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Cloud

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Updated 2/10/11

Many times as you browse the Internet, you come across reviews and have to wonder: “Did they actually ever use the product in a real life scenario?”

Reviewers (myself included) typically use clean enviroments/networks to test products, building a separate "review network" isolated from their work network. This is done to expedite the review process and produce accurate data. But the downside is that we might not encounter "real world" issues found in normal use.

So, I decided to start a series of articles similar to Tim’s Diary series over on SNB. For the first “Day in the Cloud” series, I am writing about my experiences implementing Crashplan+ in a small business environment.

Background

My client is a video production house, specializing in marketing to law firms. Video production houses have a number of interesting IT requirements due to the nature of video data. They store a lot of raw footage, and a similar amount of completed videos.

Hard drives are notoriously unreliable, as my client recently found out. Most times, the need for backup is spurred because of a big scare. For my client, this was the failure of a 1 TB LaCie Big Disk, which contained way more critical data than it should have. And because LaCie’s Big Disks are actually two drives RAIDed together (using RAID Level 0), data recovery from a failed Big Disk can be difficult, if not impossible, depending on the failure mode.

As it turned out, my client dodged a bullet and lost no data from her un-backed-up Big Disk. The Big Disk's power supply failed, but in a way that didn't affect the stored data. But the incident provided the wake-up call to my client that put her over the edge to finally take the plunge into data backup. So what backup solution makes the most sense for a company with oodles of business-critical video data they want backed up?

Traditionally the answer has been tape archive and off-site storage. Unfortunately for video, that meant LTO(Ultrium) tapes, and specifically LTO-4 or LTO-5. The tape drives are expensive, averaging $2,600 for LTO-5 Drives from Quantum. And the tapes themselves are anywhere from $70 to $100 a tape. Plus, have you ever met anyone who liked restoring data from tape? No? Me neither.

Hard drives have recently become a viable alternative to tape archive. 2 TB external eSATA drives are quickly approaching the price of a single LTO-5 tape, and are generally faster to restore data. However, you still have to pay for off-site storage, backup software and someone to swap drives in and out for rotating backups.

So what we are looking for is a solution that is basically fully automated, with off-site backup, and can handle large amounts of data. Sounds like a good job for the cloud, right?

But Why The Cloud?

The cloud, and specifically Crashplan’s cloud, provides some interesting solutions. But, first you have to understand your data. For my client, video is her primary concern. Video doesn’t change much once it’s been shot. The backup plan with video is generally to back up your raw footage, project files and final cuts. You generally don’t back up working files, because they are enormous and change constantly.

Crashplan offers unlimited data storage for up to ten computers. This is very beneficial for a video house producing HD videos due to HD video's size. Also the price for 10 computers is right – one year comes out to around $130 if you sign up for a yearly contract. And as I write this, Crashplan is offering a discount to customers jumping ship from Mozy, which brings the price down to $108.

Additionally, Crashplan offers a service where you can order a hard drive that you fill with up to 1 TB of data and send to Crashplan, which then loads that data into your account. Since my client has a 35 Mbps synchronous internet connection and I would have required multiple drives for all the data, I decided against this option (and its additional cost).

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