In depth: Backup and storage major issues with Net, NCs

Backup and storage are issues that tend to be forgotten--until something goes wrong, that is.

Backup and storage are issues that tend to be forgotten--until something goes wrong, that is.

Considering the investment made in human resources and computer equipment, the initial cost of collecting and documenting information is often huge and so is the cost of replacing that data when it is lost (if reconstruction is possible at all).

Storage media manufacturer 3M estimates that a single megabyte of lost data costs US$2500 to re-enter. Meanwhile, data once measured in kilobytes, has come to be quantified in megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes--and even petabytes.

"In 1990 everything you stored had to be entered by hand," says Peter Behrendt, CEO of Colorado-based tape backup manufacturer Exabyte. "Today, with three key strokes you can pull a 20Mb file down from the network. In the past we dealt only with information about our own organisations and now we have data on customers, partners and competitors."

In addition, the type of information being stored has changed from text data only to graphics, audio and video as well.

The Internet is also adding strain to storage systems. A study by hard drive manufacturer Quantum estimates that 37Tb of data crossed the Internet in 1991, increasing to 800Tb in 1994. This is forecast to increase to 12,000Tb by 1998.

According to the 3M survey, 90% of business people now download Internet files and 66% do so daily or weekly. However, 20% of these people are frustrated with the inability to download files because of disk constraints and more people would download video and audio files if they had the storage. "PCs will become Internet sponges," the survey concludes.

So the storage market is set to boom. An April report by market researcher IDC says "between 1996 and 2000, the storage market is expected to grow an average of 98% a year in terms of numbers of gigabytes stored".

According to researcher Dataquest, "by the year 2000, 75% of disks will be 1Gb or more".

Revenue won't grow at the same pace however, but will still increase from US$40 billion in 1995 to US$90 billion in 2000.

Exabyte, which has been in the tape backup business since 1985, has been busily gearing up to take a slice of the pie.

Over the past 11 years, the bulk of the company's business has come from OEM agreements, but now 42% of sales are from its own distribution channels.

Accordingly the company has upgraded its manufacturing processes to raise quality (now ISO compliant) and to improve flexibility and responsiveness to customers.

Exabyte is aiming squarely at the midrange and Unix markets with its high-end products, which include tape libraries. The company recently launched a new 40Gb 8mm tape drive dubbed Mammoth, which competes at the high end against products such as Fuji's DLT (digital linear tape) 4000 and DLT 7000.

"We are seeing smaller backup windows and bigger capacity requirements on networks," says Behrendt. "Data growth on PCs is growing at 60% a year so an average amount of data on a PC network is 25Gb. On a Unix network it's more like 200Gb."

According to a study commissioned by Exabyte from Peripheral Strategies, Unix midrange server backup now requires an average of 170Gb. To back this amount up in the traditional eight hours requires a tape technology capable of a sustained data rate of about 21Gb an hour. Exabyte reckons that the Mammoth makes this possible at a reasonable cost ($12,400 ex GST).

Because low-end products call for different technology and marketing approaches, Exabyte has set up the eagle division to handle its 4mm and desktop products.

"Fewer than 7% of all PCs worldwide have a tape drive installed and people don't really think about it until they've lost data. If you have a $3000 PC you don't want to spend $300 on a tape drive which is basically insurance, so the eagle division has come out with NEST, a technology which allows you to share one tape drive among multiple PCs."

Asked whether the advent of the network computer (which has no hard drive) will affect the backup and storage market, Behrendt says: "If you don't have storage on your own PC it has to be somewhere else. The network computer wouldn't reduce the amount of storage required; it would only shift the storage requirement elsewhere.

"If Exabyte were only in the PC business or only did zip drives I would be worried, but any trend towards network computers would benefit our high-end library business. But I think the jury is out on how successful the network computer will be. Even if they start off really cheap, people will start adding things to them and we will be right back where we started. "

(Malcolm is Computerworld's chief reporter. She can be contacted at andrea_malcolm@idg.com.)

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