back to article Removable hard disks make a come-backup

There's always something a little off-beat around the edges of these shows, and this time it was a small company, called Idealstor, pushing an ejectable hard disk called Teralyte as a replacement for tape backup. Teralyte is a different approach both from the removable disk cartridges offered by Tandberg and Iomega, and from …


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  1. Chris Miller
    Thumb Down


    "there's no guarantee you will get the same drive letter"

    Last time I checked, it takes about three clicks to change a drive letter. Less if you're willing to resort to a CLI. £1400 sounds like a lot of money to fix that particular problem

  2. Ian Ferguson


    I wouldn't have thought magnetic disk-based hard drives were reliable enough for backup. I've never had a magnetic tape or solid state memory USB drive fail on me, but I've had countless hard drive failures.

    Backups are too important - this is also why I stopped using iomega's Zip disks - too prone to failure.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If you have a USB drive, you can definitely make sure that it has the same drive letter / mount point.

    You also don't get rid of your tapes after a couple of months, most modern tapes have a 20-25 year shelf life and you can mount them about 20000 times. Couple of months? Bollocks!

    I'm not suggesting that disk isn't the way forward at some point (the robot loading disk carts, that I saw at last years storage expo, are very interesting), but tapes/tape silos don't require air con, they don't gobble power like it's going out of fashion and they are far more resilient to shock, be it Gs or temperature.

  4. De Zeurkous

    People ask

    ``why not use a USB drive?''

    The obvious answer is 'because USB is crap'.

    ``For one thing, there's no guarantee you will get the same drive letter, and that confuses backup software. ''

    Of course the systems whose administrators care to back up properly generally run messDOS, Windoze, or half an OS, right?

    ``A second thing is you can't just pull our drive out - you have to eject it,''

    Like powering it off...

    ``and we ensure the operating system's cache is flushed and the drive powered down properly.''

    ...after unmounting it, of course?

    ``The downside is that the caddy is very bulky,''

    *mutters something about 2.5" and smaller drives*

    ``However, Room claimed that the caddy system can actually be cheaper than tape for SMEs.''

    So are 8" floppy drives and appropriate media.

    ``but with hard disk that's not the case.''

    Their 'solution' seems to use ATA crap, so this statement is at a bit dubious.

    The Point(TM): The only downside I see this thing having is an arse.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    alternative... GoVault

    About a year ago we bought an entry-level IBM server that came with a Quantum GoVault drive... seems like the same concept, but using SATA laptop HDDs.

    I don't know what the drive cost, as it was a freebie with the machine (thanks to a very helpful account manager at Taskala). The cartridges seem to be about £1/GB if you buy them from Quantum rather than IBM.


  6. Tim Parker
    Thumb Down

    New frontiers

    So apart from the potentially big cost difference (not in Idealstors favour on the whole), this differs from a random box with hot-swapping SCSI, SATA, SAS etc drives how exactly ?

  7. Morely Dotes

    I would dispute that.

    Here at $DAY_JOB we routinely use tapes for 2 years or more; replacing them "every few months" only happens if "few" is "more than 24."

    On the other hand, I'd be pleased to use an ejectable hard disk instead. The problem is that hard drives are considerably more sensitive to physical shock and temperature/humidity changes than tapes, and for security it is absolutely vital that last night's backup goes off-site to the vault (in another city, in fact). That way, in the event of a disaster which destroys our file servers, the backups won't be involved in the same disaster (if it's bad enough to destroy our servers *and* the vault that's some 50 miles down the road, we're not likely to be worried about restoring the data until a new civilization has evolved).

    And the price of the drive is unconscionably high. I remember the old Mac floppy drives with a motorized ejection mechanism; they were a bit pricey, but nothing like $1400 per drive, even allowing for inflation.

    So, IMHO, this system is for the well-heeled geek to use for a home backup system - NOT a professional data-housing operation.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    you gotta be kidding...

    > Plus, it's not cheap - each caddy is £25

    No problem...

    > then there's the cost of the hard disks

    No problem...

    > and the "drive" that the caddies slot into is £1395.

    Holy f*cking christ on a pogo stick!! For that much dosh, I can remember to type "umount" before unplugging my USB drive.

    Next vendor please!

  9. Anonymous Coward

    I can't be the first to say..

    "Come-backup". Is that like a bank for your little swimmers or something?


  10. yeah, right.
    Thumb Down

    Ah yes, how retro.

    Ah yes. Drive letters. What a lovely early 1980's concept. Use a letter for a drive rather than a real volume name. Is there really an operating system out there that is so ass backwards as to still use that kind of retrograde system? How quaint. And people still use such a system? Wow, there's a sucker born every minute, isn't there?

