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Virtual Tape: Can You Afford to Ignore It?

MaXXan Systems - click for profile
article by MaXXan Systems - October 18, 2005
Aspects of Disk Backup
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introduction by Zsolt Kerekes, editor

Network connected disk to disk backup systems for the enterprise have come a long way since the first pioneering products started to appear in the pages of in the late 1990s.

Some of the growing sophistication in the market can be seen by the way that the marketing terminology has morphed from the early D2d (let's kill tape backup), via D2D2T (let's be friends with tape / peaceful coexistence) to the current VTL (Virtual Tape Library - let's just see if they notice that it's more reliable and works faster - and don't tell them that there isn't a tape in the box) type of approaches.

But if you think that speed, reliability and cost are the only things you need to know about the "virtual" versus "real" tape library argument - take a look at this comprehensive article from MaXXan Systems which shows there are a lot more benefits than that.

Virtual Tape: Can You Afford to Ignore It?

The advent of new, lower cost disk-based technologies also brings with it a variety of new ways of solving old backup problems. The terms, D2D (disk-to-disk) and D2D2T (disk-to-disk-to-tape), are becoming more common nomenclature to describe the various disk-based methods available to address the common data protection issues experienced by many of today's organizations. Virtual tape is one method gaining significant user interest, primarily due to its ease of implementation and management within existing tape-based infrastructures. This white paper attempts to answer reader questions about whether or not virtual tape is the right disk-based technology for their own needs and environments. It describes some of the common benefits of virtual tape, along with how it compares to other, host-based backup methods, such as backups performed directly to disk. Lastly, readers will learn of some ways virtual tape libraries are being used in today's data center, along with some of the unique characteristics to be found in MaXXan's own virtual tape solutions.

IT Issues Influencing the Move to Virtual Tape Architectures

IT managers charged with overseeing their company's data protection efforts are in a tough position. Many find themselves actively waging an uphill battle to back up and protect the growing mountain of company data they face each year. At the same time, a new spate of compliancerelated legislation has left many IT managers with the task of adopting more stringent backup and disaster recovery-related practices that stress rapid access to older data -- at often a moment's notice. In their effort to keep up with these types of growing backup needs, however, data centers often run up against the limitations of their IT staff resources and the constraints of their own tape-based backup architectures. This chart from Enterprise Strategy Group shows the percentage of users who are encountering various problems with their current backup and recovery solutions.
MaXXan article - fig 1
The following table describes some of the most common issues that make it difficult to achieve affordable, robust data protection goals:
Issue Business Impact
High tape failure rates
  • Puts organization at risk of being unable to recover critical data if disaster strikes.
  • Requires more staff management time to monitor and troubleshoot problems.
Many IT organizations report failure rates of as much as 30-40 percent of their tape-based backup jobs. Such failures are often due to physical tape media errors, robotic failures or issues surrounding operator handling of tapes.
Too much time required to manage tape-based environments
  • Requires investment in already limited IT staff resources to support basic operator-room functions, versus staff
Analysts maintain that tape management tasks can account for as much as 50-70 percent of an IT organization's overall storage management effort.
Restoring data in a timely manner
  • Makes it difficult to meet service level agreements (SLAs) for adequate time to backup, time to restore.
  • May require substantial investment in tape infrastructure.
As data volumes increase, efficient backups may require even larger automated tape libraries, with more tape drives and larger tape cartridges. While multiple backup jobs may be able to run simultaneously to tape, restoring files or volumes from multiple tapes is still often a painful, time-intensive process.
Backups overrun already shortened backup windows
  • Reduces company employee productivity by limiting application access or reducing network bandwidth.
  • Allows for no time to rerun failed backup jobs without impacting organization.
Growing cost of managing tape
  • Often means consistently low tape utilization rates.
  • Requires additional IT investment in personnel and services to oversee daily tape operations, move tapes to off-site archives, and restore data.
  • Using many different tape formats or migrating to new tape technologies can be a time-consuming and expensive proposition.
Limited IT budgets for complete backup system upgrades or replacements
  • Strains IT staff resources and assets with on-going efforts to work around currently overburdened tape infrastructures.
New compliance regulations require better data availability
  • Puts a new strain on tape systems to meet often impossible SLAs, such as shorter times to restore data and more instantaneous access to data previously backed up or archived.
New Look at Disk Backup...........................
Editor:- July 14, 2009 - a new article was published today on called - "Aspects of Disk Backup".

