Make Room for Data

As data volumes soar, IT managers turn to ATA drives, iSCSI technology to get storage growth under control.

Just because his IT budget isnt growing much these days doesnt mean that Kent Morrisons need for more storage capacity is slacking off. As much as Morrison, IT director at the city of Steamboat Springs, Colo., has tried to keep storage growth under control, the demand for primary and backup capacity is increasing by about 8 percent per year. Every year.

"Were definitely seeing the need for more storage and backup capability, but, unfortunately, budgetwise, were going to spend a lot of 2003 trying to recover from 2002," Morrison said. "This means looking at new technologies that will give us speed and reliability at lower costs."

Among the emerging technologies Morrison and other cost-conscious IT managers are considering are iSCSI and Serial ATA hard drives—platforms that could reduce costs while providing faster backup capabilities and 24-by-7, anytime, anywhere data availability. Many enterprises are also looking at more proven technologies such as NAS (network-attached storage) and SAN (storage area network) as options for keeping up with storage backup demand while reducing costs. While few organizations are planning to completely replace existing tape-backup systems with ATA drives or NAS devices any time soon, experts predict that during the next few years, enterprises will be adding a range of faster, lower-cost technologies for backup.

In fact, analysts at research company Gartner Dataquest, in San Jose, Calif., project significant growth for new technologies that have the potential to cut backup costs. Gartner estimates that technologies such as Serial ATA hard disk drives will grow from a market of fewer than 5 million units this year to more than 280 million units in 2005, with Serial ATA becoming the dominant disk drive connection in 2004. The decreasing price of hard drives—vendors claim ATA drives will be able to provide storage at less than 1.7 cents per megabyte—will play a major role in this growth.

While ATAs potential to augment or even replace tape for backup is great, products are just beginning to roll out. Vendors including Seagate Technology LLC and Storage Technology Corp. are expected to release drives later this year that are based on Version 2 of the Serial ATA specification. The new version will allow these drives to operate at rates of 1.5Gb per second, nearly twice the speed of the current Parallel ATA interface version, known as ATA 100.

At organizations such as Steamboat Springs, every penny saved on storage makes a huge difference, which is why Morrison has already begun to investigate ATA hard drive technology for backup.

Morrison has one RAID array from RAID Inc., in Methuen, Mass., that is attached to his servers (which run Red Hat Inc.s distribution of Linux) via Adaptec Inc.s SCSI adapters. Morrisons financial applications—including the MySQL open-source database and a database from Progress Software Corp.—are backed up on a rotating schedule every night to external digital audiotape drives from Hewlett-Packard Co.

About 60GB of data is backed up each night, a process that takes as long as 8 hours because of a slow network connection. While the tape drives allow Morrison to throw more capacity at the backup process as needed, the expense involved in managing the tape backup is one reason hes looking at ATA technology as a potential replacement.

"Were seeing significant data bloat year by year, and, while its not as big as some folks, its certainly bigger than weve ever had," Morrison said. "It fascinated technicians to know we can do what were doing with SCSI a tiny bit faster with ATA—and much more economically."

Other IT managers, although interested in Serial ATA hard drives for backup, said they dont see themselves replacing tape drives. Why? For one thing, ATA technology, which comes primarily from the PC environment, has a reputation for not being reliable enough or scalable enough for enterprise backup.

This is certainly the case at Channel Intelligence Inc., where CEO Rob Wight said the need for real-time, online backup means he will not replace his tape drives. Channel Intelligence, in Celebration, Fla., provides businesses and manufacturers of consumer goods with pricing and shipping data via Web services. "There are certainly economic factors in moving to ATA hard drives, but when you look at the economics of tape, the reliability of the solution is just too key," Wight said. "Its not that hard drives arent reliable; its that when you set up tape, its simple, and after its working, you can easily verify that your data is protected."

The nature of Channel Intelligences service means Wight needs to run a real-time replication of his production servers as a primary form of backup. His Microsoft Corp. SQL Server database servers run at saturation 24 hours a day.

Wight mirrors the database to a second server in a classic tape-backup scheme using Benchmark Storage Innovations Inc.s archival storage solution. This lets him have a fully replicated model as well as a lag-replicated model of his production servers. He rotates tape in daily, weekly and monthly cycles depending on the server.

While Wight doesnt foresee swapping tape for ATA drives, he is hoping to lower storage costs by taking advantage of a shared fiber storage array to centralize storage and have multiple servers bound to his tape-backup storage solution, potentially using iSCSI. The ability to centralize storage would enable him to reduce management and trim backup windows while lowering costs. Wight said its possible hell make the move to shared fiber tape storage arrays when Channel Intelligence does an entire overhaul of its server system in about six months.

While they keep an eye on emerging backup technologies such as Serial ATA drives and iSCSI, many IT managers continue to focus for the short term on deployment of more-mature technologies, including NAS and SANs, to protect critical data. At Acxiom Corp., in Little Rock, Ark., Bob Bumpus, assistant administrator, engineer and architect, said that while hes looked at technologies such as ATA and iSCSI, his priority is NAS systems.

Clients rely on Bumpus division at Acxiom, which handles business intelligence for Fortune 500 companies, to ensure that their data is always online. As a result, Bumpus uses a mixture of SCSI and Fibre Channel with two HP Compaq StorageWorks tape drives and a mixture of hardware from EMC Corp. to provide redundancy and speed.

While some data from his Oracle 8.1.7 and 9i databases need to be fully backed up every night, Bumpus also does incremental daily backups along with a full backup on weekends. All together, Bumpus has about 76 terabytes of storage capacity. (For more on Acxioms environment, see "Facing Up to the Need for Security in Storage.")

Costs, however, are always on Bumpus mind. And thats where the NAS device comes in. Because the lower priority of some data does not warrant the expense of Fibre Channel and SCSI backup, using NAS would enable him to augment his storage setup and lower costs in the long run. He is beta testing a Snap NAS server from Quantum Corp., of Milpitas, Calif.

"Even though it would cost more money to buy extra NAS systems, were looking at the technology to make sure were not squandering the resources we do have," Bumpus said. "The analogy is that you dont want to use a Masarati to go buy groceries. A NAS is more like a dependable Chevy. We have an eye on future technologies, but right now, were looking for something dependable."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at