Robert Farkalay of Overland Storage’s August 4 opinion piece in ComputerWorld offers 10 tips for faster backups. He’s thinking of the corporate/network environment, so not all of his suggestions apply to small or home offices, but if you have even a small network (like, say, the Ur-Guru’s), these might be good guidelines.
- Use virtual tape (disk-based backup). Tape is rarely a good solution for small systems and networks anyway.
- Use a fast connection (like iSCSI) between your backup server and backup storage target. (“iWhat?” I hear you ask. No, this is not a new product from Apple. It stands for “internet SCSI” and it’s a gigabit ethernet connection, 10 times faster than your standard 100 Mbps network cable.) This, too, might not be practical, but the second part of tip 2 is having an exclusive connection—don’t share that line with any other device. That you can do with ordinary ethernet. In fact, you can do it with USB or FireWire. The fewer signals your cable has to carry, the faster they’ll go.
- Remove network bottlenecks. Principally, this means using a dedicated server for your backups. Put only backups on it, not anything else. It will back up faster if it’s not also trying to send e-mails and web pages.
- Reconfigure backup jobs to run in parallel. There’s one for the more technically-inclined, though if you have a large enough network to need to worry about this, you’d better either have an IT staff or be a geek yourself. It makes intuitive sense, though: if all the computers can be backed up simultaneously instead of having to go one after the other, the total time spent on backups will be less. And any user can tell you that the time during which a computer is either slowed down or unavailable is one reason backups get postponed.
- Install media server backup on critical servers. What that really means (apart from buying some expensive software) is that the drive that holds the data should connect directly to the backup drive. The further the data has to travel through a network, the longer a backup will take.
- Back up to multi-stream capable disk. That means a specialized backup appliance—no doubt a worthwhile investment for anyone with a large array of computers, but not necessary (or affordable) for home office users.
- Select the backup software best suited to the workload. Now there’s a tip anyone can use. The kind of backup software (or hardware) you use really depends on the data you have to back up. That’s why there’s no single answer to the question “What’s the best backup solution for me?”
- Use a backup server with plenty of horsepower. If you turn your half-dead Pentium II into the backup server, the backups are going to be slow. For those of us who really don’t need a backup server at all, only a drive, it’s worth bearing in mind that backups to a 2.5″ (laptop) or smaller drive will be slower than to a 3.5″ (desktop) sized drive, because most laptop drives run at 4200 rpm, whereas desktop drivees run at 7200 rpm.
- Use “image backup” to back up small files. If you backed up every e-mail message individually, it would take forever, even though the individual messages may only be a few K each. Most e-mail client programs store your messages in some kind of groupings, like Eudora’s mbox files. Outlook lumps your mail in with your calendar, contacts, tasks, and notes, not to mention your attachments, in your PST file, creating one large file to back up. I’m not sure what kind of “image backup” software or function Farkaly means here, but the principle is clear.
- Use fast disk (preferably external RAID) on application servers. So far the emphasis has been on speed at the receiving end of the backups, but speed at the sending end is also good. Read speed matters as much as write speed. Backing up from a laptop is going to be slower than backing up from a desktop (and doubly slow if you’re going from a laptop to a 2.5″ notebook drive, though it actually seems quite fast enough to me if done through FireWire or USB2).
So thanks to Robert Farkaly and ComputerWorld for the thought-provoking suggestions. They may not be useful to all the readers of this blog, but it’s worth considering their parallels in the SOHO computing world. I can guarantee that if you switch from USB 1.1 to USB 2.0, you’ll notice a difference, and if you upgrade your 4x CD-writer to a 48x CD-writer, you’ll be amazed.