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Laptop tape: portable USB tape drives offer new mobile disaster recovery options. (Storage Networking).

A new generation of portable USB tape drives offers new disaster-recovery options that can dramatically improve data security of mobile professionals. Highly skilled professionals are storing more and more data on their laptops, presenting the risk of major losses in time and information if their notebook hard drive should fail. Often these same professionals also store critical information on desktop systems that escape the normal backup process. Backing up a notebook on the road has long been a difficult task because external tape drives tend to be heavy and slow. The new USB 2.0 specification is simplifying the mobile backup task by enabling a new generation of inexpensive, lightweight and rugged drives that can perform a complete backup on a 40GB laptop drive in about two hours or a typical incremental backup in less than 30 minutes. These new tape drives make it practical for the first time to equip an organization's mobile professional's with a practical backup solution that can travel with them. If the y should drop their laptop and lose the hard drive, for example, rather than wasting a trip and losing important data, they can simply buy a new laptop, restore their data onto its hard drive, and be back in business in a couple of hours.

While many companies have invested considerable time and money in disaster-recovery solutions for data center and departmental servers, the fact is that a surprisingly high proportion of a typical company's most valuable and timely data is actually scattered around the world on its executives', sales representatives' and technical staff's laptops at any moment in time. While they travel, executives are generating documents that encapsulate critical strategic shifts; sales representatives are gathering information from customers that will be used to formulate proposals; and technical staff members are customizing products for specific applications. They are all put at risk when a tired traveler trips over the power cord of his or her laptop, sending it crashing to the ground. Often, the user loses weeks worth of work and is left without the applications and data files that they need to be productive for the rest of their trip. Many companies recommend to users that they buy a new laptop if theirs is damaged i n order to avoid the far more costly loss of productivity that occurs when a professional is forced to go without productivity tools. But in most cases a new laptop provides little immediate value because the professional will be unable to reinstall the applications they need until they return to the office. Any data that they have generated since their last backup will of course be lost forever.

Weaknesses of Previous Portable Solutions

While portable backup solutions have been available for some time, they have always left a lot to be desired. One approach is simply to install an extra hard drive in the extra bay of laptops that have them. But if the original drive is damaged or lost, the chances are that backup drive will also be unavailable. External tape backup solutions provide a much safer approach because they can be packed separately from the laptop, but portable tape drives have generally lagged behind mobile backup needs both in capacity and speed. To provide the most complete disaster recovery solution and simplify the process of restoring both applications and data, the tape drive needs to be able to store all of the information on the laptop hard drive. New drive formats such as Travan that pack larger amounts of storage capacity into smaller packages have addressed this issue. An even stickier problem has been the limited bandwidth of the available laptop ports used to connect the tape drive. The parallel ports that provided th e fastest connectivity just a few years ago were typically limited to 38,400 bits per second, too slow for mobile backup in most cases. The proliferation of USB ports in the last few years that can provide 12Mbps or 1.5MB/s or 90 megabytes per hour of data in compressed format has provided a major improvement. The recent introduction of USE 2.0 ports, that are soon as expected to become standard equipment on nearly all notebooks, solves the problem entirely.

USB 2.0--dubbed "High-Speed USB 2.0" in the marketplace by the USB Implementers Forum, Inc.--increases the speed of the peripheral-to-PC connection to 480Mbps, or 40 times faster than USB 2.0. The higher bandwidth is a major boost for such external peripherals as CD/DVD burners, scanners, cameras and hard drives. It also supports demanding PC user applications where multiple high-speed devices run simultaneously, including digital image creation and Web publishing. Microsoft Corp. has made USB 2.0 support available to OEMs and system builders, allowing PC manufacturers to ship Windows XP-based systems with the drivers loaded going out the door. In addition, USB 2.0 support to Windows XP users is now available via Windows updates, enabling higher-speed and simple connectivity to a wide range of peripheral devices from cameras to music devices to storage devices and more. One of the first laptops that were introduced with USB 2.0 was a Gateway 700XL with a Pentium 4 processor on an Intel motherboard and an NEC discrete host controller. Another earlier USB 2.0 laptop is the NEC Lavie J which also uses an NEC discrete host controller and runs Windows XP.

