Curtis' Random Thoughts
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Friday, 22 April 2011 18:50
[This story originally happened in 2007, but I just learned about it, so I blogged about it. Then I learned that it was a four-year-old story. Everything here still applies, even if the actual story is old. But I did re-edit the story and change it's title because the original wording seems a bit odd four years later. ]
Someone in the office of the State of Ohio should have been fired, and it isn't the guy who already got fired. He should get his job back. This story has me fuming. I don't often write blogs like this, but here it goes.
The story as it was published in 2007 was "Intern loses backup tape with 800,000 SSNs on it. Intern fired." The real story, in my opinion is what led up to this. I read this article and this statement from the intern, and learned that the following allegedly happened in the State of Ohio:
1. The State of Ohio used (and may still use) unencrypted backup tapes to store SSNs and names
If your company or government entity is currently making tapes of any kind with SSNs on them then fix it. Fixing this costs so little now that it is simply unforgivable not to be encrypting your backups tapes -- especially if you're handing them to a dude in a truck. If you're handing them to an intern to take them home in a car… well, I really don't know what to say.
This is not a new problem. It's not like we haven't had hundreds -- hundreds -- of exposures over the past 10 years that show how bad this practice is. Ignorance of this problem simply isn't possible at this point.
2. Employees of The State of Ohio wanted to cover this up
They told the intern to not tell the police that one of the things stolen was a tape with sensitive data on it. Seriously. This tells me, of course, that they knew their unencrypted backup tape was a bad idea, and that they needed to keep others from knowing what they were doing. It also tells me that they were liars.
3. The State of Ohio (a $52B/yr enterprise) had the money to hire $150/hr and $200/hr contractors full time, but didn't have the money to hire Iron Mountain (and still may not have it)
Seriously. It had been the practice for apparently 10 years or more for someone to take the backup tapes home in their car. Do I really need to say why this was stupid? A hot car is not where tapes should ever be stored -- ever. Asking someone who is off the clock to handle company property of any kind is also wrong. Tapes -- especially unencrypted tapes -- should only be handled by professionals with procedures and policies to do such things.
No one ever told this young man what to do with this tape other than to bring it back the next day. So not only was the practice to have him take it home, the practice was not to even give him any special instructions on how to handle the tape. Wow.
4. These same employees and their lawyer were bullies who needed a scapegoat and found one
The story about how they bullied this young intern into signing a resignation is just tragic. He asked for an hour to think it over and they said no. He asked for 20 minutes. No. He asked for 10 and they said no. Just sign the paper.
Jared, if you're reading this, I would gladly act as an expert witness on your behalf for any kind of wrongful termination lawsuit you want to file. (I know this offer is a little late, but it's still out there.)
Someone in Ohio should have opened an investigation about the lack of security of taxpayers' personal information, as well as the details behind this story. But if that never happened (and I can't find any evidence that it did), it's probably too late now.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Thursday, 21 April 2011 23:33
A week at NABShow (National Association of Broadcasters) and two days at Tape Summit last week have given me a chance to revisit my thoughts on tape. Here's a brief summary of how my opinion of tape has changed over the years:
Stage 1: Tape was it. It was all I knew. Backing up to disk was crazy, as it was too expensive. (early 90s)
Stage 2: Tape was still it, but tape drives were getting too fast. Multiplexing or disk staging was starting to be required. Disk was too expensive to hold backups long term.
Stage 3: The dedupe craze hit. It was both theoretically possible, as well as financially feasible (for some) to store all backups on disk -- and still have an offsite copy.
Stage 4: (Pretty recently). I compared the pricing of today's dedupe systems to similarly-sized tape systems. I was shocked at how expensive disk still was (4x-8x the price of tape).
Stage 5: (Today) I think we have unsuccessfully put a very good backup and archive target out to pasture and we should really reconsider that.
[Update: Because people tend to read my old articles, I'm going to update this one almost a year later to reflect my current position on tape.]
[Update2: I just wrote this blog post about my response to another article about this topic.]
First, let me state that I am not saying that we should not have disk in a backup system, or that deduped systems are over-rated. What I am saying is that tape has more to offer than we've been giving it credit for lately. Here are some factors that came into my mind while considering this:
It costs 4-8 times more to acquire a disk-based backup system than it does to acquire an automated tape system.
[Update 3/9/12: Pricing obviously changes all the time, and prices on disk have come down since this original post. I even have some vendors that claim to be as cheap as tape on the initial purchase of one disk system vs one disk robot in some situations. ]
While I've heard this from multiple sources, let me give you a real-life example to drive home this point. I recently priced tape libraries and dedupe disk systems for a 20 TB shop, and I was surprised to learn that disk was actually still way more than the price of tape -- even after dedupe. The average street price of the tape libraries I was considering was about $15K, and the average price of the dedupe systems was about $60K. Since the customer was getting rid of their (very old) tape library, their choices were:
A) Buy a new tape library, copy tapes and hand them to a dude in a truck ($15K)
B) Buy a dedupe system AND a tape library. Copy from the dedupe system to the tape library, and then hand tapes to a dude in a truck. ($60K + $15K)
C) Buy two dedupe systems and replicate between them (no truck needed) ($120K)
Option C was 8 times more expensive than Option A and was out of the question. While it meant they could get rid of their Iron Mountain bill, they did not believe they could ever save enough money to recoup that additional $105K. Option B offered no cost savings, so it was difficult to justify the additional $60K. I pointed out that Option A (if done correctly) requires a disk cache in front of their tape library, but they informed me that they were already doing that. (Based on their throughput requirements, though, adding a disk cache wouldn't have added that much to the price.)
You can undoubtedly make an argument that a backup-to-disk system is easier to manage than a hybrid tape system, but the simple fact is that the disk system will be more expensive to purchase.
Tape actually has a better bit error rate than disk
For those unfamiliar with the concept of bit error rate (BER), the following definition from Wikipedia should be helpful:
"The bit error rate or bit error ratio (BER) is the number of bit errors divided by the total number of transferred bits during a studied time interval. … The bit error probability p^e is the expectation value of the BER. The BER can be considered as an approximate estimate of the bit error probability. This estimate is accurate for a long time interval and a high number of bit errors."
LTO-5 has a bit error rate of 1:10^17. The TS1130 from IBM has a bit error rate of 1:10^20, & the T10000C from Oracle both have a BER of 1:10^19. SATA disk has a BER of 1:10^14 for SATA (SAS/FC is 1:10^15 but no one is using that for backup or archive). This will probably come as a surprise to many people. Tape has actually gotten so good at writing data, it is more reliable at writing data than disk!
While 10^15 may look really close to 10^17, it's not. When it's bits we're talking about, it's the difference between 113 TB and 11.1 PB! It means you are 100 times more likely to have bad data on disk than you are on an LTO-5 tape drive, and 10,000 times more likely than if the data is stored on a T1000C or TS1130 drive!