  11. David Wilkinson

    You can do the same thing for under $30.

    Buy a cheap "mobile rack". It fits in a 5.25 bay and has a caddy that fits 3.5" drives.

    Whole think costs $10-$30. Depends on whether you are ok with plastic or want aluminum.

    Get a SATA version and it will be hot swappable.

    Or you can get an IDE controller that supports hot swapping (they exist).

    Or get an IDE to SATA adapter that supports hot swapping.


    Or even better pop all those drives into a RAID 6 array and do your backups over a network.

  12. Chris C

    Missing the point

    From my personal experience:

    TAPE -- PRO: easy to maintain, easy to configure backup software; CON: Prone to failure in dirty/dusty environment, typically shorter recommended life than disk-based storage

    EXTERNAL USB -- PRO: relatively inexpensive (when compared to tape's total cost); CON: drive lettering issue, difficult to configure backup software, Windows refusing to "let go", USB overhead

    MOBILE RACKS -- PRO: inexpensive; CON: drive lettering issue, difficult to configure backup software, Windows refusing to "let go", poorly-designed racks can cause integrity problems

    Remember, this is about corporate backups, not home backups. This is about using a set of drives as you would a set of tapes, so all drives must use the same drive letter (or you'll have to configure your backup software with a different configuration/backup set for each drive). View this as a zip drive with a really large capacity.

    The drive lettering issue isn't a deal-breaker. But if you forget about it when using new cartridges/drives, or if Windows randomly "forgets" about the device and detects it as new, then it's a real problem and you missed last night's backup.

    Backup software has gotten better with backup-to-disk folders and backing up to removable media, but anyone using older software will have trouble configuring the software to back up to a set of removable drives. Backup Exec 8, for example, makes it a real pain in the ass.

    And the biggest issue I have found with any type of removable drives (USB or hot-swap mobile rack) is Windows refusing to "let go". Windows claims that files are open and it's not safe to unplug the drive. Even when Process Explorer shows no files open on the drive, Windows will still not let go. So you have two choices -- 1) unplug the drive anyway and risk data corruption, or 2) shut down your server so that you can remove last night's backup. Neither one of these are really options for any business.

    I like the concept of backing up to hard drives. But in my experience, the hassle isn't worth it unless tape fails (such as if the server is in a dirty/dusty environment). As for the people complaining about the cost of the system, have you ever looked at a decent tape drive? A Quantum DLT-S4 800GB/1.6TB drive will cost you about 3,300 USD, with the tapes costing about 85 USD each. So no, compared to tape (which this is designed to compete with), it's not expensive at all.

    The recommended replacement cycle for daily-usage tapes (meaning five tapes per week, each tape used once per week) is only one or two years. So it's certainly more than the "couple of months" mentioned in the article, but not as long as alluded to above.

    The Quantum GoVault seems to be very much the same concept, but those are only available in capacities up to 160GB, which is not reasonable for any mid- or large-sized company (and really not even reasonable for many small businesses, either).

    As for these cartridges/drives being physically larger in your pocket than a tape, I don't doubt that. But I don't think they'll be THAT much larger than an LTO or DLT tape. Those things really make you long for the small size of a DDS tape.

  13. Alex
    Paris Hilton

    ... Oh Dear

    Please say this is not the main product of this company....

    A mention on cost - the drive is significantly cheaper than an Ultrium 800Gb drive... But I'd have an Ultrium any day of the week!!

    Sorry Idealstor, no sale.


  14. Chris C

    re: You can do the same thing for under $30

    "Or even better pop all those drives into a RAID 6 array and do your backups over a network."

    Yes, because every company wants their backup to be on another system located in the same office. That'd be great for disaster recovery.

  15. Sergiu Panaite
    Thumb Down

    Oh yeah!!

    Definitely a good idea!

    ...or so I thought a few months ago, when I was getting annoyed with a really bad batch of *brand new* HP SDLT tapes which would refuse to work in any drive. But shortly afterwards I was reminded about the tape delivery guy - and how hard drives wouldn't really appreciate being thrown around like the tapes are.

  16. Corrine


    I just happen to have a removable drive caddy lying around, now where exactly do I find the sucker willing to buy it at those prices?

    The key will be extra of course.

  17. frank denton

    What David Said, Me Too

    David beat me to it...

    I have a 'caddy holder' that fits into a spare ATA drive bay on my PC. Then any 3.5" ATA hard drive can be mounted in the caddy and slotted into the drive bay.

    This is perfect for backups since large capacity 3.5" drives are cheap nowadays.

