CMS Brings External SATA Drive and Bootability to Windows

At Comdex Las Vegas 2003, CMS Products will introduce Velocity, a line of external Serial ATA I drives that let users boot Windows in case of a failure.

Despite the business IT focus of this weeks Comdex Las Vegas 2003, storage may well be an afterthought to some attendees. The key themes described by the organizers seemed to have passed over backup. But I will predict in advance that CMS Products Inc.s new Velocity backup solution, slated for introduction at the show next week, will make everyones short list of top products.

Velocity is CMSs new line of external desktop drives, but with a big difference: the drives use a Serial ATA interface rather than USB 2.0 or FireWire. With a top data transfer rate of 1.5Gbps, the drive can offer the greatest performance available from a hard disk mechanism. Company officials said the drive mechanisms will have rotation speeds of 7,200rpm; the company will offer drives in capacities from 80GB to 200GB, costing $299 and $549, respectively.

For CMS, on the other hand, performance means backup speed, not just the usual theoretical data transfer rate. In a demonstration to, the drive ran a backup somewhere between 600 and 700MB per minute, meaning that you could backup 30GB of data during a lunch break.

Now, as I noted in recent coverage from the Intel Developers Forum, support for external drives is a feature of the Serial ATA II specification, still working its way through the committee process. However, CMS will offer its SATA I Velocity series with a special 4-foot shielded cable. Mike LaPeters, vice president of sales for the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based CMS, said the cable (and the drive) had passed rigorous electromagnetic interference testing.


In addition to the drive, the package will come with a small adapter module for the internal SATA connector, the cable and the companys BounceBack Professional backup software for Windows 2000 and XP.

IT managers find it easy to focus on performance with storage, and thats especially true when the primary goal of the technology in question—Serial ATA—is mostly concerned with speed improvements. And CMSs marketing pitch is an enabler here by branding the new line as "Velocity." No doubt this will be the focus of much discussion at Comdex.

In spite of this, much of the value of Velocity to customers will be found in CMSs backup software and its capability to boot Windows externally.

With Velocity, if and when your primary, internal hard drive fails, you will have what amounts to roll-over protection for your entire workspace. You will be able to restart from the external drive and all your files, applications, system settings and shortcuts are available, just the way you left them. And because the external disk runs as native SATA, youll see little performance difference between the internal and external drive.

For backups, IT managers balance two major issues: Recovery Time Objective (the time it will take to get you back to work with your data) and Recovery Point Objective (the actual data thats recovered and its age). In practice, these points can mean different things to the backup handling for a server and to an end user. Naturally, the maintenance and performance of server-based resources comes first and they get the most care and resources.

With the usual network backup offered to desktop users, much of the effort is aimed at preservation of data, and often only certain data. If your entire system is hosed, then the user or IT admin will have to reinstall your system and applications from scratch, finally restoring the files that were preserved in the backup set.

CMSs Velocity turns this traditional paradigm around. With the speed of SATA, users can backup even the largest files, or all their files to the drive, in their native format. The BounceBack software first replicates the entire disk on the external drive, and can then be set to resync the drive -- by just copying changes -- at a user specified interval. Because it works in the background, that process should be relatively transparent to the user. In case of a failure, simply boot the external drive and keep working. Users can also enable versioning to work their way through past iterations of a file.

"With Serial ATA, theres no reason anymore not to back up everything," observed LaPeters, adding that "everything" in this case might not include adding all system files to the versioning list. That step could outgrow quickly even a 200GB drive.

Users will also be able to take the drive over to another machine, LaPeters observed, although then they will run into Microsofts digital rights management restrictions. But most modern desktop machines should make the move relatively painless.

LaPeters said the company had met resistance in the past from enterprises to this personal desktop backup solution. They had trouble perceiving the value over network-based backup. The Velocitys performance and external boot capability was leading some customers to reevaluate the product, he said, particularly for organizations that regularly deal with very large files such as engineering, scientific and technical applications.

I would add marketing departments to that list. While presentations and content destined for the Web will be small in size and easily handled by a network backup process, documents destined for hardcopy or media is another matter. In past jobs, I regularly handled individual files greater than 200MB and stored different versions of both compressed and raw video for presentations, which really ate up capacity. And for marketing managers, often recovery time is critical.

This easy external boot capability has been a standard part of the Macintosh operating system since 1986, and Mac users have grown to take the feature for granted. CMS will offer it to Windows 2000 and XP customers starting sometime this quarter. Storage Center Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

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