Tape uses less power than disk
Every time I calculate power consumption for tape systems vs. disk systems, tape systems win. The reason for this is that tapes in slots take up no power at all, tape drives use very little power while they're not doing anything, and you need far fewer tape drives than you need disk drives. I recently did a comparison for a 20 TB shop that resulted in at least a 2X difference in power consumption, and that included enough disk to do disk staging before the tape system. (I plan to publish this once I double/triple check my numbers, but right now I feel pretty safe in saying at least a 2X difference.)
You buy the system once; you power it all day long every day.
Longterm (5+ years) storage of data on disk is not compatible with the typical lifecycle of disk, but it is compatible with tape.
This one is something we don't talk about. An individual tape is made to hold data much longer than an individual disk, and the lifecycle of most tapes is much longer than the lifecycle of most datasets. You cannot say the same about disks. Storing data on disks for more than 5 years automatically assumes that you're going to migrate data from one disk unit to another.
In addition to the media, it is also very common for tape libraries and tape drives to outlast the disk systems sitting next to them. Where most companies migrate data at the end of the depreciation cycle for disk, they tend to keep their tape libraries and drives much longer than that. They also tend to swap out their drives in the tape libraries; the same is not true in disk units. If you find a disk system in your data center older than five years, I'd be shocked.
What's the problem then?
Let's throw out the claims I've heard:
1. Tape has bitrot
So does disk. It's called magnetism. It happens. The chances of bitrot happening on tape are far less than the chances of it happening on disk. [Update: See this post for further info on this.]
2. Tape is flimsy
Tell you what. Move disks around the way you move tapes around and see how flimsy they are.
3. 80% of tape restores fail. [Update 3/9/12: This is a fake statistic that never existed. See my updated blog post.]
This Gartner statistic has been thrown around so much and I really don't know where Gartner got this number from, but it's out there. [Update: This Gartner statistic never existed.] What I can tell you is that in my entire career of working with backups, I've only had one or two restores that failed due to an actual bad tape -- and that's why we make copies. But I can tell you of dozens of situations where bad disk drives caused me all sorts of headaches.
I can also tell you that most of the restore failures I've seen have been caused by human error - not tape failure.
4. Tape is too slow
Baloney. Check your facts again. There isn't a disk drive alive that can keep up with the speed of today's tape drives.
5. Tape is hard to make happy during backups & restores
Agreed. This is why I believe strongly in using at least disk caching. I would never design a system that uses just tape to do backups at this point. I'm actually OK with all of the designs mentioned above (in the A, B, C list). I think dedupe systems are awesome, and the idea of replicating to another one is even better. But I also know that doing this is more expensive than the alternative. The other thing I know is that it can't possibly be cheaper to store data on disk for many, many years, and it may even be risky to do so. (See my comments on BER.
What I'm really making an argument for is the use of tape for long term archiving, and as a less expensive way of getting data offsite. (Less expensive than having a second dedupe system and replicating to it.)
6. Tapes go bad sitting on the shelf and you never know they're bad until you need them
That is correct. This is why both Spectralogic and Quantum have come up with products to proactively scan your old archives to find and fix any corruption issues before you need a given tape. If it finds something wrong, it can be fixed by copying the other copy that you have.
Tape can be your friend for long term archives and cheap offsite storage. Don't dismiss it so lightly.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Thursday, 07 April 2011 18:46
I attended my first SNW conference in over two years last week. (My previous employer was really good at scheduling me for competing events, so I wasn't able to go.) Most of my thoughts about what I saw go hand-in-hand with Don Jenning's thoughts here. I agree that it was very cool to see The Cube guys and to know that Infosmack was recording in the social media room. (I got to sit in on one of those recordings with none other than Dr. Dedupe, Larry Freeman. I look forward to that podcast.) And it was my first experience live tweeting from a big event that had a hashtag (#SNWUSA). That was definitely very cool. Here are my thoughts, some of which are about SNW, and others that are about the vendors.
First, SNW is still very much alive and well, but it's definitely not the show that it used to be. There was a time when your company was considered dead or dying if your major reps were not in attendance. That appears to be the case no longer. Sure, there were a lot of companies there. But there were a lot of companies not there as well. Perhaps it's because there are other options now to talk to analysts and other vendors (like The Exec Event) that pull budget money away from this. Perhaps its also because there is now a whole other group of people (bloggers) that you also need to reach out to. Vendors are either doing their own thing, like HDS' recent event, or they're sponsoring one of the Tech Field Day events (which cost much less than doing it yourself). Either way, that's more money being pulled away from this "industry event."
The other reason (if not the main reason) that vendors do a show like SNW is for new leads. New leads means new end users to talk to. I remain unconvinced that this is a show to find such people in significant numbers. Any time I ever scanned the room, I saw way more vendor, analyst and press badges than end user badges. I also kept seeing the same end users over and over.
As a former end-user, and someone who continues to see himself as an advocate for such, I am simply not drawn to the content offered by SNW. With very few exceptions, it's one talk after another given either by a vendor or someone the vendor is paying to be there (either an analyst or an end user who was sponsored to the show by a vendor). I do like the SNIA tutorials, BTW, because I know they try really hard to keep those vendor-neutral. But every other presentation was (IMO) simply a marketing presentation. They should all be titled: The Correct Way to do X, Which Can Only be Done by Buying Our Product. I'm not saying that these sessions are bad, mind you. I'm just saying that they don't draw me.
I'd much rather hear from independent thinkers that are mostly absent from this conference. There's another conference that these people tend to speak at that tends to draw a much larger percentage of end users, and that is Storage Decisions. I like that show for its content and the make-up of its audience. It's a real shame that I seem to be uninvited. This upcoming Storage Decisions is the first one I haven't spoken at in a really long time. Although no official word was given, it's no coincidence that this happened right after I started hosting my own road show: Backup Central Live. No worries. I've got plenty of other things to do.
In my final thoughts on SNW, I want to pass out the worst-designed booth award. Booth design experts tell you that you have 7 seconds to catch someone's attention. Anobit's booth display was whitespace with their company name and the phrase "add another bit." What are they, anti-dedupe software? Are they hardware, software, service, what? Then there was RackSpace. Their booth, which I took a picture of, said they were the world leader in hosting and cloud computing, but never said the name of their company. This is something not lost on the people that worked the booth, because they took the ghetto little white sign (hung on the pipe and drape before the vendor gets there so they know which booth to go to) and hung it up and over their display. See this photo for what I'm talking about. So we have a booth with a company name and no description, and a booth with a very big description but no company name. I declare a tie.
I do have some thoughts to post about companies that I met and got briefings from. They will come soon.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Thursday, 31 March 2011 20:53
The other day I wrote a blog entry that said encrypt your tapes but not your disks. My fundamental premise was that encrypting data at rest in your disk drives only protects from the thing that will never happen: someone walking out with an entire disk array under their arm. Single disk drives yanked out of the array (more likely) were not going to be any use to anyone even if you didn't encrypt them.
Turns out I was wrrrmph.
