FilesX: New Tape Killer?

Disk-to-disk solutions are marketed as tape killers. We found one product that may actually live up to that claim.

In last week's column, I discussed ServerGraph and its mission to fix the foibles of tape using improved analytical tools. The column concluded with a preview of this week’s subject: the proliferation of disk-to-disk solutions proffered as “tape killers” and its latest advocate, FilesX.

Frankly, having talked to many disk-as-tape vendors over the past year and a half, I’m a bit jaded with most of these solutions. Yes, installing a tier of disk between your production disk and your tape library and emulating virtual tape drives in software that point to the secondary disk tier might expedite backups a bit. However, I have always been cautious about the ultimate value of this strategy because restoring data from an anonymous backup data set stored on disk would entail much the same hassle as restoring discrete files from a tape.

In my humble opinion, if you were going to use a second tier of disk, why not make it more purposeful? Do something with the data you park there. Encrypt it before it makes its way to tape to avoid the recent rash of scandals resulting from lost backup tapes containing customer data. Or compress it, as Avamar does, to make the entire data set smaller and easier to move onto tape.

Given this perspective, I was wary of more marketecture as I sat down to chat with Frank Jablonski, vice president of product marketing for the Southborough, MA start up.

Once past the typical citations of nutty analyst numbers on backup failure and the “tape-less enterprise” messages the company has wrapped around its product family, there were some very interesting product features that differentiate it. Frank was forthright in his explanation that, while the company believed that tape would eventually go away, it didn’t yet have the replacement for backend tape itself. For now, they were focusing on adding value to their second-tier repository.

The product does initial snapshots at a bit level of all data, then of incremental change data at intervals specified by the user. Nothing new here: almost every vendor of point-in-time copy products does the same thing. Interestingly, however, FilesX supports copy-on-write technology that enables you to write the resulting copy data anywhere you wish (on inexpensive disk, for example) instead of using your most expensive disk, as EMC would have you do. It seems that FilesX doesn’t sell hardware, only software (a huge plus in my book).

The real value of the FilesX approach is the secret sauce for using the data once it has been written. They claim to provide very high levels of granularity that make it easy to search the backup data and to restore individual files, individual e-mails, or individual tables in a SQL database on the fly. That is exactly what I have been seeking from a multi-tier backup solution.

According to Jablonski, , if you experience a production storage array meltdown, you can also point applications to your FilesX backup disks and use the data copy stored there while you rebuild your production array. That idea also goes way beyond the “tape as disk” thinking of other D2D vendors.

He notes that the product only supports Windows for now (UNIX support is planned in 2006, but there is no word about Linux). That is either bad or good, depending on your operating environments. If you are a big user of Exchange mail and/or MS SQL Server, this might be just the hardware agnostic solution to application continuity that you have been looking for.

Given its support for Windows, there are some additional nice-to-have features in the FilesX product. One of these is a feature called “Application Aware,” a toggle that lets you choose to use VSS in Windows 2003 to quiesce applications before backing them up or not.

The product can also show you all the copies of any file in its repository so you can restore the latest version or manipulate multiple “works in progress” to get a single aggregated version. Not a bad idea.

Finally, the company has created a Disaster Recovery version of its software that can be used to extend the reach of your tier two disk repository across a WAN. Theoretically, this will enable you to maintain a local and a remote copy of your data for disaster recovery.

Bottom line: FilesX is worth a look. I would recommend that Jablonski and company drop all the banter about “tape-less enterprise” for now and reshape their marketing messages to promote the unique features of their product. They might just find that they have a winner on their hands.

Your comments are welcome:

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.