Continuous Backup

Startups look to provide point-in-time views of data.

Hughes Supply Inc. moves a lot of building materials off its shelves and, as a result, has to back up a lot of inventory and transaction data. The Orlando, Fla., company backs up data related to the $780 million of product it sold in its most recent fiscal quarter from a 12-terabyte Hewlett-Packard Co. XP1024 SAN.

Mark Eisenhardt, senior Unix systems engineer, has his systems under control, staggering the backups on an as-needed basis for efficiency. But he is curious to see a concept called continuous backup, defined as the ability to rewind corrupted systems to any point in time instead of just when the last backup transpired, fleshed out more than it has been.

"I think its fantastic, and at some point in the near future Id like to entertain it and test it," Eisenhardt said. But, "I would prefer to [see it come from] a company that has a known track record," he added.

Continuous backup is cheaper, easier to manage and much faster to restore from than high-end architectures such as real-time mirroring or replication, advocates say. It works by populating a metadata server with time stamps of all transactions, compared with the traditional high-availability method of storing two copies of all data in the first place. The method is similar to that already used in database rollbacks, experts say.

The trend is the result of an increased emphasis on disaster recovery, a boom in data to back up with smaller backup windows and inexpensive storage becoming reliable enough for critical data in place of using tapes, industry experts say.

As is often the case in IT, startup companies are starting to offer such technology now, while the giants—such as Computer Associates International Inc., IBM, Legato Systems Inc. and Veritas Software Corp.—are only now beginning to ease into it.

Data Domain Inc., of San Mateo, Calif., and Revivio Inc., in Lexington, Mass., both startups, will launch appliances for continuous backup this fall and early next year, respectively. Data Domains DD200 box focuses on file-based storage; Revivios as-yet-unnamed system focuses on blocks, officials said. Both products are intended to augment, not replace, traditional client/ server backup products such as CAs BrightStor, IBMs Tivoli Storage Manager, Legatos Networker and Veritas NetBackup, officials said.

Other startups—Vyant Technologies Inc., FilesX Inc. and TimeSpring Software Corp.—are building software-only solutions. Vyant, of Reston, Va., launched its RealTime 2.0 application this spring, while FilesX, of Southboro, Mass., will ship Xpress Restore this month and Montreal-based TimeSpring will launch TimeSpring Protector early next year, officials said.

For its part, New York-based XOsoft Inc. this week will announce its Data Rewinder software that, unlike the other products, is application-aware. It has versions specifically for Microsoft Corp.s Exchange 5.5 and 2000 and SQL Server 7 and 2000, as well as for Oracle Corp.s Oracle8, 8i and 9i.

"[Continuous backup is] kind of cool. On our production data for [enterprise software from] SAP [AG] it would be really, really nice," said Steve Bally, network administrator at RadiSys Corp., in Hillsboro, Ore. RadiSys has a small-scale EMC Corp. Clariion SAN (storage area network) currently using Veritas NetBackup software. The need for point-in-time restores is infrequent, but "its not a high-vision thing until the fire hits," Bally said.

The larger companies that Eisenhardt and Bally are waiting to hear from are in various stages of exploring continuous backup. Veritas, of Mountain View, Calif., will announce continuous backup plans later this year, officials said. IBMs Houston-based Tivoli division and CA, of Islandia, N.Y., said they have no solid plans but, like CA, have ongoing in-house development. Legato, also in Mountain View, sees the technology being useful but at least two to four years away, company officials said.

"From what Ive seen," said Nigel Turner, CAs senior vice president for storage management, the startups continuous backup offerings are "dependent on virtualization," which very few customers actually have today, he said.