This is going to have someone trembling …

August 11, 2011

In their boots that is. I’m talking about USB3. This new technology must have the tape drive vendors of the world a little concerned about the viability of people using tape drives. Of course libraries are still going to be viable due to their massive scalability, and some small buisness servers will still need multi-terabyte backups, but there are a lot of people out there who must be looking at the cost of replacing their tape drive and wondering about disk.

Disk is now up to 3tb, which is pretty large and relatively cheap. If you consider a small business running a backup every day of the week, one at the end of the month and the occasional offsite backup, that’s normally about 7 tapes plus your tape drive.


You could use 7 single external USB drives.

I recently had an old friend call me up to discuss his tape backup. The unit had died (LTO2) and he needed to replace it and his tapes due to their age. The cost was pretty dramatic. So we looked at some alternatives. Their server is a small business unit with a full backup capacity of just under 300Gb. Some simple experimentation with USB2 external 2.5″ hard drives proved that (a) the backups were quicker (think the tape was getting very tired in it’s old age), that it was simple to manage (a DYMO label on each drive), and that the cost of implementing this backup scenario was radically cheaper than replacing a tape drive with 7 new cartridges and a cleaning tape.

My only real concern in this scenario was the speed of USB2. As it turned out, for the size of this server and the backup window the work practices of this organisation provided, USB2 speed was more than sufficient. However if this was a bigger server we’d be in trouble on time with USB2. Capacity could be handled by much larger USB drives, but USB2 would limit the speed of the backup – solved instantly by USB3.

Ironically the tape drive (now 4 years old) and SCSI card were my recommendation in the first place … because it was the technology of choice back then. However, the current crop of new technologies and their ridiculously low prices has forced me to change my tune.

I’d been hearing for a while from customers that the latest versions of SBS did not support tape natively, and they wanted to use eSATA. While this is a very good technology, it always seemed to cause problems getting cards working in servers or hot-swapping drives. I don’t expect USB3 to have these problems (USB2 has been pretty stable in this regard for quite some time).

So while the tape drive vendors might be a little concerned, the external hard drive vendors (like WD and Seagate) must be sitting back and waiting for server motherboards to take off with USB3 – it will most likely mean a lot of sales for their external drives into SBS servers.

Food for thought.



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