Impact of New Standard

The proliferation of this new standard has opened the door for a new generation of lightweight, high-capacity tape drives with all the features needed to provide a backup solution for laptops and desktops. The first to appear is the TapeStor Travan USB 2.0 drive from Seagate Removable Storage Systems. This new drive is compatible with Windows 98/2000 Professional/Me/XP and Mac OS operating systems notebooks, desktops and workstations that have either USB 1.1 or 2.0 connectivity. It is available in 20GB and 40GB tape capacity in a complete bundle that includes external drive, backup software, data cartridges and accessories. Data transfer rates of up to 240 megabytes per minute are offered on the 40GB drive, making it possible to back up 28GB in less than two hours. FastSense variable speed technology alters the actual tape speed to best match the data speed from the host to minimize back-hitching and maximize streaming. The compact 9x2x5.5-inch form factor and weight of under two pounds allows for easy portab ility. The product is offered at a street price of about $529, making it affordable to protect the data and productivity of every mobile professional in a company. Models are available for Europe and Asia Pacific including power adapters, enabling standardization across a global user base.

This drive, and others like it that are sure to follow, finally make it practical to implement a backup strategy that will protect the data and applications that your mobile employees need to stay productive. Employees can each be provided with a tape drive and cartridges and told to perform backups on a daily basis while they are on the road. Most backup software provides two different options: file-level and drive-image-level backups. Drive image backups create an exact copy of the drive or partition that is being backed up. This approach offers an important advantage in case the drive is destroyed or the laptop is lost. If the user is able to purchase the same or fairly similar model machine, they can simply restore the drive image to their new laptop and in about two hours they can be back in business. The drive image will be restored exactly as it was when the backup image was created. All applications will be installed, all preferences and options will be set exactly as they were, and all data files wi ll be in exactly the right spot. Since drive image backups are copies of the actual physical disk partition and work directly with the physical device, it is not possible to selectively restore specific files or folders.

The alternative of a file-by-file restore offers the ability to restore specific files and folders as opposed to the entire drive. Users can selectively backup and restore files, exclude specific file types such as hidden or system files and backup and restore the Windows registry using file level backups. File-by-file backups also offer the advantage of being able to take advantage of incremental or differential backup methods to reduce backup time requirements. The file-by-file backup method can also be used to restore a new computer to a near-perfect likeness of the one that was lost or damaged. Normally, the IT department is responsible for developing a standardized backup process and training users in its use. The speed of the USE connection means that users can normally do a full drive image backup while they are having dinner or an incremental file backup while eating a quick breakfast.

Real-World Examples

Exhibitree in Irvine, Calif., is an example of a company that uses portable USB backup solutions to ensure valuable data as well as the productivity of its account managers, exhibit designers, production staff members, etc. The company takes advantage of the latest technology in developing exhibits and special events for customers in the apparel, automotive, communications, medical and technology industries. It uses a combination of 25 Apple iBook, iMac, G3 and G4 systems for conceptual design, renderings, cost estimating, production drawings and graphic layouts, as well as maintaining communications within the company and with suppliers. Seagate Travan TapeStor USB drives are used to backup critical data files on a regular basis. Seagate drives have saved the day on more than one occasion by restoring critical files. "We had to restore Word files that got deleted by our sales group a few times and the Retrospect Backup software that comes with the Travan drives makes it easy to do that," said Kevin O'Connor, a production designer at Exhibitree. "Seagate's Travan product line provides Mac users like ourselves a complete system backup solution for archiving and restoring data, The drives are easy to use, highly reliable and reasonably priced."

The Spokesman-Review newspaper at Spokane, Wash., uses portable USB backup solutions for over 600 computers. To keep the presses running and protect the growing amount of digital content produced by the paper around the clock, a reliable and easy-to-use backup and storage solution is essential. "In the past year, we purchased a number of all-in-one desktop and notebook PCs, none of which have an internal slot for a tape drive," explained Benson. "They do have USB ports and our positive experience with Seagate products over the years led us to the USB-compatible Travan drive, which has become our de facto standard for these types of machines." Benson said the tape drives provide an effortless, efficient and economical storage solution. "The price is nice and USB makes the installation easy, but quality is my main concern," he emphasized. "The Travan drives from Seagate get the job done fast and reliably."

With 480 Mbps of throughput, the new USB specification offers plenty of bandwidth to handle today's fastest tape drives and enough headroom to handle faster drives for years to come. The latest USB 2.0 drives take advantage of that specification to offer the portability, capacity, speed and low cost needed to make it practical to ensure the productivity of every mobile professional while preserving valuable intellectual property.

Robert Hawkins is director of product line management at Seagate Technologies (Costa Mesa, Calif.)
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Article Details
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Author:Hawkins, Robert
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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