Using network-attached storage as a target for disk-based data backup and recovery

For many organizations, using network-attached storage (NAS) as a target for disk-based backup and recovery is an attractive proposition. But, how do you decide if it's right for your organization? Curtis Breville, independent storage expert and webmaster of askmrstorage.com, discusses the pros and cons of using NAS as a backup target and what you need to consider before deploying NAS for data backup.

The Q&A is also available as an MP3. Click on the link below to listen:

FAQ: Using network-attached storage as a target for disk-based backup and recovery

Table of contents:

>> Benefits of using network-attached storage as a backup target
>> Drawbacks of using NAS for backup
>> Backup software for backing up to network-attached storage
>> Scalability issues when using NAS for backup
>> Who should consider using NAS for backup?
>> Who shouldn't consider using NAS for backup?

What are the benefits of using network-attached storage as a backup target for disk-based backups?

In a NAS environment, the disk sits behind a filer head and a processor, and the operating system, replication, data reduction and protection software is already built in. In a typical data backup environment, each of these things must be purchased and managed separately -- maintenance contracts are separate, training is separate, etc.

But, because many network-attached storage solutions have all of these features, it can be easy to set up as a target for backups, and it doesn't require a lot of overhead to manage.

What are the drawbacks of using NAS as a backup target?

The drawbacks aren't necessarily attributable to the NAS appliances themselves, as much as they are in the plumbing. The inherent inefficiencies of passing large amounts of data at one time through a TCP/IP network was the reason for establishing a separate, private storage area network (SAN).

The faster data is passed, the more packets get dropped, and the more error correction needs to take place, the slower the network performance. Fortunately, there are technologies available to solve problems like this. Mellanox Technologies is one of the companies at the forefront of this space, as well as NetEx, which has a product called HyperIP, that solves a lot of the problems inherent to TCP/IP networks.

Do you need a specific type of backup software to use network-attached storage as a backup target?

The more popular backup software products out there do support NAS. Symantec Veritas NetBackup has a module called the NetBackup NAS SnapVault Option made specifically to work with NetApp. They also have a NetBackup Open Storage Option. EMC NetWorker DiskBackup Option supports NAS. CommVault and BakBone Software do, as well.

I'm a big believer in continuing to use tape in your backup environment as well, because I don't think it's a good idea to store data that isn't going to be used on media that will be spinning and using electricity. Choosing a backup software provider that supports NDMP will allow you to have a complete backup solution.

How about scalability, what happens if you run out of space on your NAS device and need to add more storage?

That's one of the benefits of backing up to network-attached storage. Since the physical disk can often be added behind the NAS controller, capacity can be added as needed.

What types of companies should consider using NAS as a target for backups?

Today, we're hearing about a lot of new solutions for businesses that need to store data, dedupe, replicate, quickly restore, and meet compliance requirements. And, there's a whole lot of companies, from the SMB space all the way up to the largest enterprises, that are looking at these types of solutions. Many NAS solutions can provide all of these things and more for companies of really any size.

Who shouldn't consider using NAS as a target for disk-based backup?

NAS is obviously an open-source type of solution, so this isn't something that's going to be used in a mainframe environment. My focus is always on getting the most for the least cost.

Backing up to disk does take some justification because it requires an additional purchase of all the necessary equipment. If a company's tape environment is running effectively and doesn't require disk, there would be no reason to deploy NAS for backups. Many companies out there are looking for very fast restores of recently backed up data, and for them backing up to NAS could make a lot of sense.

Curtis Breville has over 20 years of experience with data storage technology and is the webmaster of askmrstorage.com.

This was first published in May 2009

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