Turns out that the most sensitive data is probably very recoverable from a RAID-ed disk drive. A whole lot of 1K database rows can be stored in a 64K block of data stored on an individual disk drive in a parity-protected disk array. (See the comments from my previous post for details.) And it turns out that you can't degauss hard drives and return them, so there's also the exposure of what happens when you return a disk drive to the manufacturer.
I was wrong about the risk, but I still think there are bigger fish to fry in the datacenter. Sticking with just my world, we've got companies that:
- Don't copy their backups (they keep only one copy of every disk or tape they make)
- Don't send their backups offsite
- Wait a week or two before sending their backups offsite
- Don't back up their laptops
- Back up their remote offices using tapes that aren't copied and/or aren't ever sent anywhere
If you've got data that isn't being backed up and isn't being stored in a different location than it was backed up, you will lose data. This isn't a "maybe some guy might steal a disk drive and if he does he might be able to read some data on it." Every company in the world has lost a disk drive somewhere in their environment. I'm a very small company and I lost four this year alone.
The number one reason people telling me they're on the list above is money. So my point is that if you're spending money on encrypting your disks, but you're not backing your stuff up in the first place -- you've got your priorities all wrong.
I have the same opinion when I see people spending money make their backup server highly available, but they don't have money to make a second copy of their backups. Who cares if your backup server goes down for an hour? It's a big deal, but the only app that's down is backup -- not production. But the chances of you losing data because you had a failed tape and no copies is much higher. Save the money on the HA software for the backup server and spend it on something that actually makes your backups better.
I also think you can minimize this risk by doing a few things, all of which are cheaper than full disk encryption:
- Strong physical security in the data center. Plenty of good things you can do.
- Video surveillance in the data center
- Identify really sensitive data and encrypt it in the application
- Strong physical security (locks) on the disk arrays themselves. Prevent someone from grabbing a disk drive.
- Monitoring on same. If a disk drive is taken, you should be immediately notified.
Like I said, there are lots of things you can do (and should do) that don't cost near as much as full disk encryption and most of which you should be doing anyway.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 19:17
After our very successful five-city tour in Q1, we are now announcing cities, dates, and locations for our Q2 events. Those of you that live in Raleigh, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, & Minneapolis are the next folks to be able to attend a Backup Central Live event. In addition, those of you interested in deduplication, continuous protection of servers, and backup of laptop data have three webinars to choose from next month.
Here are all of our upcoming events and where you can register for them.
See you there! If you have any questions about events, feel free to
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Friday, 25 March 2011 17:43
Update: My opinions on this have changed due to the comments written below. Feel free to read this post, but make sure you read the follow-up post as well where I change my tune a bit.
Steve Duplessie wrote a blog post inspired by the RSA hack . His post isn't about that hack at all. But for the record, I agree with this guy who says "RSA Silent About Compromise For 7 Days - Assume SecurID Is Broken."
Steve's blog post said that the lesson we should learn from the RSA hack is that anyone can get hacked. I would agree with him. He said that your security system should be based on that assumption. I would agree with that. He said:
Your security strategy should be based on the assumption that you WILL lose your backup tapes. You will be hacked. You will have your customer’s name, SS numbers, and bank account information published on a website.
He then goes on to say, "…if your binary data is going to go missing, it had best be encrypted. Encrypt it at rest, in flight, on the truck, on the disk, in the lab, in the warehouse, everywhere. Encrypt it so when you lose it, it gets stolen, or Chuck leaves the tape on his dashboard while at the bar, it can’t do you any harm."
Let me start where I do agree. Encrypt your backups tapes. Encrypt your backup tapes. Let me say it again: Encrypt your backup tapes! With in-drive encryption built into any tape drive worth its salt, it's a no-brainer. (You do need to make sure you have a good key management system.)
Where I don't agree with Steve is when he recommends that you should encrypt your disk drives. (BTW, I respect Steve a lot and I'm sure he'll appreciate this blog post as much as the next guy.) I will go with his assumption (that you've been hacked) and explain why encrypting data on disks at rest wouldn't help.
If the host storing the data has been hacked. The hacker is accessing your system like any other user. Data encrypted at the drive level is automatically unencrypted for the host that is reading the data. It's as if you aren't encrypting -- otherwise the apps reading the data wouldn't be able to read it. Data encrypted at the application level doesn't protect you if the server has been hacked, either, because the hacker can just become the appropriate user that runs the app, and voila! He sees the data unencrypted. What if the server isn't hacked, but the SAN is? If the SAN is hacked between the host and the encryption device (assuming in SAN encryption, not host-based encryption), such as via WWN spoofing or the like, then they will be able to read the data as well, so you're not protecting against that.
Let's say you didn't encrypt, and someone grabs a disk out of RAID array and runs off with it. They would only have part of the picture and they wouldn't be able to read any data off that. (Update: Greg pointed out that this doesn't apply if we're talking single disk solutions, or one half of a mirrored double disk solution. He is right. This comment only applies to RAID 0+1,10, 5, 6, etc. where multiple disks are required to create a volume.)
The ONLY scenario that encrypting data at rest on disk protects you from is someone literally walking out of your datacenter with the entire disk array on their back and no one seeing it -- AND that same person being dumb enough NOT to bring the (much smaller) system that can unencrypt the data with him. Yeah, that's gonna happen.
Should every laptop hard drive be encrypted? Yup. Should every backup tape be encrypted? Yup. Should your smartphone have remote wipe and a really good way to prevent people from accessing it as well? You bet. They are way too mobile and have way too much sensitive data on them.
But I'm still not sold on storing data at rest on disk in encrypted form. But I honestly would love for someone to explain to me why I'm wrong.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 01:28
It's the biggest thing that's happened in backup and recovery in a long time. I can't imagine being "the backup guy" on the other end of this story. Can you imagine the stress of being the last line of defense for gmail? Wow.
We all know the story, right? A software update bug caused somewhere between 150,000 and 500,000 gmail users (which they said was .02% of their user base) were greeted with an empty inbox one morning. Google took a few days to get everything back, and in the end, they had to resort to tapes to do it.
I'm no Google lover. I'm a fan of google.com. I used to use gmail and Google Apps to host my email, but I've since moved off and went with hosted Exchange. So I don't want anyone accusing me of being a Google fanboi, OK? So when I start talking about my thoughts, please don't suggest that the praise I send Google's way is due to any sort of loyalty, alright?
Here's what I learned via this outage:
Google is backing up gmail
I spent some time at a very large ISP a few years ago and was shocked to learn that they were not backing up user's email account. These were paid ISP subscribers' accounts and they were not backing them up. "It's just email," they told me. "Do you know how much it would cost to back that up?"
So I find it admirable that one of the things that came out of this story is that Google is backing up gmail -- even free gmail. There were no comments that said something like "Pro accounts were restored, but free gmail users were not." They backed it all up and they restored it all.
