Over the last year, I've talked quite a bit about the availability of online, nearline, and offline backup solutions and the different advantages these solutions bring to the business user. I get a fair amount of email from readers asking for more information about the various solutions I've mentioned in this commentary, but recently I've been getting more questions about the availability of out-of-the-box solutions that combine the multiple technologies I've discussed.

Smaller businesses are looking to do the same sort of online to nearline to offline data protection that's regularly practiced in large corporate environments. But smaller enterprises have held off acquiring the combination of technologies that can make their data easily available and provide good data protection and security at an affordable cost. Such firms are hesitant to acquire data-protection technologies because they worry about how to make the different technologies work together reliably as well as the data protection solution's complexity and potential maintenance difficulties.

This is the market segment that Tandberg Data has targeted with its InteliStor network backup appliance. This Windows Storage Server (WSS) 2003-based appliance combines NAS and tape-backup hardware (LTO-2) with easy-to-use backup software to provide what Tandberg Data markets as a turnkey data-security and backup device with minimal requirements for IT support.

On the surface, the marketing claims for InteliStor would appear to be true. To use InteliStor as a basic network backup device, you need to do only a little work to set it up. The included Symantec Backup Exec software is well known and easy to use, and IT support can easily develop procedures to make sure that the backup tapes are rotated properly. Getting InteliStor up and running took me less than half an hour from start to finish, and the system was ready to start providing data protection to any data on my network that I wanted to replicate to the WSS 2003 component of the InteliStor appliance. A lot of the ease of InteliStor setup was because of my experience with Windows Server and WSS 2003, but for any administrator with a basic knowledge of Windows Server, getting the InteliStor up and running isn't a complex proposition.

While researching InteliStor, I noticed that other reviewers had commented on the increased complexity when using InteliStor to provide backup to Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft SQL Server installations. Curiously, the reviewers seemed to feel that this increased need for attention and management was a negative part of the InteliStor concept. However, I disagree. The basic InteliStor concept is a sound one: Provide a good NAS and backup solution that works well together and with Windows Server networks. It's unsurprising that adding the requirement to back up email and/or database servers increases the complexity of the equation and brings with it a requirement for more IT support. Both Exchange and SQL Server have their own management requirements. When you add those applications to the backup and data-protection responsibilities of the InteliStor appliance (or any similar appliance, for that matter), you add those applications' additional backup management responsibilities. Automatic backup for SQL Server and Exchange requires its own expertise, even with the optional modules that support these applications in InteliStor. I wouldn't let the need to understand the applications I plan to protect stop me from considering a solution like Tandberg InteliStor.

Pricing for InteliStor starts at just under $6000 for the 480GB unit and increases to just under $13,000 for the 1.6TB unit. You can find more information about InteliStor at http://www.tandbergdatacorp.com/products/products_InteliStor.htm