Ground Hog Day in Backup

I ride a commuter train to and from work every day. And, every day, on the way home, two passengers spend 30 minutes vehemently debating Obamacare. Each states his case passionately and coherently. With the same arguments. Every day. For two consecutive months. Neither person has changed his beliefs. At all. For two consecutive months. And, yet, each day they re-engage in the same debate with such fervor that new riders would never know that it isn’t their first time.

These passengers got me thinking, not about the state of U.S. healthcare, but about the insidiousness of comfortable, long-standing debates. “Tape vs. disk backup” is one of those comfortable debates, as our own Heidi Biggar pointed out earlier this week. After following the thread of the various posts out there , I’ve got to say it does feel like I’m in the Year 2000 again.   Some of the claims are so extreme that they collapse under their own absurdity, even without refutation. Never mind that disk backup has become such an accepted practice that it’s not worth revisiting “tape vs. disk” again and again, and yet one more time. Despite my best intentions, I can’t help but rejoin the “tape vs. disk” fracas. And I know better.

There are three main use cases for tape – but all three use cases are disappearing:

  1. Legacy (a.k.a. “Don’t touch it, you’ll break it.”): I meet customers with environments that are neither growing, or subject to more aggressive requirements. Their tape backup infrastructure is working fine, so they don’t mess with it.  Reality: Nothing remains stagnant forever. Legacy environments are either being virtualized or “appliance-ized,” or the requirements are changing. Regardless, things will need to change. For example, when I say “mainframe,” most people immediately think “legacy. ”I’m having multiple conversations about leveraging virtual tape in mainframe environments (our DLm product line) every week. Nothing stands still.
  2. Long-term retention, without need for recovery (a.k.a. “Taking crazy things seriously is a serious waste of time.”): I recently met a Venezuelan customer who explained that Hugo Chavez decreed that his company needs to retain backups for 30 years. Interestingly, there is no requirement to recover that data. (Note: I am not trolling Hugo Chavez; I suspect his definition of a “flame war” is more intense than mine.) Reality: Most companies with irrationally long backup retention periods have never thought about what long-term retention of backups means to them – legally, organizationally, and functionally. Backup teams are using Data Domain’s 10-year backup retention as a forcing function to begin concrete discussions with their legal, compliance and business teams. These are not easy conversations, but they result in rational retention periods (unless, of course, your boss is Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro).
  3. Offsite Disaster Recovery (a.k.a. “My other site is a Honda.”): For many smaller companies, their offsite backup policy is putting backup tapes in the trunk of their car or under their beds. Reality: With more “cloud” offerings for offsite DR, this issue is fading quickly. We have customers who replicate their backups to everybody from a trusted reseller to prominent cloud providers. They now have more room under their beds for their obsolete Dell servers.

If, after all that’s happened in the last 10 years, you still believe that tape is integral to the future of backup, my arguments, or those of anyone else, won’t change your mind. And that’s the danger with comfortable arguments. They tempt us to wallow in the mindless muddiness of irrelevant posturing, instead of engaging in productive discussions. The saddest part of the “train debaters”? Every day they complain about the lack of time to do things that really matter to them.

So, if you’re looking to improve backup and recovery, accelerate IT transformation and deliver immediate and long-term business value, not only is tape not the answer, it’s not even part of the conversation.

Stephen Manley

Stephen Manley

CTO, Data Protection and Availability Division
Over the past 15 years at both EMC and NetApp, I have traveled the world, helping solve backup and recovery challenges - one customer at a time (clearly, I need to optimize my travel arrangements!). My professional mission is to transform data protection so that it accelerates customers’ businesses. I have a passion for helping engineers pursue technical career path(without becoming managers), telling stories about life on the road and NDMP (yes, that’s NDMP).
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About Stephen Manley

Over the past 15 years at both EMC and NetApp, I have traveled the world, helping solve backup and recovery challenges - one customer at a time (clearly, I need to optimize my travel arrangements!). My professional mission is to transform data protection so that it accelerates customers’ businesses. I have a passion for helping engineers pursue technical career path(without becoming managers), telling stories about life on the road and NDMP (yes, that’s NDMP).

4 thoughts on “Ground Hog Day in Backup

  1. You make an excellent case on all three points, but there are plenty of customers who still want tape. NetWorker 8.0 is a perfect example. You can connect to an Avamar grid or use disk based backup, and it still supports tape and probably will for the foreseeable future.

  2. First of all, congrats to Stephen Manley for this interesting “backing up to tape versus to disk” article! :)

    There are two small typos in this article:

    1 – “Fidel Casto” should be “Fidel Castro” (missing “r” in “Castro”)

    2 – The link to the “it’s not even part of the conversation” article has an extra “http” part in the URL it points to. So, now it’s pointing to:
    http://http//protectioncontinuumblog.emc.com/stephen_manley/making-the-right-backup-choices-don%E2%80%99t-get-caught-with-your-pants-on-the-ground/
    … when it should point to:
    http://protectioncontinuumblog.emc.com/stephen_manley/making-the-right-backup-choices-don%E2%80%99t-get-caught-with-your-pants-on-the-ground/

    Keep up the good work! :)

    Cheers,
    Ricardo Dias Marques
    Identi.ca / Twitter: @ricmarques

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