Google is backing up gmail to tape
In this world of cloud backup and disk backup, it was interesting to see that Google's last line of defense was still tape. They replicate things to multiple data centers, but at some point they back it up. And when they do, they do it to tape. The biggest reason that I can think of is that with the sheer volume of data they are dealing with, tape is absolutely the cheapest way to go.
Let me state this again: a company who is notorious for rolling their own and could totally code their own backup application and take advantage of dedupe, etc, is backing the world's most popular cloud service to tape.
It think both of these things I learned are huge. How about you?
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 01:17
Tape is still hot, cloud is getting hotter, but companies are still stagnated when it comes to capital purchases, according to a recent survey of 156 IT professionals during the Backup Central Live! seminar series.
I purchased an audience response system from Option Technologies for our Backup Central Live! seminar series. (We will be in 20 North American cities and several cities abroad this year.) Each attendee is given a keypad that allows them to answer questions displayed on the screen during our seminars. The system displays what everyone's answers are and stores them in a database for later retrieval. This increases audience participation, provides some interesting live verification to the audience of what the speaker is saying, and can provide some interesting marketing information when you compile everything together.
While not every attendee pushed the buttons on their keypads, we got a much larger percentage of response than you would get from any email-type survey. Such surveys yield single-digit percentages at best. In contrast, the vast majority of our attendees responded to the live survey, giving us a total of 156 respondents. (3 of them walked off with the keypad! We know who you are...)
The biggest surprises were the number of people that are still doing things exactly the opposite of what we've been telling people to do for years. (This brings up another advantages of these systems. The perceived anonymity allows people to be much more candid in their responses.)
Given that I've been preaching for years that the one thing that people needed to stop doing was backing up directly to tape across the network, it was surprising for me to learn that 49.1% of them are still doing exactly that -- backing up directly to tape with no disk buffer. By the way, I don't have a problem using tape at all. I just believe you should stage backups to disk prior to sending them to tape. The mismatch between the speed of the backups and the speed of tape devices is the number one cause of backup system failure today. Every backup system specialist I know has been saying this for nearly a decade, so it's surprising that half of the respondents are still backing up directly to tape. A related statistic showed that even though many people have moved to disk staging or deduplicated targets, 88% still use tape as their final destination for backups. Only 13% of the respondents have gone tapeless. (61% of the respondents said they are not using dedupe at all.)
Another big surprise came when we talked about long term retention (greater than 1 year) and how it is being accomplished. The only reason to store backups for multiple years is e-discovery and space reclamation. Backup is lousy at both of them, so backup software shouldn't be used to meet this requirement. This is why it was a surprise to learn that 60% of the respondents were still using backup software that had no e-discovery capabilities to meet their e-discovery requirements! Couple that with the fact that 24% of the respondents also said their retention on their backups was infinite, or that 79% of the respondents said they retain backups for longer than a year, and you have a "disaster" waiting to happen. All it will take is one e-discovery request to cost each of these companies far more money than a full archiving system would have cost. Then they'll wish they had done something different.
42% of the audience felt they do not have a good understanding of the amount of data they are managing. This is a very common problem as well, leading to difficulty in planning for the capacity of the primary and backup systems. Storage management software can help, but very few people use it.
My final surprise came when we talked about the cloud. For those who think that the cloud is all hype and no purchases, consider this. For something that's only a few years old, I think it's impressive that over 10% of the respondents said they were storing reference data in the public cloud, 10% said they were storing primary data in the public cloud, and 10.6% said they were storing backups in the cloud. 78.9% of the respondents are not using the public cloud at all, so there's certainly room for growth. One reason for the popularity of the cloud could be that 41% of the respondents said that their company is not making any capital purchases right now. This was cited as the number one barrier to deploying new technology. Since cloud is all about a monthly bill and not a large capital purchase, it is very compatible with the way many IT departments are now being forced to conduct themselves.
Like I said, tape is still hot, cloud is getting hotter, and many people are not making capital purchases. Very interesting stuff, if you ask me.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 00:42
Gmail's outage today made me think about something I've had in the back of my brain for a while. While I'm a big fan of the cloud (as long as it makes sense for you), one of the things we say is that you can outsource the management of your data, but not the responsibility for it. I've also written that for personal data, I do not believe in using a free (or incredibly cheap) cloud service provider to store your only copy of data. For example, I don't believe that the only copy of your pictures should be on Flickr.
But now there's a way to have two copies of data in the cloud: cloud backups for cloud storage. Backupify.com and backupmyblog.com/backupmypics.com/backupmytweets.com/backupmymail.com will back up various parts of your online life for a reasonable fee.
Backupify.com has a free plan that will back up 2 GB of online data from Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and more. The Pro account includes support for Google Apps and handles up to 20 GB of online data from 25 online accounts for $4.99/month. Finally, they have the Pro 500 account that handles an unlimited number of accounts with an unlimited amount of storage for $19.95/mth.
Backupmyblog.com/backupmypics.com/backupmytweets.com/backupmymymail.com has a free 1 GB account and a basic account that cost $19.95/year for up to 1 GB of online data. Additional storage is $2.95/GB/yr. It is unclear if someone who wanted to back up all of those things would need four accounts or one account.
I have not used either of these (yet), but I'm surely thinking about it.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Thursday, 17 February 2011 07:39
Netex is the final company that I'm going to blog about that I learned about on Tech Field Day 5. Their goal is to make it much easier to stream large amounts of data over TCP/IP. Customers using their optimization software (that runs as a virtual machine) are able to fully utilize their WAN connections, instead of using 50% or less of a typical connection.
The Hyper IP product does this by converting TCP streams to UDP streams, then ordering and compressing those streams but frankly that's about all I can explain. Hey, I'm a backup guy not a network guy. What I can say is that the numbers and technology seemed to really impress the network guys.
This product does not qualify as a full bandwidth optimization product, because it's missing one feature that isn't important to those who are doing backup/replication tasks. But if what you're doing is remote replication or backups of any kind over a WAN connection, it seems like they're the low-cost, highly-functional alternative to those products. They had plenty of stories of customers who already had much more expensive bandwidth optimization products opting to use their product for one project -- only to end up using it for several projects.
At one time these guys only worked over leased lines, but now they work just fine over Internet connections. Also, in case you're wondering -- unlike bandwidth optimization products -- they work just fine with any deduplication product.
I'd recommend that any customer doing replication over a WAN look into Netex's Hyper IP product.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Thursday, 17 February 2011 07:24
At Tech Field Day 5, we learned about Druva (formerly Druvaa), who has developed a completely new mobile backup product. Not sure if the world needed another one, I listened closely to how they were going to differentiate themselves. First, I can say that they definitely understood the needs of the mobile backup market. It's very difficult to backup large amounts of data over very small, very unreliable connections while simultaneously remaining virtually invisible to the end user. But at least they know that's what they have to do to be successful.
They claim to do this using application-aware deduplication, where they understand 87 different data types, and dedupe them all in the optimum way for that application. (The story reminded me very much of Ocarina's story.) They don't start backing up the machine as soon as there is a connection; they wait a user-configurable time (default 15 mins) before starting up.