Written by Andrew Brewerton - Technical Director (Europe) - BakBone Software - the new article comprehensively reviews the why? how? and where? of today's modern enterprise disk backup techniques. has had a decade long affinity with enterprise disk backup - tracking changes in the market since the concept 1st began.
read the article - Aspects of  Disk Backup This overview article brings that coverage right up to date - from the perspective of a leading company in the backup software market. the article
Combined, these factors have begun to put a serious strain on many already taxed tape-based backup environments.

For these reasons, most IT groups have begun to look seriously at implementing some form of disk-based backup solution to alleviate many of the current pain points surrounding their reliance on tape. Virtual tape libraries (VTLs) are one class of disk-based backup solution that has been gaining momentum among IT managers for their ease of deployment and simple integration into existing tape infrastructures.

How Virtual Tape Works

To understand why VTLs have become an increasingly popular choice for backup, it's important to first understand how they work. Virtual tape libraries do just what their name implies: They emulate industry-leading physical tape drives and libraries, presenting themselves as tape to all of the common backup software applications -- even going so far as to assign appropriate bar codes to each virtual tape "cartridge" used by the backup software.

In actuality, while backup streams are being sent from a backup media server to a virtual tape library, the VTL is hard at work behind the scenes, writing the data sequentially in native tape format to some form of disk storage. Although it appears just like another automated tape library, the use of disk will cause administrators to see their backup jobs completing up to 10 times faster.

In the case of VTL solutions like the MaXXan SVT virtual tape standalone appliance (or its counterpart, the SVT application card for integration with the MaXXan MXV switch), this data can be exported from the virtual tape appliance to physical tape for off-site vaulting purposes. (See Figure 2 below - How Virtual Tape Works).
Data Recovery - the Guide We Hope You'll Never Need
Editor:- as readers know - we like predicting future storage market changes here on and then going back a few years later to see what actually happened.

But sadly, there's one kind of storage event which you can't plan for...

...When disaster strikes and you need a data recovery company.

Our Data Recovery page includes profiles for over 50 companies, articles, guides for both consumer and server data recovery and also news about the market.

In more than decade covering the data recovery market I've learned the experts in this field can fix products ranging from a single drive to every critical disk in an affected area.

Some of the data recovery techniques were originally developed by intelligence agencies (who wanted to be able to read data in RAMs after the power was switched off, and disk drives after they had been wiped). You know what I mean... Spooks. While other technologies stemmed from research by storage oems into factors affecting storage reliability.

Damage can be due to many accidental causes - including physical shock, fire, flood, chemical attack etc.

One thing which may surprise you is it's possible to make things even worse! So it's important to read some of these articles before you try any remedial action yourself - and that includes how you handle and store the affected drives.
Data Recovery Depending on their competency, DR companies can recover data from hard disks, tapes, optical drives and even some flash memory devices and mobile phones.
fig 2 - How Virtual Tape Works
Some benefits of this export process include the fact that exports to tape can now be completed at a later, more convenient time that won't impact production schedules. The export process from the MaXXan virtual tape appliance has also been engineered to make the most efficient use of the storage available in each tape cartridge, increasing tape utilization rates by as much as 50% or more.

In the case of MaXXan SVT systems, the end result is amazingly fast backup and data restore rates. It's common to see MaXXan VTL-based backups complete up to 10 times faster than their traditional tape counterparts -- with zero media defects or mechanical failures. Restore times can also occur in seconds versus the hours spent with traditional restore-from-tape scenarios. Restores even have the option of being user-directed, which can serve to free up administrator overhead.

