TECH::Backing up through the years – The road to NetApp AltaVault


Data protection has been a sore spot for IT organizations for decades, sometimes ignored or neglected until absolutely necessary. Of course, by then, it’s too late. Let’s take a look at how mankind has done their backups and archives throughout the years….

NOTE: I am not a historian and have played very fast and loose with the facts here. For a more serious take on backup history, check this site out.

First backup strategy: Cave drawings


The early caveman would document history on the walls of caves, using various natural pigments, charcoal and torches. Naturally, this backup strategy did not have the advantage of being very agile and was susceptible to the elements. However, they have shown to be remarkably resilient, with some backups lasting 28,000 years!



The ancient Egyptians used a similar form of backup with hieroglyphs. The cavemen proved it could be effective. Why mess with a good thing?

Stone Tablets


In theory, stone tablets were a significant upgrade for backups to cave walls. They were smaller and lighter, so you could move them to a safe location for better disaster recovery. But they were still pretty heavy. What if you dropped one? Or worse, what if you dropped one on your foot?

Pen and paper


Mankind had had enough of the limitations of writing on stone walls and tablets. It was time for a new medium.

With the invention of papyrus in Egypt, people no longer had to backup to cave walls or stone tablets – neither of which were mobile or provided adequate disaster recovery. However, papyrus proved to be a fragile – and costly – backup medium.

Parchment, made from sheepskin, proved to be a more durable backup medium, but also was costly.

Eventually, wood pulp paper was invented. This made writing a cost-effective backup strategy, albeit not terribly efficient.

The printing press


Johannes Gutenberg, likely driven by his desire to rid the world of hand cramps and need for backups in a world of ever-increasing data* (no citation needed… I made that up), invented the printing press.

The printing press made cheap, fast and easy backups of large amounts of data possible. It’s first real test? 180 copies of the Gutenberg Bible.

Over the years, the printing press evolved into a much larger entity, running thousands of copies of newspapers a day and archiving the world’s most historic events accurately and efficiently.


The photo copier


With the growing need for enterprises to back up important files on-site, Chester Carlson set out to try to develop his idea for electrophotographic copies of paper. He was turned down by over 20 companies, including IBM and GE. In 1944, 5 years after he started, a nonprofit called Battelle Memorial Institute finally listened. In 1947, a company called Haloid helped Carlson refine the process and renamed it “xerography.” In 1949, the first Xerox copier was introduced.

Now, the enterprise IT admin could make copies of anything – important files, signatures, buttocks. The sky was the limit.

But while paper was relatively inexpensive, it was also not durable. Plus, a new challenge was surfacing – how to back up the digital data stored on computers.

Punch cards


The first computers,(such as ENIAC, UNIVAC), were monolithic devices that took up entire rooms and were operated by a series of punch cards. These cards contained computer programs that could store data on a larger scale than normal pen and paper. However, by modern data standards, they didn’t hold much. This Gizmodo article postulates how many punch cards you’d need to store 15 exabytes of data. The answer?

Let’s assume Google has a storage capacity of 15 exabytes, or 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. A punch card can hold about 80 characters, and a box of cards holds 2000 cards. 15 exabytes of punch cards would be enough to cover my home region, New England, to a depth of about 4.5 kilometers. That’s three times deeper than the ice sheets that covered the region during the last advance of the glaciers.


Magnetic tape


With magnetic tape, we’re now entering the realm that most modern IT admins are familiar with. However, did you know that tape has existed for over 200 years in various fields? And that they actually were around when punch cards were used, but were so terrible, punch cards were preferred?

Over the years, that’s changed. Tape quality, capacity and performance has increased magnitudes to where we can feel safe storing our enterprise data on them…. and then trucking them off somewhere else. That was problematic in and of itself – not only did you have to back things up to tape, you had to pay a company to cart them off to a secure location – and trust your data with a 3rd party. And if you grew up during the time of mixed tapes, you remember wearing them out until they were unlistenable. (Or at least recall accidentally pulling the tape out and having to re-wind it with a pencil.

So, with tape, capacity and mobility was there, but durability and speed were still not bringing ease to companies that needed to keep data around a while.

Backup to disk


As hard drive costs came down over the years, it became more and more viable to back data up to disk. Then, with RAID, it became more of a reality – we could now reliably survive hardware failures. Plus, disks were mobile! We could back up, pull the disks out and store them elsewhere for safekeeping. And with the sheer physics of spinning disk, keeping disks powered off theoretically would help them last longer than if they were running, though there is no definitive study to prove or disprove that theory that I could find. Don’t tell that to SSDs, though

Storage operating systems, like NetApp’s Data ONTAP, also provide backup to disk capability via snapshot, as well as backup over a WAN using SnapMirror. I cover this in my Snapshots & Polaroid blog on DataCenterDude.

The cloud


Today’s push for backup is now towards the cloud. Disks, while cheaper than ever, still cost money. And if you’re going to back up over the WAN, why not do it to a cloud provider with dirt cheap storage that only gets cheaper the less often you access your data?

Sure, you don’t own the disk, but you also don’t own the SLAs or maintenance – someone else does. Someone else has to hire the storage admins to manage the backups and archives you only use when you need them.

Sure, you worry about security – who doesn’t – but how is it any less secure than hiring a company to truck off your tapes to another facility? People did that for years with no concern. You could argue that backing up to the cloud might even be MORE secure than the old ways. Definitely more secure than cave drawings…

Enter Alta Vault!

This is where NetApp’s AltaVault (borne out of Riverbed Steelstore) comes in. Rachel Dines gives an excellent run down of this cloud-based backup solution in her blog on the NetApp communities.

Introducing AltaVault: The Solution to Your Backup & Restore Challenges

Additionally, NetApp A-Team member Jarett Kulm gives a run down from a non-NetApp perspective in his blog.

Netapp AltaVault – Speeding up, Cutting costs, and Cloudify your backups

Backups and restores are forever evolving and NetApp AltaVault is helping you get to the next step.

2 thoughts on “TECH::Backing up through the years – The road to NetApp AltaVault

  1. Pingback: Why Is the Internet Broken: Greatest Hits | Why Is The Internet Broken?

  2. Pingback: VMWORLD::Meet the engineer at NetApp’s booth! | Why Is The Internet Broken?

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