They also automatically detect the type of connection you're using, and alternate between smaller/bigger packet sizes, more/less compression, fewer/more connections based on what they observe the connection to behave like.
The client side of the application is 40 MB, which is a relatively small size these days.
There is definitely a market for this type of product. There are also a number of "dead soldiers" in that market. I hope that Druva is able to exactly what they say and is able to differentiate themselves enough to carve out their own niche. One interesting fact is that they got 600 customers before they officially launched the product. Perhaps they will be different!
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Thursday, 17 February 2011 07:06
Those who follow my blog may have noticed that I really dinged Drobo a few months ago when I found out that they only offered cross-shipping (AKA advanced replacement) for customers who had purchased a support contract. This means that customers under warranty (but not under a support contract) were required to ship their units to Data Robotics for repair or replacement. I also dinged them for not having 24x7 support for customers under contract.
I'm happy to announce that Drobo (the new name of Data Robotics) has changed both policies. They offer cross-shipment/advanced replacement for anyone under warranty and offer 24x7 phone support for customers who have purchased a DroboCare contract. In addition, DroboCare customers also get same day shipping and next-day arrival of replacement units. They also now support 3 TB drives in their units. In short, they fixed everything I complained about in my previous post.
They're also coming out with some new products - 12-bay drive units to be exact, with 3 GbE iSCSI pors, and it's rack-mount ready. This unit still ships with what they call the Drobo manual -- the simple diagram behind the face plate that shows what the various lights mean. It's almost that simple.
In a very near future date, the business line of products will support automatic tiering of frequently accessed blocks to faster storage, and they will support SSDs plugged into the same unit. That should give them a significant performance advantage.
There is also a completely new Drobo Dashboard that is a significant advancement over current versions. It manages multiple units, even giving a graphical display of all of their display lights, as if you were standing in front of them.
As cool as I think the Drobo units are, I do feel the need to point out that they don't have a snapshot system yet. This means that they still must be backed up using traditional backup systems. They are very cool in a lot of ways, but I'd still love to see them support this feature at some future time.
Other than that minor complaint, Drobo makes a heck of a nice unit and I wish them luck expanding the line.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Tuesday, 15 February 2011 01:30
Who would've thought that I needed to go to Symantec headquarters to learn something about NetBackup and Backup Exec. But learn a few things I did when I visited Symantec's headquarters last week while attending Stephen Foskett's Tech Field Day.
I knew that the NetBackup team had been putting a lot of R&D resources into VMware backup, so it was no surprise that they had made a number of advancements in this area. They, of course, fully support the vSphere API for Data Protection that replaces VMware Consolidated Backup(VCB). Symantec does claim that NetBackup is the only product that offers granular file restores without forcing backups to be on a filesystem style device. NetBackup users can backup VMs to a filesystem device, tape device, or virtual tape device–and can still restore individual items from those backups. Other products must either keep such backups on a filesystem-type device forever or de-stage tape or VTL backups to a filesystem before performing granular restores.
In NetBackup 7.1, they also added concept of the VMware Intelligent Policy. This policy allows you to select an ESX server and have all of its VM's automatically backed up. The VM's that the policy will backup can be programmatically determined via a bunch of parameters, such as the name of the machine, the folder it is in, or the storage pool is stored in.
One other interesting piece of functionality that I had never heard of was something called NetBackup Air, which is the ability (using functionality in OST) to duplicate NetBackup images from one master server to another. Currently, this functionality is only available via the NetBackup appliances, but I wonder if it will eventually be enhanced to provide functionality similar to what TSM users can do. (They can easily export backups from one TSM server and import them to another TSM server.)
The Backup Exec folks also presented their product, and also gave a very detailed explanation of how they support VMware and Hyper-V. While certain parts of their functionality might not be as “cool” as how NetBackup works, it is important to understand the target market for Backup Exec. They are aimed solidly at the SMB market, not the enterprise market (where NetBackup is aimed). They are therefore focused mainly on simplicity and cost -- not high-end functionality. Having said that, they do have a fully integrated solution for VMware and Hyper-V, which should be compared to other products in their space. It was obvious to me that their main goal was to have us understand that they want to be the one-stop-shop product for SMBs to use to back up both physical and virtual machines, as opposed to products that only do one or the other well.
There is one pricing decision that the Backup Exec team made that I do not agree with. For years, Symantec customers were forced to buy individual licenses for each VM, and those customers were not given a free upgrade to the one-license-handles-all vSphere product when it came out. They said they did that for a short period of time when they first came out with their VCB product, but have stopped it now. My belief is that the previous VCB product was so bad (because of VMware’s design, not Symantec’s implementation) that this new product is really the first viable option that Symantec customers have had to buying individual licenses for each VM. That’s why I say that customers were forced to buy individual licenses and Symantec made a lot of money on those licenses. I think they should therefore allow customers to trade in a certain number of VM licenses for a single VMware license. If they force them to pay the full license of the VMware product, then that gives their customers a reason to check out the competition, and that’s the last thing Symantec wants right now. Just sayin.
During our time at Symantec headquarters, we also received a visit from Symantec CEO, Enrique Salem. His main message was that Symantec was committed to the backup, recovery, and archive markets–despite any rumors to the contrary. That's good to hear.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Monday, 14 February 2011 21:14
I attended Stephen Foskett's Tech Field Day 5 last week in San Jose, CA. Once again, there was an impressive array of vendors (both new and existing) that told us all about their products. As I am usually in presenter mode, it was nice to sit back and just listen and watch for a change. I picked up a number of interesting things to blog about, including one company I wasn't following at all. I also got to watch companies succeed and fail in front of such an interesting crowd. Like The NetWorking Nerd, I thought I would give some suggestions to future presenters.
Unfortunately, this is mostly about what companies did wrong. All of the dos or dont's below were not followed by at least one vendor, but I'll let them go anonymous.
- We're geeks, not marketing nerds. Present to that.
- Don't fill your slides with a bunch of marketing mumbo/jumbo. If you've got 15 slides on what the problem is, present one of them. Ask us if we've got it, then skip the next 14. Unless we say we don't understand the problem, of course.
- We are not the usual techie or management drones you're used to presenting to. Part of what we want to do is to have fun while we're there. Companies that help us have fun get remembered. See where I'm going here?
- Follow the session when you're not presenting
- We have a live video stream of what's happening in the room before you get in there, as well as a twitter hashtag you can follow. I'm pretty sure you can even visit it in person if you want to be a fly on the wall. The point is to be familiar with the attendees and how they behave before you step on stage. If you make a call back to a joke that happened before your company presented, you get serious brownie points from the audience. (It's the complete opposite of what happens if you say the word "Gartner," BTW.)
- The best example of this was that in the first session someone made a joke that it would be cool if the vendor was passing out bacon. Then someone else said "or chocolate!" The next session the vendor showed up with a plate of bacon and a handful of chocolate! What a way to start out a presentation by showing that you're participating in the overall event.