The Benefits of Using Virtual Tape Libraries

Virtual tape libraries have become an increasingly popular choice for companies striving to realize the performance benefits of disk-based backups and restores, while at the same time protecting the investment of time and money they've already made in their tape-based infrastructures.

Today, virtual tape appears to be finding a home in both enterprise data centers and mid-level organizations. Findings from one survey of IT managers report that as many as 23% of enterprise respondents have already deployed virtual tape in their environments.

This number appears to be growing substantially as well, given the results from another survey of high-level enterprise IT managers. TheInfoPro, also placed virtual tape among the top five storage networking technologies to watch in the firm's "Technology Heat Index." The Heat Index is a proprietary index that prioritizes the importance of more than 20 different storage networking technologies based on whether or not a majority of IT managers interviewed have already invested in the technology, or are planning to do so in the short term.

Many of today's IT managers have already made the decision to invest in virtual tape libraries. The following table lists just a few of the primary reasons VTLs are gaining a stronghold in today's IT environments.
article by Engenio
Disk to Disk Backup versus Tape - War or Truce? - article by Engenio

Will disk to disk backup make tape backup obsolete? That's a question that's been debated hotly here on STORAGEsearch for many years.

At the extreme polarized ends of the argument are tape media makers like Sony, who in an article here made a case for the long term survival of tape, and at the other end of the argument are disk to disk supporters like STORAGEsearch whose editorial view has been that tape doesn't have a viable role the midsize market any more. In the middle of this argument are the moderates who say that maybe tape and D2d can co-exist. This article by Steve Gardner at Engenio takes the middle course line - and says why he thinks there's still a place for both. See if you agree. the article, ...Engenio profile, RAID systems, Disk to disk backup
VTL Benefits Business Impact
Low implementation cost
  • VTLs are significantly less expensive than alternatives, such as buying new automated tape libraries.
  • VTLs often defer more robust physical tape acquisition and upgrade costs by up to 1-2 years, by extending storage capacity exponentially.
Performance at disk speeds
  • VTLs like the MaXXan SVT systems can make data backups and restores complete up to 10 times faster than the use of physical tape.
  • Fundamental backup/restore operations can be completed seamlessly, behind the scenes, with little impact on production.
  • More robust data protection efforts can now be implemented to ensure optimal business continuity, availability and DR support for important company data.
Less physical tape to manage
  • Operator room support functions are significantly reduced.
  • VTLs can help achieve more straightforward management of environments using multiple tape formats. Many customers are also using them as a middle platform to aid in consolidating from various tape formats that may have been acquired during company acquisitions, mergers or reorgs.
Seamless "plug-and-play" into existing tape backup environments
  • A key benefit of VTLs is how easily they can be deployed into existing tape-based backup infrastructures.
  • Acting as physical tape devices, VTLs require no changes to current backup processes, scripts or workflows.
  • Users can quickly deploy and redirect backup media servers to the virtual tape appliance in as little as 20 minutes.
Better reliability
  • VTLs eliminate the tape media errors, handling issues and high failure rates experienced in more traditional tape-based environments. This translates into more confidence in the integrity of data backups being performed.
  • VTLs like MaXXan's SVT systems are designed for optimal reliability with automatic system alerts and recovery capabilities that ensure high failover and protection for data streams.
Rapid scalability to support capacity growth needs
  • VTLs like the MaXXan SVT appliance can be quickly expanded to support anywhere from 128 to 4096 virtual tapes, up to 16 concurrent backup hosts over either Fibre Channel or IP, up to 512 virtual tape drives, and as many as 64 virtual tape libraries.
Optimal availability for regulatory compliance needs
  • When primary backup data remains stored on the VTL disk-based appliance, rapid restores are the norm.
article - the Dangers of Removable Storage Media by Pointsec
the Dangers of Removable Storage Media - article by Pointsec

In the early James Bond films of the 1960s, viewers were introduced to an array of implausible (at the time) portable high tech spy gadgets. Nowadays we know from our own everyday experience that something the size of a cigarette lighter can actually be a video camera with its own wireless internet access.

