Copan spins disks on demand

Startup Copan Systems Inc. is putting a new spin on tape backup. The company is set to introduce a disk-based library it says is as inexpensive as tape but has none of the disadvantages.

Copan's system is derived from a technology proposed by a team of researches at the University of Colorado called Massive Arrays of Idle Disks (MAID). MAID uses the physics of tape; like tape, it only powers up and spins disks when the information on those disks is needed. Copan says that only powering and spinning disks when necessary lets it reduce the number of I/O connections, memory and controllers, and thus strip out much of the cost of disk-based back-up systems.

"Two things happen when I have to spin disks: One, I have a much higher power consumption, and it ultimately costs me more to run," says Sunny Vanderbeck, CEO of managed hosting company Data Return, who is familiar with Copan's technology. "Two, the life of an individual drive that runs all the time will be lower, which means I have to maintain it more. Now I'm back to where I started with tape. I have to maintain the thing all the time."

Unlike tape, which has unwieldy data-recovery times, Copan's as-yet-unnamed system uses inexpensive Serial Advanced Technology Attachment disks. The Copan system uses an algorithm to determine which disks should be spun and when. Copan says it takes about 10 seconds to reactivate a disk, which is much faster than retrieving data from tape.

"Operationally backing up to tape vs. disk is a shocking difference," Vanderbeck says. "We have a pretty large environment to run with a few thousand servers, which all have to be backed up. By moving to disk I am able to [restore data] at wire speeds."

Analysts also see some benefit in Copan's design.

"Storage systems that provide the benefits of tape but not the hassles could be appealing to a lot of customers," says Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst at The Yankee Group. "The challenge remains proving out the cost comparison that suggests these systems are as inexpensive as tape."

Copan says the cost of its subsystem will be 75 cents to $3.50 per GB. It will come configured in capacities of as much as 200T bytes. Disk-based systems cost about $10 per GB.

Copan's competitors, Asaca and Exavio, focus on storing DVD or broadcast-quality streaming media, but not on back-up technology.

Enterprise Storage Group says that although disk will never replace tape, two years from now 53% of all data will be backed up to disk instead of tape.

This story, "Copan spins disks on demand" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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