- Follow the session while you're presenting
- One vendor's first presenter rambled on for 45 minutes without telling us hardly anything about their company's products. Not every presenter is equally adept at measuring audience response, but anyone can follow a twitter hashtag or IRC feed. If this company had been doing that, they would have seen a twitter message about an IRC session that was going on. They should have then been following both. Had they done that, they would have yanked the presenter off the stage because what was being said about him on twitter and IRC was not helping the company one bit. (For the record, once they actually got to "what our product does," we were very interested. But they spent 45 minutes wasting our time.)
- Leave some time for people to breathe (and talk about you!)
- One vendor gave a lot of interesting content, but left no room for questions. They felt the need to fill every minute of our time with presentations and/or to tell us absolutely everything about their product. We never got the chance to ask them questions or talk about them to each other with them present. Give us some time to do that!
- To harp about the presenter from #3 above, I will say that something he said suggested that he felt the need to fill the two hours. He wasn't sure how they were going to do that, so he decided to ramble for 45 minutes to fill the time. Trust me; it would been a lot better if they quite 45 minutes early. No one would have complained! Instead he gave a completely rambling, unprepared talk that turned everyone off. OK, enough about that guy.
- See if you can do some kind of cool giveaway.
- Give attendees a discount on your product. Give away something cool. It doesn't have to be expensive. Netex used an ice-chest full of beers to explain network congestion and then gave us the beers when it was over. I don't even drink beer and I thought that was cool. (The people that drink beer probably thought it was cooler.)
I hope that helps. Now let me blog about the products I found interesting.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Friday, 11 February 2011 17:42
EMC significantly changed the pricing of their Mozy Home backup service last week. They eliminated their unlimited offering and replaced it with two metered offerings. The first offering is $5.99 a month ($1 more than the previous unlimited offering) for 50 GB and one computer, or $9.99 a month for up to 3 computers and 125 GB of data. Customers that go over their allotted number of gigabytes pay $2 per month for another 20 GB.
This immediately set off a firestorm of complaints, over 900 of which (as of this writing) are shown here in this Mozy Community forum thread.
Is it "wrong" for EMC to do this?
EMC has to do what they have to do to make a profit. Yes, those who are currently backing up terabytes of data to Mozy would have to pay hundreds of dollars a month to stay there, and that seems like a ridiculous price jump. It also seems ridiculous to think that someone would store your TBs of data and expect to keep doing that for only $5/month! So my first reaction to the news was that I wasn't surprised by EMC's actions.
The previous business model of Mozy is similar to several other "unlimited" business models. Sell unlimited Internet access to thousands of people and hope that all of them don't want to use it at once. Sell hosted websites with unlimited bandwidth and hope that most customers don't get anywhere close to using it. The people in my office building have unlimited use of the water fountain, but we can't all use it at the same time. The "unlimited" concept works when you get the 80/20 rule right. But sometimes you don't, and things have to be adjusted.
I believe that Mozy's new pricing is meant to drive the Terabyte customers away. They couldn't possibly be expecting for their terabyte customers to pay $200/month to store 2 TB when they could get the "same" for only $5/month. There will be a mass exodus of those customers, which is exactly what I believe EMC wants. Many will go to their competitors and others (based on the posts in the forum) will buy local USB drives and back up to those.
Should they have done it with so little notice?
This is where I think EMC went wrong. When I did my first Mozy backup, it took me months to upload my 300 GB to them. (That same amount would now cost me roughly $30/month.) They need to give their larger customers a whole lot more than a few weeks to move. EMC is forcing these home users to either pay hundreds of dollars per month or cancel their account and have no backups while they upload to their next provider. This, in my opinion, is very uncool and will earn EMC a lot of negative brand equity.
Was this a smart move on EMC's part?
Short version: I don't think so.
Only EMC will know when the dust settles, but I'm not sure they thought about the ramifications of forcing their larger customers to leave them. People who have terabytes of data tend to be geeks like me. (I'm a movie buff, and I now have over 6 TB of personal data at home.) Geeks like me tend to have a bunch of people around us that ask us what we think. EMC says that it's 5% of the customers that are forcing them to change their prices. Suppose each of the customers in that 5% have 10 friends they recommended Mozy to, and that these angry geeks now call everyone they recommended it to and tell them to move. That 5% suddenly becomes 55%. Their could be a serious snowball effect and a significant revenue hit for Mozy.
But then again, what do I know? The company that everyone seems in a hurry to move to (Carbonite) actually lost several thousand customers' data. Instead of falling on their sword, they're actually suing their storage array vendor as if it's their fault! Carbonite, a company whose entire purpose for existence is storing customer's backups lost their backups. And they're trying to pass the buck to their storage array vendor! Why would anyone store their backups there? And people are choosing them over Backblaze or Crashplan because they've… been… around… longer…
Like I said. What do I know.
I still ultimately think this move (and the way it was executed) is not a smart one.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Saturday, 29 January 2011 00:37
I went to Mac World today and there were two products that left me very impressed. One of them was Dolly Drive. They're an app that makes their cloud storage look like a valid Time Machine drive. You use time Machine just as you always have, but your data is securely copied up to the cloud.
The first thing that impressed me was how easy it was to use. Subscribe to their service on their website, download and start their app, and voila! You can select their virtual drive in Time Machine.
If you are thinking "but I want a local copy," you should know that they do both. In addition to creating the copy in the cloud, they create a local, bootable copy on a hard drive you specify. (Time Machine doesn't create bootable backups, but they do.)
The service is $10/mth for 250 GB, and your capacity increases with time while your price stays the same. (I'm not sure of the details there; you can read them on his site.)
One thing I thought was really cool is that they will allow you to send them your current Time Machine backup to seed your first backup -- for free. This service more than makes up for the fact that they're twice the price of similar services (Mozy, Carbonite, Crash-Plan). It's also nice that the whole thing feels very Mac-native. Some apps I have played with on the Mac are barely functional, let alone Mac-like.
That's all I've got to say about that. If you're curious about the other things that impressed me at Mac World, here is a brief list:
1. Topaz Suite - Extremely impressive photo and video munging software ($400 normally, $150 at the show)
2. GlobalDelight.com sells boom, a MacOS app that makes the built-in speakers in your Mac much louder ($5)
3. Kanex - a mini-port to HDMI adapter with sound
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 07:29
Last week I received what appeared to be an LP in a Fedex package. (If you don't know what an LP is, I really don't know what to say about that.) But it was a cardboard facsimile from EMC that was broken into pieces to tell me that they would be breaking some records today.
You'd have to have been under a news/social networking rock to not have know they were announcing some big things today. The announcements fell into three categories: VNX, Symmettrix, and Data Domain. VNX is a unified storage platform, Symmetrix is a smart storage array, and Data Domain is a fast dedupe disk target. I'll leave the storage platforms to others to cover and focus just on the Data Domain announcements.