The proliferation of miniature high capacity storage devices creates a serious problem for commercial and national security. This article provides an up to date picture of the intrinsic dangers posed by current removable storage technologies. the article, ...Pointsec profile, Security, Removable Storage
How to Seamlessly Implement MaXXan SVT Systems in Your Environment

The concept behind virtual tape libraries may sound intriguing to readers who struggle with many of the same issues as earlier outlined. IT managers may still have valid concerns, however, about the amount of disruption and work involved in introducing any disk-based technology into their existing environments.

Backup teams in robust enterprise environments routinely spend as long as a few years tuning their backup environments and third-party backup software applications, adding custom backup scripts and creating workflows to manage hundreds or thousands of individual tapes.

Faced with the high incident of tape media failures and the growing risk of disasters that might require faster restores than allowed by tape media, IT managers are faced with a decision. They need to move to new ways of doing things, while at the same time protecting the investment they've already made in their tape-based infrastructures.

This is one of the main reasons for customer interest in virtual tape systems. Since they emulate physical tape drives, tape libraries and tape cartridges, they can be seamlessly added to existing environments -- without disruption to current processes, procedures or workflows. There's no need to change out or reconfigure existing backup software processes, for example.

The backup software sees the VTL as if it were a physical tape. The only thing IT managers will notice in its operation is significantly faster backup and restore speeds. Users can also quickly connect the VTL to existing tape libraries.

Exploring VTL Deployment

Comparing Virtual Tape Libraries to Other Disk-Based Backup Methods Using the MaXXan SVT appliance as an example, let's explore how quickly these types of virtual tape solutions can be deployed in existing tape environments. Typical installations of a MaXXan SVT appliance usually take the customer just 20 minutes to complete. This is because the SVT systems are built for simplicity -- from initial deployment straight through to their on-going system management functions. Very little preparation work is required before the SVT system is ready to read and write existing backup data streams to disk. The only real work involves adding another server to the network; namely, giving the MaXXan SVT device an IP address and a host name.

Then, using MaXXan's Web-based interface, you just configure the appliance as a new tape drive or automated tape library, and you're in business. All you now have to do is go into the backup application software provider's management console and reassign any designated backup stream to the new location. IT customers exploring the use of disk in their backup architectures may also look at the prospect of using just their current backup software application, with some type of built-in disk staging or cloning functionality, in conjunction with a less expensive ATA- or SATA-based disk system.

This method is often referred to as host-based D2D (disk-to-disk) or backup direct-to-disk.

Readers may wonder how this type of disk-based backup method compares to the use of a virtual tape library.

While both methods allow for faster writes and restores of backup data from disk, host-based D2D can involve significantly more barriers to deployment than VTLs. In order to deploy these types of solutions, customers typically need to address the added complexity they bring to existing environments. This complexity often requires the need to:
  • Upgrade their backup software to the latest version
  • Implement changes in existing backup processes
  • Spend additional time modifying scripts
  • Retrain staff on new methods
  • Invest significant time and overhead to create and manage separately partitioned volumes on the array
  • Overcome on-going volume management challenges due to inherent file size limitations, performance and fragmentation issues that can occur when backing up data via general purpose file systems, such as NTFS and NFS.
  • Buy additional software licenses to back up to a disk array
With virtual tape, you have none of the above barriers to entry. VTLs, such as MaXXan's SVT appliance, are engineered from the ground up to make fast work of common backup and restore operations.

While most companies implement VTLs to improve their backup/restore performance, another powerful benefit has emerged to their use. Comapnies are also seeing a dramatic reduction in their per-server license fees paid to backup software providers. Here's how it works: VTLs like the MaXXan appliance can be configured to reflect a smaller number of virtual tape drives and libraries than the customer's current tape-based configuration. The VTL, however, still meets existing storage capacity requirements by configuring each virtual tape as a larger size tape within the VTL.

