Avamar offers disk-based backup alternative

By Heidi Biggar

At Storage Networking World next week, end users will get a first-hand view of a secondary storage appliance from Avamar Technologies that could, with the right OEM support, change the way users back up, restore, and archive data.

What makes Avamar's Axion different from competing products from vendors such as Nexsan and Quantum is the way it approaches secondary storage from a pure disk, versus tape, perspective. The appliance, which was engineered from the ground up to work with disk, backs up to ATA disk using its own software, not standard tape-based backup applications (e.g., NetWorker and NetBackup) that have been designed to work with sequential access media (i.e., tape).

"We re-designed the backup model on the assumption that there would be a disk archive rather than a tape archive, and from that flows architectural advantages," explains Kevin Daly, president and CEO of Avamar.

Specifically, Daly points to issues with scalability, cost, and, most importantly, efficiency. "Because it cost so much less than disk, tape historically didn't have to be efficient," he explains. "And it didn't matter that backup/restore processes were generating archives that were many times the size of the data being protected."

But efficiency and total cost of ownership (TCO) are important issues today. As the recent onslaught of disk-based backup announcements attests, users are looking to disk to improve online backup and restore of all types of data (fixed and dynamic).

"One of the big differences between Axion and products like Connected's TLM and EVault's InfoStage, which were also designed from the ground up to go to disk, is the way Axion can identify redundant data," says W. Curtis Preston, principal consultant for The Storage Group consulting and integration firm in Oceanside, CA.

Preston is referring to the appliance's "commonality factoring" capability, which enables it to identify logical sequences in the storage space that have a high probability of recurring. Avamar claims that this technique can result in a 10x to 20x reduction in archive data, making the archive approximately the same size as the data being protected.

"When backing up to disk, this is very important," says Preston. "It should require a much smaller amount of disk space, which will allow users to operate at a much lower TCO than with competing solutions."

As for scalability, Daly says that users don't have to anticipate how big their secondary storage requirements will be over time. The system's content-addressed storage scheme reportedly allows for easy and infinite capacity scaling. "It spreads data uniformly through the storage space and allows users to add capacity on-the-fly."

The Axion platform--Advanced Content Store (ACS)--is implemented in a redundant array of independent nodes (RAIN) cluster of standard 1U servers with attached ATA disk. Each 1U node, or module, provides about 0.5TB of disk capacity. The base configuration has seven active nodes, for about 3.5TB of capacity. Avamar recommends implementing the nodes in a RAIN-5 configuration for optimum fault-tolerance. The units can be geographically dispersed for disaster-recovery purposes.

The company has developed "data-protection agents" for Window, Solaris, and Linux, as well as for Oracle. Pricing starts at $175,000.

This article was originally published on October 22, 2002