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Data deduplication making disk backup more realistic for midmarket

Disk-based data deduplication tools could make tape storage an afterthought. But as vendors join on, CIOs should take a close, realistic look at deduplication's benefits.

Data deduplication, just in the past year, has become a potentially money-saving technology that shouldn't be ignored, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst says.

By eliminating a company's redundant data -- with the amount varying by company -- deduplication tools are for the first time offering a chance for IT departments to work primarily with disk-based backup, cutting down on affordable but cumbersome magnetic tape storage.

"I think all users who use tape, as much as they appreciate it … they always like the attraction to disk in random access and the ability to restore in minutes," said David Rogers, a product manager at Hewlett-Packard StorageWorks, which last month added deduplication to its disk-based backup systems.

And as Hewlett-Packard Co. and other vendors catch on, there is no reason for CIOs not to ask their value-added resellers about deduplication options, Forrester principal analyst Stephanie Balaouras said.

But be careful. Balaouras stressed that although deduplication technology is extremely safe, do take a look at exactly how much space a company stands to save.

"They just have outrageous claims that 'Oh, it's going to reduce your data by 50-to-1 or 100-to-1,'" Balaouras said. "That's where I want to see the case studies.

"I want to see realistic case studies," she said. "Maybe profile the different types of companies."

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Data deduplication technology of growing interest to SMBs
Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester has found that a 10-to-1 ratio is a more realistic storage savings to expect from deduplication, Balaouras said. But the actual ratio will vary from company to company.

Data deduplication tools reduce the amount of storage space needed by eliminating redundant data during or just after backup. For example, if an employee attaches a 100 MB PowerPoint file to an email and sends it to eight people, a deduplication tool would essentially delete the extra copies and replace them with a shortcut pointing to the original PowerPoint file.

That method could do wonders in a company where information is frequently distributed and shared. But an entertainment company that stores a lot of unique video files, for example, may not see the same level of space savings.

The idea is that by significantly reducing the amount of information that needs to be stored, deduplication can help justify the cost of disk-based storage. Right now, disk storage generally costs about 3.5 times that of tape storage.

By last summer, IT departments had started to take to deduplication, with 23% using some form of the technology and half of those not using it expecting to within a year, according to a survey by The 451 Group.

Vendors took notice and have been developing and pitching new products. Next out are new offerings from NetApp Inc.

"Deduplication is No. 1 on the heat index in storage, and the reason is it's sort of a breakthrough technology in terms of affordability," Rogers said.

"As the disk-based backup market has developed, you start thinking about the next steps in your own product development," he said.

Hewlett-Packard last month became one of the last storage vendors to enter the deduplication game. The company added deduplication tools to the HP StorageWorks Virtual Library Systems, aimed at enterprise-sized companies. The HP StorageWorks D2D Backup Systems is the midmarket offering.

Deduplication can be conducted while data is being backed up or after it has been backed up. HP's midmarket product works during backup, slowing the process some. But it does mean companies won't need to have spare disk storage space to temporarily hold the excess data before it is purged.

[Vendors] have outrageous claims that 'Oh, it's going to reduce your data by 50-to-1 or 100-to-1.' That's where I want to see the case studies.
Stephanie Balaouras
principal analystForrester Research Inc.
The enterprise-scaled product gets rid of the spare data after backup is conducted, requiring more storage space but speeding up the process. At a cost.

"The guys at [the enterprise] end, they will trade off a little bit of extra cost for the additional speed they'll get out of that," Rogers said.

By offering deduplication in its disk backup systems, HP is joining early leaders like ExaGrid Systems Inc. and Data Domain Inc., which Rogers called HP's major midmarket competitor for deduplication tools. Sun Microsystems Inc. and EMC Corp. are other heavy hitters in the market. IBM also has products with deduplication, though they are pointed at enterprise-sized companies, Balaouras said.

Dell Inc. remains the only major storage vendor without data deduplication products, though a partnership with ExaGrid means the company hasn't sat on its laurels, Balaouras said.

Deduplication might not sound a death knell for tape backup, but both Balaouras and Rogers said they expect a significant decline. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester expects tape will stick around for another four years or so. Rogers said even customers that go heavy into deduplication and disk-based storage will keep using tape, but "it means you need less tape."

"Tape's definitely not dead," Balaouras said. "But I do think it could be on the decline in the midmarket."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Zach Church, News Writer

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