other benefits too, in particular it enables information to be searched and archived more readily. It also takes the backup load off the branch offices as their backups are simply for staging and fast local recovery, so they no longer need to be retained.

Should the entire branch or remote office be lost, there are techniques to speed up the process of restoring a whole server or storage system. An example is the use of external USB hard drives, sent by courier and used to 'seed' the recovered system. Even faster though are data-streaming technologies. This virtualizes the recovery process, presenting the application with an image of its data and streaming the underlying data back as it is called for.
Editor's comments:- thanks Andrew for bringing us up to date with the range of processes and technologies available in the disk backup market.

See also:- BakBone - editor mentions on has had a long affinity with enterprise disk backup.

In 2001 - in an article called - the Next Decade in Storage - precisely foretold the reasons why D2d would eventually replace tape backup. And in March 2002 - became the 1st major storage publication to create a dedicated web page for D2d news and vendors. Since 2006 - this subject has always been in the top 5 vertical subject directories viewed by our readers.

There are thousands of articles on about the storage market, here below are the most popular in recent months.
Top 20 Storage Articles - June 2009
  1. the Solid State Disks Buyers Guide
  2. the SSD Bookmarks
  3. War of the Disks: Hard Disk Drives vs. Flash SSDs
  4. the Fastest SSDs
  5. SSD Myths and Legends - "write endurance"
  6. the Top 10 SSD OEMs
  7. A Storage Architecture Guide
  8. NAS, DAS or SAN? - Choosing the Technology
  9. Flash Memory vs. Hard Disks - Which Will Win?
  10. the Benefits of SAS for External Subsystems
  11. RAM SSDs versus Flash SSDs - which is Best?
  12. Are MLC SSDs Ever Safe in Enterprise Apps?
  13. Can you trust flash SSD specs & SSD benchmarks?
  14. 2009 - Year of SSD Market Confusion
  15. After SSDs... What Next?
  16. What's a Solid State Disk?
  17. Z's Laws - Predicting Flash SSD Performance
  18. LVD, SE, HVD, SCSI compatibility - or lack of it
  19. the 10 biggest storage companies in 2012?
  20. Overview of the Notebook SSD Market
BakBone Software profile
Disk to disk backup
Disk to disk backup / virtual tape
"I'm impressed by your new hotSTOR disk to disk backup"
said Megabyte. "Does it make coffee too?"
"The more you drink, the faster it goes."
related directories

Disk to disk backup / virtual tape
Backup Software
online backup
Tape Libraries

related articles

Surviving Non-traditional Data Disasters
History of Enterprise Disk to Disk Backup
Developing a Disaster Recovery Procedure
Virtual Tape: Can You Afford to Ignore It?
Disk to Disk Backup versus Tape - War or Truce?
Is Deduplication of Data Safe? & More Dedupe FAQs
The Impact of Compliance and Risk on Archival Storage
Teralyte removable disk to disk backup for SMBs
ejectable disk to disk backup for SMBs
Teralyte from Idealstor

RamSan-20  very fast PCIe SSD from Texas Memory Systems
RamSan-20 very fast 450GB PCIe SLC flash SSD
from Texas Memory Systems
Storage Directories

Analysts - SSD market

Analysts - storage market

Animal brands in storage

Backup software

Boxes / Enclosures / JBODs

Chips - storage interface / processors

Data recovery

Disk to disk backup

Disk sanitizers

Duplicators - optical (DVD etc)

Duplicators - HDD / SSD


ExpressCard SSDs

Fastest SSDs

Fibre-channel HBAs

Fibre-Channel SSDs

FireWire storage

Flash Memory

Flash SSDs

Gone away companies

Hard disk drives

History (of data storage)

Hybrid Drives

Industry trade associations



Jargon - re RAID

Jargon - re flash SSD


Marketing Views

Market research

Military storage


Notebook SSDs

Online Backup

Optical drives



Popular Products

Publications - other storage

Rackmount SSDs

RAID controllers

RAID systems

RAM / RAM-based SSDs

Record breaking storage


Removable drives


SAS storage / SAS SSDs

SATA storage / SATA SSDs

SCSI adapters





SSD controller chips & IP

Switches (storage)

Tape drives / Tape libraries

Test Equipment


USB storage

VARS (storage) - USA

VARS (storage) - UK

VARS (storage) - Japan

VC funds in storage

storage search banner

1.0" SSDs 1.8" SSDs 2.5" SSDs 3.5" SSDs rackmount SSDs PCIe SSDs SATA SSDs
SSDs all flash SSDs hybrid drives flash memory RAM SSDs SAS SSDs Fibre-Channel SSDs is published by ACSL