UK storage admins eye data deduplication to shrink backup windows, but remain wary

Users need to speed up backups and are eyeing data deduplication to shrink their backup windows, but some wonder if dedupe fits their data profile.

Data that is growing exponentially, combined with the difficulties of streaming to tape within backup windows, are driving users to look to disk-to-disk backup and data deduplication. That's the experience of many attendees at Techtarget's Storage Decisions Backup School held this week in London.

Phillip Gadwin, IT operations manager with the Royal Horticultural Society, which has a London headquarters and around 600 users at sites dotted around the UK, said the need to ensure sufficient storage to hold backups and get them done within the backup window was driving him to look at disk-to-disk and data deduplication products.

We're close to choosing a dedupe vendor but we will do lots of testing with whoever we choose – you need to be sure the data works with the application.
A storage technician with a major accountancy firm,
"With users working far longer through the day, we face big issues with backup windows, the space they take up and reliability," he said. "If a backup fails, it'll be 24 hours until we can do it again, and that's too much of a risk. So, we're looking at disk-to-disk as the way forward as well as taking backups off the LAN. We're also looking at deduplication as a way of taking down the size."

Colin Buttle, network administrator with Comic Relief, said that data growth was overwhelming his organisation's ability to backup to tape and exceeding the allotted backup window. "We've grown a lot in recent years but our backup is still quite primitive, going straight to tape and taking longer than the backup window," he said. He said his company is still deciding how to address these issues.

The growing amount of data and the increasing cost of storing it makes Christopher Thomson, IT services manager with British Teleflower Services, keen to embrace data deduplication. "We face ever increasing backup size and cost of backups," he said. "Our key aim is to implement data deduplication to cut down the size of backups. I'd feel fairly confident putting a deduplication system in and getting rid of extra files because we have a lot of duplication in the system. Most of our data is database or email and I'm pretty confident we could get fairly high ratios of deduplication.

A storage technician with a major international accounting firm said that his company's continual growth was making it almost certain that the firm would adopt disk-to-disk backup and data deduplication. "We're looking at data deduplication and looking at getting more backups onto disk instead of tape," he said. His firm was close to choosing a dedupe vendor but, factoring in what he'd learned at the Backup School, "we will do lots of testing with whoever we choose – you need to be sure the data works with the application rather than the other way round."

Other users at the show expressed concerns about the knock-on effects of data deduplication. An infrastructure engineer at a Japanese investment bank said that although data growth was going through the roof and causing potential problems, the firm had to consider the possible overhead that could be incurred in the process of deduplicating data.

"We back up to VTL then to tape and it's all going quite quickly," she said. "But we're getting more and more requests for storage – we've grown from doing 50 TB a week to 95 TB in less than 12 months and it's getting unmanageable. We're doing things within the [backup] window but if we have an infrastructure problem we'll be catching up with backups for weeks. More disk, reporting and dedupe can help, but that can bring other issues with it, such as creating an overhead on backups."

Data deduplication was not even on one user's agenda. Alun Evans, infrastructure operations team leader with News International, said there wasn't enough repetition in the company's data for dedupe to be worth the investment. His main concern was to improve the backing up of News International's virtual servers, both to reduce licence costs and to control throughput issues.

"We want to reduce the cost by moving to a licence per VMware server instead of per host," he said. "At present we pay around £400 per NetBackup licence and it is about £4,000 for a consolidated licence, so if we can get 10-plus VMs onto a server, it's worth it. But it's not a no-brainer. VMware is complex and we have to be sure we have staff trained to deal with backups and restores in that environment."

Cautiousness towards the adoption of consolidated licencing as well as the concerns of users over data deduplication were in line with the assessment of the UK backup and storage users made by W. Curtis Preston, VP of data protection services with consulting frim Glasshouse Technologies, who presented at the event.

"Really large customers – backing up petabytes – are rarer here," he said. "And there is more risk-aversion among users in the UK, which means they need to be sold on the maturity of a technology a little more than the average American. So perhaps UK users suffer with the status quo a little longer and are not so excited to jump on the next best thing if it means they might be at risk."

However, he said the problems are in the UK are essentially the same as in the US. "Tape drives are getting faster and our ability to keep up with them is not keeping pace. This creates a need for another type of device, which is why other types of backup target, such as disk, are becoming popular."

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