Quick Summary: Did they have some awesome stuff to announce? Absolutely. Did they break records? Yes. But not as many as their announcements would suggest. And I have some concerns about at least one of the announcements.
There are several of them with the Data Domain line. I put them into three categories.
- Faster, bigger Data Domain controllers
- They introduced the DD 890, that ingest and dedupes backups inline at 3944 MB/s (14.2 TB/hr) and has 384 TB of raw capacity. (Scott Waterhouse's blog said that translates into 285 TB of usable capacity.)
- Faster, bigger GDA w/VTL support, and support for all backup apps
- The GDA is now built using two DD 890s, which gives it 768 TB (384x2) of raw capacity. The throughput isn't quite doubled at 7916 MB/s (26.3 TB/hr).
- The GDA now supports VTL, which means it will work with any supported backup applications. (The original GDA only worked with Symantec NBU/BE & OST. They added support for NetWorker in October. This adds support for everything else.)
- Introduction of the Data Domain Archiver
- This is a tiered system with a DD 860 head with multiple independent disk arrays for long-term retention. They're independent in a lot of ways that make them very different than just additional shelves in a typical DD system. For example, each shelf is a self-contained unit that provide fault isolation. If one shelf fails, only the data in that shelf is lost.
The DD 890 and the GDA are truly impressive systems. Data Domain has always had very strong appliances, and with this announcement they do indeed have the fastest single controller dedupe systems available today.
The fact that the GDA now supports all backup products via a VTL interface is also very nice. I've been pushing for GDA support for more backup apps and its finally here. Large customers wishing to have a very fast (26.3 TB/hr) system can have it via EMC.
I always look askance at claims like "fastest," "biggest," or "first." My experience is they are rarely true unless you qualify them really, really well. So let's take a look at some of these "record breaking" claims and see if they match reality. The following is a list of some of the claims that I read in these press releases:
New Record Breaking EMC Data Domain Backup Systems 7 Times Faster Than Competition
EMC Attacks Tape's Last Major Hideout With First Storage System For Backup And Archive
"With throughput of up to 14.7 and 9.8 TB/hr respectively, the new DD890 and DD860 systems are the fastest single controller deduplication storage systems available in their respective classes."
Definitely. Frankly, no one else is even close.
"[The] faster throughput of up to 26.3 TB/hr (7,300 MB/s) gives the new GDA an ingest rate that is more than 7 times faster than its dual-controller competitor."
What the quote says is true, but it's hoping you make an assumption that isn't true. They're more than 7 times faster than IBM's dual-node ProtecTier system. That's not quite the same as being seven times faster than the closest competitor. They're only twice as fast as the closest competitor (SEPATON at 4440 MB/s and six controllers.) They're four times faster than Exagrid and Falconstor (if you only count their dedupe rates) and five times faster than Quantum.
As to "record breaking," that's only possible if you ignore NEC. NEC gets the credit for being the world's fastest target dedupe system, and they're inline at that. At 27,500 MB/s, NEC can even say that they're four times faster than their closest competitor, EMC. EMC doesn't consider NEC a real competitor because they really don't run into them out there They consider NEC a "science project" that very few people actually buy. But NEC would definitely win a throughput race if they were allowed to enter it.
"Today [EMC] announced the EMC Data Domain® Archiver, the industry’s first long term retention system for backup and archive."
Huh? Isn't tape a unified long term retention system for backup and archive?
"cost effective retention of backup and archive data for seven or more years."
I'll believe that when I see it. So far, disk (even when deduped) doesn't come close to the cost of tape -- especially when you consider the cost of power and cooling in long term retention requirements. It's really hard to beat the cost of a tape on a shelf.
Well, they broke one record.
The Data Domain Archiver
EMC tells me that people are asking them to store backups longer and longer on their Data Domain systems, and the Archiver is designed to do just that.
- The long term disk on the Archiver will be cheaper than regular DD disk
- They isolate older backups so that one disk array dieing doesn't take out the whole thing (current DD systems share deduped blocks between all arrays behind a given DD head)
- It's got strong backup performance since it's based on a DD 860.
- "Operational backup and recovery typically involves data retention periods of weeks or months, whereas long term retention of data is measured in multiple months or years."
- "Today’s most common method of extended data retention is to keep tapes made for backups longer."
- "DD Archiver supports today’s most common data archiving method, which is long term retention of backups"
- "DD Archiver can also be leveraged with popular archiving solutions such as EMC SourceOne and EMC File Management Appliance"
Do I think that having multiple disk arrays that have fault isolation is good? Absolutely. Do I like that they're touting this as a place to store backups for several years? No.
Do you want to store your backups longer on your Data Domain system? Then the DD Archiver is for you. Is it a good idea to store your backups for "multiple months or years?" No. Absolutely not.
Is "long term retention of backups...today's most common data archiving method? No it is not. Do people use old backups as archives? Yes. But that doesn't make that an archiving method. There is a very broad line between backups and archives. Old backups are old backups. They are not archives. Just because you keep your backups for five or seven years does not make them archives. It makes them really old backups.
Old backups make lousy archives. (That is, unless you're talking backup software that supports archiving functionality, like CommVault Simpana.) Try retrieving all of Fred's emails that contain six different words over the last seven years -- from backups. You'll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting dollars and it will take forever -- no matter what you store those backups on. It is the retrieval process that takes forever, not the loading of tapes. IMO, putting it on disk isn't going to make it much faster. OR you can buy archive software and do it in five minutes. If you want archives, use archiving software -- not backup software.
I'm glad to hear that it also works with archiving solutions, but I refuse to refer to old backups as archives -- and that's all I'm going to say about that.
All in all, there were some pretty impressive announcements from EMC today. They did make a few claims that are really just marketing speak and not really "true." And I'm not a very big fan of putting multiple years of backups on the Data Domain Archiver. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Tuesday, 18 January 2011 02:45
One day it was just an idea.
Then it was a plan.
Then it was a business.
The next thing I knew, I was booking hotels, hiring support staff, making websites (and music videos!).
Next Tuesday it all happens for real. The first Backup Central Live! will be held in Irvine, followed very quickly by Santa Clara (1/27), Orlando (2/1), Chicago (2/3), and Houston (2/8).
Read all about (and register for) the events here! They are free to qualified end-user IT professionals.
(By the way, other cities are coming. This is just the first five.)
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Tuesday, 28 December 2010 07:15
Next month, BackupCentral.com will start coming to you. Backup Central Live! is a series of seminars coming to at least 20 US cities in 2011. Each seminar will feature independent content from W. Curtis Preston, as well as presentations from sponsoring vendors. These seminars will be free to qualified end-users.
Topics covered will include the challenges of backing up and recovering:
- Virtualized servers (e.g. VMware, Hyper-V, Xen)
- Very large servers and data centers
- Remote offices and laptops
- Data retained for multiple years
We will also cover how to solve these challenges using products and services available today, including:
- Cloud Backup Services
- Continuous data protection (CDP)
- Archive software
- Tape and its proper role
Our first five seminars will be in the following cities:
We will announce other cities and dates as they are scheduled. We look forward to seeing you in your own city.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are these events independent of TechTarget?
