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Disk libraries: Picking the right one for data backup

Disk may make your customers' backups and recoveries faster, but it does not necessarily make their backup processes better. The growing use of disk configured as either

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virtual tape libraries (VTLs) or network-attached storage (NAS) in your clients' environments creates new service opportunities for you to offer, both before and after the disk library sale.

Customer backup environments are by nature complex with backup often still cited by customers as their number one problem. This situation stems from customers not knowing the real source of problems in their backup environments so they roll the dice and hope that bringing in disk libraries will address backup problems. But selecting the right model is neither intuitive nor easy as disk libraries support varying capacities, performance characteristics and features, and come with no guarantee that they will address a specific customer's problem.

Before you sell a disk library

Jay Livens, director of product marketing with Sepaton, a VTL manufacturer, recommends that value-added resellers (VARs) perform an assessment of the customer backup environment before selling a disk library. Minimally VARs should try to identify what type of hardware customers have and how much data they are backing up so they can right size the disk library from a capacity and performance perspective.

However, an assessment of this level will not reveal reasons as to why backups fail, nor will it identify if a new disk library will fix the problem. Brian De Matteo, president of TriAxis Storage Solutions Inc., believes that no matter which product you sell -- Data Domain, Sepaton or ADIC -- you should test it in the customer's environment. De Matteo says, "We have been to locations where we swore it would work and it didn't."

More on disk libraries
Backup basics: Tape, disk and remote backup technologies 

Archiving storage systems -- VTL or disk to disk 

How disk-based backup works for SAN and NAS 

To prevent this, VARs should propose short service engagements before and after the purchase of a disk library to ensure they provide the right disk library and that the customer receives his promised benefits post-implementation. In cases where the customer may expect high deduplication ratios from a disk library, VARs should strongly recommend the use of easy to deploy software that measures the rate of change in backup environments that require only a few hours of time on the part of either the customer or the VAR to deploy.

For presale backup assessments, products like AGITE Software's backupVISUAL offer VARs the ability to gather information on the client's backup environment. What makes backupVISUAL particularly appealing for these types of contract engagements is that there are no server agents to deploy and AGITE Software allows companies to license backupVISUAL on a month-to-month basis. With this information, VARs can perform a more thorough assessment of a customer environment by determining backup problems, identifying which problems the disk library will solve and how to size the disk library.

Know when you're choosing the right disk libraries

The risk VARs run with an assessment of this sort is that it may reveal that a disk library is not the right choice for the customer at this time. For instance, the assessment may identify performance bottlenecks or inappropriately configured backup software in the environment that, when fixed, alleviates the need for the disk library. While you may gain some additional business from services associated with correcting the backup environment, you may lose the disk library sale. The upside is that it is more likely customers will need your services both to fix their existing backup problems prior to installing the disk library and again to install the disk library.

Sepaton's Livens recommends VARs not overlook post-implementation service opportunities. While disk libraries work exactly like NAS or tape libraries, and are plug-n-play with most backup software products, the additional service opportunities present themselves in helping customers optimize the use of disk libraries once they are installed in their environments.

For instance, users may need assistance in reconfiguring backup software on each server to recognize the new disk library as the new backup target. They may also need to make copies for offsite data storage, so they'd need your assistance in configuring the backup software to make copies of data from disk to tape. The extra work may even result in the sale of a second disk library if the customers elects to replicate data offsite to another disk library.

About the author: Jerome M. Wendt is the founder and lead analyst of The Datacenter Infrastructure Group, an independent analyst and consulting firm that helps users evaluate the different storage technologies on the market and make the right storage decision for their organization.


This was first published in July 2007

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