REVIEW: Entry-level data de-duplication impresses, frustrates in equal measure

Quantum's GoVault, an entry-level devices that uses data de-duplication and proprietary cartrridges, shows off the power of de-duplication but has rough edges that may frustrate users.

Quantum’s entry-level data de-duplication device offers a great taste of the company’s data shrinking technology, but may struggle to satisfy small businesses thanks to peculiar software and significant installation problems.

We tested the external, USB 2.0, version of the GoVault, which sells from around $550 and uses removable cartridges that contain a laptop hard disk within a nicely rugged case. The device is marketed as allowing users, particularly small businesses looking for a removable storage option, to fit more data into smaller, tougher, packages that can survive the rigours of off-site backup regimes that rely on someone storing taking media home in a briefcase or backpack.

An internal version of the device is also available and fits into standard 5.25in device bays, making it an option for server backup. Cartridges go from 40GB to 160GB  in 40GB steps.

Our initial impressions of the device were hampered when it proved one of the most difficult to install we have ever encountered.

Our first attempt at installation, on a PC running Windows XP Service Pack 2, was hampered by spotty performance caused by the fact the GoVault has known conflicts with certain Windows services. Those conflicts made the device effectively unusable.

We therefore un-installed the device, intending to give it a proper review later after resolving the conflicts. When we attempted to do so, it would not install at all. Despite uninstalling the software completely and following all instructions (several times), the device stubbornly refused to make itself known to our test PC.

Quantum assured us they had never experienced such problems, so we gave them the benefit of the doubt and tested the GoVault on a second PC, again running XP with Service Pack 2. This recently-formatted machine, we assumed, should be free of odd DLLs or registry problems that could derail installation. That assumption was proved incorrect.

While we were able to install the device’s drivers, and therefore see it mounted as an external USB drive offering removable storage, we were asked to install a new version of the .Net framework in order to install the de-duplication software. One download later (surely putting it on the CD or making .Net framework installation it an option during the Setup routine would be a better idea) we hoped for a smooth installation, only to be thwarted by a cryptic error about a missing file.

Several attempts at re-installation later, we checked Quantum’s web site and downloaded a “.1” revision to its software, which finally gave us a working, conflict-free version of the software needed to drive the device.

Impressive results

Results of de-duplication were impressive. A folder containing several hundred invoices, all containing the same address and ABN details and therefore theoretically ripe for de-duplication, shrank from 21 megabytes to five megabytes. Tests we conducted on video and audio files generated less impressive, but still worthwhile, results.

The device and its software try very hard, however, to hide its results.

By describing the amount data stored as “factored” and failing to define the term in its help files, we imagine that the small business users at whom the device is aimed will be more than a little confused about whether or not their backups have succeed and the extent to which de-duplication has shrunk their files.

It also seems odd that the device will mount its cartridges as removable drives under Windows, yet Windows Explorer depicts the drive as empty save for a single system file. Indeed, there is no way to view the contents of a cartridge other than within Quantum’s software. That view allows one to see the backups, not individual files, an arrangement we feel is counter-intuitive and will make it hard for users that did not set up the backup routine to understand how to recover files.

We are also unconvinced by the use of proprietary cartridges which, while nicely rugged, are expensive. We’ve seen the 40GB cartridge advertised for $142 by online retailers, but it is also easy to find 160GB external 2.5 inch USB hard drives for around $150. Even taking into account de-duplication’s ability to increase the effective capacity of the cartridge, GoVault cartridge prices may give many buyers much to contemplate. Committing a business to a physical format supported by just one vendor also seems to run counter to much conventional IT thinking.

Conclusions

Quantum’s GoVault is an impressive demonstration of data de-duplication’s power. It is best left to an IT professional to install and administer, thanks to a user interface that is not as friendly as it needs to be to succeed with a small business audience.

Storage professionals will also wonder if this device deserves a place in their data protection regimes, given that it will introduce a unique physical disk format that, while having obvious appeal, seems unlikely to be widely adopted.

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