    I have two such caddy mounted removable hard drives and apart form any worries about the relatively 'fragile' nature of the hard drive itself, have been using them happily for three years now. I'm sure the modern 2.5" SATA drives would be even more convenient for this application, and more easily portable.

    Mapping disk drive letters is easy so I don't see why there should be any problems about that. Also as a bonus, you can boot from the removable drive and so can have an entire bootable system on the removable drive in case of any problem with your main drive.

    If it's purely backup that you need then a wired network NAS box will give you plenty of fast storage with no need to mess around inside your PC. Most solutions would seem to be cheaper and just as good as the product described.

  18. John Stag
    Black Helicopters

    External "Ethernet" drives

    a) The "random drive letter" thing isn't totally true. Windows seems to regard the low letters (eg. "D" and "E") as fair game for re-use but not the high letters.

    If you set drive letters to "Z" and "Y", etc. the letters seem to stick across disconnects (or at least, on my XP machine they do...and I've been doing it for years).

    b) Last week I saw an external drive with an Ethernet connection instead of USB, inside the drive was a little file server on a chip. They cost about €20 more then the equivalent USB drives. I assume the power-off button on the front does a safe shutdown, in which case "all problems solved".

    In short: This guy's spreading it on pretty thick....


    "Last time I checked, it takes about three clicks to change a drive letter."

    Please enlighten us. Last time I tried it I had to go into the whole system management dialog thing and it takes a minute or so to change a letter.

  19. Matthew

    Keeping it simple: thumbs up to caddies!

    I agree with Frank and David. For home users, a removable drive (cost of standard drive plus £20 caddy) with mirroring (via software RAID if you must) does the job. Just shut down, pull the drive from the caddy, and, as discussed, you have a full (bootable) recovery disk. It'll still work if you forget the 'backup disk' and will rebuild (i.e. 'do a backup') as soon as a new disk is inserted. Nothing to schedule, alerts generated the moment a drive fails, no drive letter issues and dirt cheap.

    I've also seen small businesses use the 'pull a disk from the mirror' backup approach on occasion which, with hot-swap disks, won't cause downtime. I remain to be convinced that these prices will persuade many takers...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Changing the drive letter

    Any sysadmin should have made a shortcut to C:\WINDOWS\system32\diskmgmt.msc or at least included all *.msc to the console. From there right click on drive, change letters/paths, choose new letter.

  21. Mike Dunderdale

    Remote backups..

    Rsync over SSH to your remote server. You can use a free system such as rsnapshot - have your backup system offisite so your data can be considered safe in terms of local site disaster, and do locally at your secondary site backups to disks in removable caddies for archival purposes. You can even have multiple archive copies if you wish for those broken drives that inevitably happen. You can also have your last x days backup accessible live so your users can recover their data automatically without tape insertion etc.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    3 words

    clustering file system

  23. Ash

    This might have been mentioned...

    ... Drop a tape on the floor, it goes *CLATTER* and might chip the clear cassette case a little.

    Drop a HDD caddy on the floor, and it's 1TB of backup data + the drive gone. 1TB Solid State disks aren't around yet (At least for under what that "drive" costs!) so carting it around on the tube is a no no.

  24. Anonymous Coward


    hmmm lets see ..... We are a SME, I have a library that manages this all for me and just spits out a few LTO4 tapes and askes for a few from the off site storage vault. When a tape has been mounted too many times it spits it out and marks it expired. (never happened in LTO4 yet but had a few LTO1s do this.

    Why the hell would I want disk as an off site backup medium?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You guys make me laugh

    I have been using the product for 3 years and you have all missed the point. The point is not what some UK distributor said about the drive letters. The point is that it is an affordable and reliable alternative to tape. The reason people backup to dsk is that tape is a difficult and unreliable way to backup data. With the exception of the tape vendors that have anonymously replied here, I can't see how you could believe that tape is reliable.

    When I bought the system I could only use 300GB drives. Now I can pop in some 1TB disks and backup my data. Name one tape drive that can do the same. I use my existing backup software. The product runs Windows as the OS and is my backup server.

    Even the product discussed on this is less than a comparable LTO3 drive and offers faster backup, restores and larger media.

    REV drives are for home users.

    These disks are for corporate data.

    Nice job Idealstor.

  26. John Benson
    IT Angle

    How does virtualization change the game?

    Tapes and disk drive backup are mostly about Disaster Recovery. Virtual machines that can be quiesced to a few files in some directory have big DR advantages. I'd be interested in hearing any ideas about how virtualization changes conventional enterprise backup best practices.

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