Yes. These events are not sponsored or managed by TechTarget. They are my own branded events.
Will you still be doing the TechTarget backup or dedupe seminars?
I will not be the featured speaker at TechTarget's seminar series moving forward. TechTarget and I both felt that it would be confusing to attendees and sponsors alike for me to be doing both my own branded events and their events as well. The decision was an amicable one and I should still be speaking at Storage Decisions and writing for searchstorage.com, but I will not be speaking at their seminars.
Will the content of the seminars still be independent?
Absolutely. The sponsors do pay a fee to exhibit and speak at the show, but they have no editorial control over my content. My content will not be changing to anything that sounds like "product A is awesome and you should buy it." I will continue to speak primarily about concepts and techniques rather than products. Product specific discussions will continue to be conducted on truthinIT.com.
Attendees of past seminars will find these very familiar; however, I will be doing some things that I believe will be exciting and will enhance the experience for those attending the seminars.
What about TruthinIT.com? Is it still moving forward?
Absolutely. Our many customers have recognized that it is the only place where you can get real, hands-on, completely independent knowledge about how products work in the real world. In addition, we will be enhancing the offerings of truthinIT.com this year as well.
Are you going to come to ?
Sometime soon I will be conducting research as to what additional cities to do beyond the five cites listed above. I can answer that question once that research is done.
About Backup Central
Backup Central was founded in 1997 and is the industry's most popular website dedicated solely to backup and recovery and tens of thousands of unique visitors visit every month to find independent information. It contains the Mr. Backup Blog, backup forums, and a wiki containing directories of backup and recovery products.
Written by W. Curtis Preston
Monday, 20 December 2010 19:25
I hinted the other day on Twitter that I had some big news coming. I'm not announcing that news just yet, but I wanted to talk about the difference between building a company 10 years ago and building one now.
The Way We Were
February 23, 2001 I found myself summarily fired from the company I was working at. (It was not the first or last time my big fat mouth would get me in trouble.) I then started a company called The Storage Group, which I would later sell to GlassHouse.
I needed an email system. I need a phone system. I needed a file server. I needed a lab. I needed a CRM system and a billing system. I went out and did all kinds of research to find the best things for all of those things.
For the phone system, I chose a Windows-based PBX called Televantage. It had a lot of really advanced features like ringing multiple extensions, following you on your cell phone, emailing you your voice mails, etc. (All stuff google voice now does for free.) I had to buy several thousand of dollars in PC hardware, Windows licenses, Intel Dialogic cards, and the Televantage software itself. We then constantly maintained that thing over the next few years. The Windows software was immediately out of date, but we were scared to death to update it. We weren't sure how close the "marriage" was between Televantage and the version of Windows it ran on. We bought updated licenses of the Televantage software to resolve that issue, but then never installed it. It was a combination of being too busy and the upgrade being a very hairy process. (I wanted to do a parallel upgrade of such an important system, but that wasn't technically possible, since you had to move the Dialogic cards back and forth.) A year after I bought those licenses, GlassHouse acquired us and I handed them the phone system and the dusty Televantage CDs that were sitting on top of it. ;) Basically we spent 3.5 years praying that the phone system would never go down.
For our CRM system we choose ACT. We spent a few hundred dollars on buying the license and then more money with a consultant to show us how to use it. We then maintained that and its database for the next few years. For billing we spent a few hundred dollars on QuickBooks Pro, and then maintained that and its database for the next few years. Both of these systems did what we needed to do.
For the lab I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on used equipment. We had dozens of small PCs whose only existence was to run one app so we could see how it would get backed up with various backup packages. All of that required all kinds of power and cooling, of course.
Then there was the email/fileserver/firewall/VPN system. We bought an all-in-one Linux-based system called Net Integrator. (This company was bought in 2008 by IBM and the product is now IBM's Lotus Foundations, according to this Wikipedia article.) It was supposed to be Outlook-compatible, allowing us to do centralized scheduling, emailing, filing, etc. -- all in one server. It even had fully-integrated backups! I wish I could say it was a flawless system. The reality was that the scheduling part took ages to perfect and cost us hundreds of hours of lost work. The system cost a few thousand dollars, which seemed like a steal compared to the cost of maintaining all of the different things that it replaced. The reality was that it cost us more than it saved us in the long run. (I'm sure the current version is much better, but we were early adopters.)
All of that hardware meant a dedicated server room with dedicated power and cooling. The cooling system itself cost thousands of dollars and it's not like running and maintaining it was free, either.
I find myself building a new company again. I need all the same stuff I needed back then. The difference is how I will be making that happen.
For email and scheduling I had to choose between Google Apps and hosted Exchange. I went with the latter oddly due to support for a Windows product on a Mac. Google Apps doesn't know how to do Outlook 2011 or Entourage on the Mac. It has a plugin for Outlook on Windows but I am NOT running a VM all day long just to get email. (I turn on Parallels only when I need to run Visio. It's a nice app but it sucks your battery dry.) Exchange supports Outlook 2011 just fine, so I went with hosted Exchange with Sherweb. It's $8 a month per user, another $5 for ActiveSync, another $10 for BES. I get 24x7 access to my email (including Outlook for the Web) without ever having to manage Exchange. It's a beautiful thing. Done.
My CRM system is salesforce.com, my billing system is Quickbooks.com -- and they talk to each other. Both of them have a monthly fee, but that yearly upgrade to latest versions of both weren't that much cheaper than this monthly fee. Done.
BackupCentral.com (and all my other domains) is hosted on a computer I've never seen either. Every once in a while I "call the guy," and he "does stuff" (e.g. upgrade PHP). I can even do it at 3 in the morning and it just happens within minutes. It's a beautiful thing. The company is Liquidweb.com. There are cheaper providers, but I've never found better service than these guys. They do Linux or Windows based virtual or physical servers, and they all get 24x7 support.
I'm making the final decision right now on a virtual PBX system (leaning to VirtualPBX.com), but suffice it to say I will NOT be spending thousands of dollars on phone system any more -- only to need to replace it a few years later! I won't be using Google Voice because I want the concept of a main phone number and extensions.
I do want an onsite filer, but once I get rolling I'll probably sync it up with a cloud service provider so my data is also safely offsite.
And the lab? I still have the same need, but it will be met by a couple of VMware boxes. I did look into EC2, but it just seemed like I would get eaten alive with fees. I'm OK with maintaining a couple of $1000 ESXi boxes.
What a difference the cloud makes
I mean, wow. I had to spend about $10K in stuff just to get rolling back then. Today I'm up and rolling in a matter of hours with a bunch of free trials, and then I just need to pay the monthly bills of those services to keep going. I've got nothing to maintain, hardly anything to cool -- nothing to backup -- just some monthly bills to pay.
I'm liking this cloud stuff.
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