For example, using a MaXXan SVT appliance as a gateway that sits between a Veritas NetBackup media server and an ATL containing 20 tape drives, you could configure the MaXXan appliance to emulate one library with 4 larger tape drives. Without the MaXXan appliance, the customer would typically pay for 20 tape drive licenses. With the appliance, they now have to pay for only 4 tape drive licenses.
What is Data Recovery? - article by  Disklabs
What is Data Recovery? - article by Disklabs

The first time you try any new technology service it can be a bit daunting. Who do you choose? What if it goes wrong? The pressure really turns up when you are in the situation of having lost your data due to a backup failure, hardware fault, operator error or physical disaster. That's usually the first time you look at the data recovery market. and it's when you're in a high state of anxiety and can't take the risk of anything else going wrong. This article is a simple guide to how the data recovery industry works and how it can help you in this frightening situation. the article,...Disklabs profile, Data Recovery, backup software, Hard disk drives
How Virtual Tape Can Improve Disaster Recovery for Remote Offices

Some organizations have multiple remote offices where it can be a challenge to ensure adequate backup and data protection efforts. Usually, this is due to the fact that there are seldom dedicated IT staff on the premises to monitor backup operations to physical tape. What often results is tape media that is misplaced or mislabeled, and spotty backup procedures that can leave critical remote data at risk in the event of a disaster.

Virtual tape libraries from MaXXan Systems offer an interesting alternative to this dilemma that allows IT managers to be assured of centralized backup control and DR protection for their remote data.

With one MaXXan SVT appliance at the data center and another appliance installed at a remote location, the dependence on physical tape at that remote site is now removed. (See Figure 3 below.) The data center can now take advantage of the MaXXan SVT system's remote replication features to move data over IP from the remote SVT standalone appliance to the MaXXan SVT system located back at the company's centralized data center. Remote data can then be exported to physical tape at the data center's SVT system for added protection.
Tape Backup Fails Most Enterprise Customers

A survey commissioned by Asigra in Q3 2005 showed that tape backup for remote offices was a particular problem for enterprise customers.

75% of respondents indicated that their companies suffered unrecoverable loss of corporate data they thought was successfully backed up to tape due to unreadable, lost or stolen media.

Commenting on the survey results - W. Curtis Preston, vice president of Data Protection at GlassHouse Technologies said - "The results of this survey seem to indicate that there is still a severe problem with lost corporate data at remote sites resulting from issues regarding the reliability and security of traditional tape-based backup systems at remote sites. Remote sites are much better served with a disk-based data protection system that can provide local fast recovery, while automatically replicating backups to a central site for disaster recovery."
VTL article fig 3 - backing up the remote office
Using Virtual Tape for Off-Site Disaster Recovery and Remote Vaulting

As a derivative of the above scenario, customers are also using the remote replication functionality in virtual tape to better automate and protect the process of getting their data off-site. Traditionally, customers have been accustomed to backing up their data to tape, then frequently shipping the tapes off to a remote archival or deep vault facility for long-term storage and added disaster recovery protection. The need for off-site disaster recovery and long-term tape archival is even stronger today, thanks to a host of compliance-related regulations that routinely require IT organizations to maintain off-site copies of key data for certain lengths of time.

With MaXXan SVT virtual tape systems, customers can now install one appliance at the central data center and another appliance at the remote DR site. The appliance at the remote site is usually directly attached to an automated tape library. With this configuration, customers can again take advantage of the remote replication features of their SVT systems to move tape from the data center to the off-site vault without requiring the need to physically ship the tapes from place to place. Backup data is replicated automatically over IP, then exported to local tape at the remote DR site. This type of "remote vaulting" can eliminate costly delivery truck services, higher incidence of tape failures or missing tapes due to handling, etc.

Virtual Tape and Regulatory Compliance: New Solutions for New Challenges

The era of digital data has posed new challenges for government bodies who seek to protect the joint interests of customer privacy and data security. The result has been a growing volume of federal and state legislation that requires companies to prove that they are adequately securing, storing and archiving regulated data so that it can be made readily available for auditing purposes or as a result of immediate legal or court request.

