Cancer Research picks Bakbone for Mac backup

Medical research organisation chooses Apple-native software over buggy and hard-to-use rivals in a meagre Mac backup marketplace

Cancer Research UK has implemented Bakbone: Netvault backup software to write data to two Apple XSans at its London and Cambridge research institutes. Bakbone software was chosen from a market with a limited choice of backup products for Apple enterprise users.

Cancer Research has around 1,000 Mac users split between its main London and Cambridge sites, with 20 XServe servers at each location. The bulk of its data comprises still and moving microscopy imagery. The organisation's IT team decided it needed to invest in SANs when users started buying point storage solutions for their labs, says William Harris, technical solutions architect.

The choice for Mac shops is quite limited. We looked at BRU but it was difficult to use, and had a poor GUI
William Harris
technical solutions architectCancer Research
"We started to realise data was expanding rapidly when our users started buying external hard drives and copying data to CDs," he says. "For a while, as users started demanding more storage, we'd invest in point solutions, providing two or three labs with, for example, a 5 terabyte XRaid. But this didn't work for long as it meant managing lots of different needs and so we decided to create the two SANs."

The solution opted for was an Apple XSan at each site, with capacity of 67 TB in London and 20 TB at Cambridge using QLogic storage switches. The organisation implemented one iteration of Netvault at each site plus six others at other London and regional offices.

The two SANs plus the 40 servers are backed up using Netvault to an HP EML tape library at each site. End users use EMC Retrospect software to backup from desktops to a volume on the SAN.

The two SANs are entirely discrete and do not mirror each other – the organisation is in the initial stages of a project to phase out the use of Retrospect, centralise all storage and create greater resilience across all sites.

Netvault – which has been Mac-native since late 2005 – was the clear leader for Williams in an enterprise backup market for the Apple environment that offers few choices.

"It has a good GUI and is easier to use than any other solution we've seen," he says. "We got demo copies from each vendor before we bought and Netvault was the only one to work out of the box without any support."

He adds, "The choice for Mac shops is quite limited. We looked at BRU [by the Tolis Group] but it was difficult to use, and had a poor GUI. We also looked at Presstore [by Archiware] but again the interface was poor – these tools produce reports but you have more confidence in the process if you can see what is going on as it happens."

Williams is keen to phase out Retrospect. It is historically one of the most established Apple-compatible backup products, but since it was acquired by EMC when it bought Dantz in 2004 it has seen only a single one point upgrade.

Williams says, "I don't like Retrospect. It has a lot of bugs and there are real issues with multitasking. You can wait for ages to get a client onto the network and can find clients just fall off it too. While it's backing up end users get the option to postpone the process, which they often do because things go so slowly, and then it's two days before they get backed up again."

Other Apple-compliant backup products include Atempo Time Navigator, but the choice of backup tools for Mac is limited because of the platform's low penetration into the corporate market, says Dennis Szubert, principal analyst with Quocirca.

"Apple has about 2% to 3% share of the corporate market with key footholds in the scientific and creative sectors," he says. "Not only is this a small market share, but they are sectors where the size of business and number of Mac seats means they are often effectively SME-sized. That is why there are few back up options for Macs – there simply aren't the market volumes."

Given that, says Szubert, a useful option for Mac shops could be to look at backup as a service.

"As well as products from Netvault or BRU a possible option is to use a back-up-as-a-service suppliers, such as Mozy, which has a Mac client, and Blackjack, which is Mac-only," he says.

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