W Curtis Preston, at Backup Central has posted an interesting entry, “Is Dedupe to tape crazy?. Even he admits in the first sentence that, yes, dedupe to tape is crazy. But then he bumps the crazy-fest up a notch by asking whether it’s crazy-bad or crazy-good.
You should read the article, but let me jump ahead to the end. He says it’s good, at least in certain cases. I say it’s bad, in any case where you’d like to actually retrieve your data, rather than minimize your costs.
To understand that this is a bad idea, you’ve got to know what deduplication is first. As wikipedia puts it succinctly, deduplication is the elimination of redundant data. The
data is stored in one place, and all references to that data are stored as a shorter index number which points to the deduplicated data. Think of it like symlinks in your filesystem, if you’d like, except the symlinks are block level.
When you’re storing things on disk, this leads to near-miraculous disk savings. Want to store 5 years worth of full backups, but only use the disk space of the equivalent incremental backups? No problem! Store 50 copies of the same directory tree in various differing hierarchies, but only use the disk space of one? Done!
Now, what happens when the time comes to back up those 50 different hierarchies? Well, in the time honored, tape-expensive version, you use the tape equivalent of 50 copies of the data.
What Mr Preston is suggesting is that for long term storage, instead of storing 50 copies of the same data, store the actual data once, and back up the pointers to the data on the various backup sets. The argument for this is that if a full backup of the data takes 10 tapes, rather than 50 * 10 tapes, you can do 50 * 1, where the 50 different backup sets look at the 1 tape for the deduplicated data. This is a massive cost savings by any measure.
My problem with this is tape failure. If one of the 50 individual backup tapes fails, it’s no problem. Sure, you lose that particular arrangement of the data, but it’s not that big of an issue. Unfortunate, sure, but not tragic. If you lose the 1 tape that contains the deduplicated data, though, then you immediately have a Bad Day(tm).
Essentially, you are betting on one tape not failing over the course of (in the argument of Mr Preston) 7+ years. And if something does happen in that 7 years, whether it’s degaussing, loss, theft, fire, water, or aliens, you don’t lose one backup set. You lose every backup that referenced that set of data.
So I would, if I could afford one, buy a deduplicated storage array in a heartbeat for my backup needs. But I would not trust a deduplcated archival system at all. The odds of loss are too great, and it’s not worth the savings. I’d rather cut the frequency of my backups than save money by making my archives co-dependent.
But I could be wrong. Feel free to comment and let me know if I am.
It should probably be noted that Preston wrote about this too. The difference is, of course, that he knows what he’s talking about… :-)