Compliance has added a new burden to the shoulders of IT managers who are already struggling to back up and store the ever-growing amount of company data. Virtual tape libraries can simplify some of the issues in this dilemma by allowing the majority of regulated data to remain on disk, as well as being exported to tape. If a need then arises for rapid restore of key data, administrators just need to access the proper "virtual tape" on disk and can usually restore specific data or files within just a few minutes.

Simply put, virtual tape libraries provide faster data access and a better performance alternative to support the compliance needs of today's IT enterprise. Virtual Tape and Regulatory Compliance: New Solutions for New Challenges
read article by by FilesX
South Nassau Communities Hospital Nurses its Data - article by FilesX

This case study article by FilesX describes how a New York hospital eliminated the problems associated with restoring email from a tape system by switching to a disk based backup using FilesX Xpress Manager software. The article also compares the time, resources and effectiveness of the old and new systems. the article, ...FilesX profile, Disk to disk backup, Tape backup
The MaXXan SVT Advantage: Speed, Remote Management, Reliability and Flexibility

MaXXan's family of virtual tape solutions brings a number of unique, differentiating features to market. These include:
  • A fast tape emulation system
  • An innovative design that allows for rapid growth and changes in your environment
  • A non-proprietary approach that gives customers a choice on the types of disk components they should use with the VTL
  • Robust Maxis infrastructure software for automated management layer and functionality that allows for maximum reliability, simplified remote management, and even remote BIOS/firmware upgrades
  • A reliable, fully redundant hardware platform built with extensive monitoring and management capabilities
A few of these features are discussed further in this section.

Speed and Performance.

A survey by Enterprise Storage Group asked IT managers about the most important characteristics they looked for when evaluating disk-based backup technologies. At the top of their list was performance. This makes sense since most IT managers come to disk solutions in order to gain faster backups and restores.

Most virtual tape systems significantly surpass existing tape backup/restore speeds. It's not uncommon to see VTL solutions that conduct aggregate read/write operations at somewhere between 200 to 400 MB per second of sustained throughput. But, when backup windows are at a premium, it pays to use the fastest virtual tape library solution you can find.

The MaXXan SVT virtual tape systems are carefully designed with a unique, purpose-built hardware I/O engine designed for maximum speed and throughput. This means that MaXXan SVT solutions are able to achieve fast I/O throughput speeds:- 660 MB/sec for backups and 715 MB/sec for restores.

Innovative Design - MaXXan virtual tape systems come as either a standalone virtual tape appliance or as an application card that integrates into MaXXan's MXV intelligent SAN switch. MaXXan Systems, an industry pioneer in the development of intelligent SAN switches, has built a powerful switch-based architecture designed for the data center, which allows customers to quickly add other application cards to the switch, in order to perform added functions such as NAS gateways, or more robust disaster recovery and storage consolidation functions like snapshots and mirroring. With such a strong focus on switch-based intelligence, customers can be reassured that the products will also remain current with future advances in SAN speeds up to 4Gbps.

Non-proprietary approach - Many VTLs on the market choose to integrate disk into their VTL solutions. At MaXXan, we believe this limits the customer's choices regarding disk-based technologies. At MaXXan, we prefer to give customers the option of either adding their own disks, or purchasing a MaXXan appliance that includes its own disk array. That way, customers can choose to take advantage of existing disk storage they may already have, as well as being open to adopt newer disk technologies as they come to market.

Professional Services - In addition to hardware and software, MaXXan also provides professional services to ensure that the VTL is optimally configured for your environment and you'll gain the most rapid return from your investment.


Many IT organizations have already begun to enjoy the fast performance benefits of disk and reduced TCO inherent in virtual tape libraries. Is now the right time for your organization to explore the use of virtual tape in your environment? ...MaXXan Systems profile, Disk to disk backup
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