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Virtual Tape Library (VTL) (12)

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Mark Twain once said that “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” That statement would certainly apply today to tape technology. A leading analyst firm1 recently confirmed that, in spite of the increased acceptance of a disk-to-disk approach to data protection, disk-to-disk-to-tape backup will continue to be the major strategy for enterprises that are seeking to balance speed and cost. They found that IT leaders prefer tape as their long-term data storage solution, because of its low long-term total cost of ownership. They noted that, since the majority of data centers require both disk and tape for tiered backup and archive/compliance needs, this calls for an approach that bridges physical and virtual tape operations through integrated tape-management capabilities that include deduplication.

I could not agree more. To meet these needs, a virtual tape library (VTL) deduplication solution such as those offered by FalconStor will integrate with existing backup and tape infrastructures to streamline operations, prevent isolated silos of backup and avoid unnecessary overhead. Let’s take a look at specific ways FalconStor solutions take that a step further to support an integrated approach to managing both disk and tape: automated tape caching, tape consolidation, multi-tape export and tape library support.

Automated tape caching
What is “automated tape caching”? Well, basically, it is a disk cache for the physical tape library. That means it provides transparent access to data regardless of its location. When you have automated tape caching, tapes appear to be inside virtual libraries and are visible to the backup application. The backup application maintains direct access to data so existing processes are not disturbed. It works by using a tape caching policy that contains data migration policies that determine when export, deduplication, and deletion from disk occurs. Tape caching policies are flexible and can be defined to automatically trigger migration to physical tapes immediately or at a specific time or day. Data is written to physical tape transparently in the background by the VTL, without impacting production backup servers.

Tape stacking and consolidation
This refers to stacking smaller tape formats onto newer larger tape formats. The primary benefit of this ability is to enable a customer to get rid of the tape drive hardware required to read the older format tapes. The smaller physical tapes are imported into virtual tapes of the same type, allowing the physical hardware to be eliminated. The smaller virtual tapes can be stacked onto larger physical tapes for archive purposes. When the data is required, the VTL emulates the original smaller tape format and drives, but the data is actually retrieved from the physical tape.

Multi-tape export
We have seen that organizations often need to create multiple copies of physical tapes because of service level agreements (SLAs) and regulatory requirements. FalconStor VTL provides multi-tape export, which creates multiple copies of physical tapes. This increases IT productivity by eliminating the need for manual tape duplication or scripting.

FalconStor VTL can create up to five physical copies of virtual tapes as part of automated tape caching or an auto-archive policy; or it can occur during manual export of a single tape. When data is exported, separate export jobs are created for each physical tape copy, and each job is assigned a unique job ID so that it can be tracked, monitored and recovered.

Automated tape library support
Emulating tape libraries is important because it avoids expensive, hazardous rework of existing backup policies and procedures. Fortunately, FalconStor VTL emulates over 50 popular tape libraries and 30 tape drive formats, ensuring transparent integration into existing backup environments without the need to reconfigure backup jobs and making it possible to import data from physical tapes and export data from virtual tapes to physical tapes. For enterprise environments, this includes support for STK/SUN/Oracle ACSLS Library Station-managed tape libraries as well as IBM 3494 tape libraries and IBM 3590 tape drives.

As an integration example, a physical tape library can be Fibre Channel zoned to a FalconStor VTL system so that data can be imported from tape to disk, or exported from disk to tape. For disaster recovery (DR), deduplicated tapes that have been replicated can be exported, making data directly accessible from the physical tape if needed. The backup software product can use its own “tape copy” function to create physical tape from the virtual tape library, or the auto-archive feature of the VTL can automatically export modified data to physical tape.

In summary, tape is definitely not dead and continues to have an important role in a sound data protection architecture both now and in the future. It is vital to look for technology such as FalconStor’s that supports an integrated approach to managing both disk and tape. Automated tape caching, tape consolidation, multi-tape export and automated tape library support are key, specific examples of that support.

 [1] Gartner, Dave Russell “Organizations Leverage Hybrid Backup and Recovery to Take Advantage of Speed and Low Cost”  22 August 2012
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Regarding Gary Parker’s recent blog, Deduplication - The Power of Flexibility, Gary discusses the importance of data deduplication and the trade-offs among the various deduplication options that are available in the market.

An interesting point was the comment that “for the highest performance levels, a recommended best practice is to use flexible deduplication policies to leverage post-process deduplication for the initial backup (for speed), and then switch to inline deduplication for subsequent backups.” I would like to expand on that because it is an important element of a good deduplication implementation.

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Today’s experienced IT staff with responsibility for storage know the importance of data deduplication and understand that there are trade-offs among the various deduplication options that are available in the market. It is important to select the type of deduplication that best meets their unique and changing  requirements, so I will discuss these.  It is important to note that these options should be available at the job level, so that IT staff can easily make adjustments for the many types of data they manage. To keep this blog reasonably short, we won’t attempt to define the types, but please drop us a note if you have questions on definitions.

Inline deduplication has the primary benefit of minimizing storage requirements, reducing them by as much as 40 percent. It is ideal for small storage configurations or environments where immediate replication is desired. For the highest performance levels, a recommended best practice is to use flexible deduplication policies to leverage post-process deduplication for the initial backup (for speed), and then switch to inline deduplication for subsequent backups.

Post-process deduplication is ideal when your key goal is to back up as quickly as possible. As its name implies, it occurs after the backup process completes, thus it can be scheduled to run at any time.
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Today FalconStor announced the latest version of its industry-leading deduplication solution, FalconStor Virtual Tape Library (VTL) 7.5.

In performance tests with a four-node cluster, FalconStor VTL 7.5 demonstrated the fastest sustained deduplication speeds in the industry: more than 28 terabytes per hour with inline deduplication and more than 40 terabytes per hour with post processing deduplication. And an array of options, including inline, concurrent, and post-processing as well as Turbo capabilities, let you optimize performance for your environment. All this makes FalconStor VTL not only the fastest but also the most flexible deduplication solution on the planet!

Beyond speed and flexibility, FalconStor VTL 7.5 also delivers greater scalability, efficiency, and security – all the right functionality to optimize IT infrastructure, effectively manage data growth, and align data protection processes with business goals.

Bottom line: If you take the features that FalconStor provides – a broad selection of libraries and tape formats, flexible deduplication, and high availability with secure replication from point A to point B – FalconStor provides more functionality than anyone else.

Check out what’s new in FalconStor VTL 7.5 to learn more about the fastest, most flexible deduplication system on the planet.

FalconStor. All Your Data. Optimized. Available. Secure.

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I find it quite interesting in my travels how some folks are drinking the Kool-Aid that tape in general, and VTL in particular, are dead-end technologies. The argument is that tape sucks for backup, is hard to manage, and you need a LOT of it so just backup to disk, dedupe, and be done with it. The argument against Virtual Tape Libraries is, why put in a technology that looks like tape if your goal is to get away from tape backup? Sounds like a good argument, right?

Except for some fairly important points.

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