A recent research report confirms what you'd probably guess are IT pros' top backup-related concerns: They want faster backups and, especially, restores and more reliable archiving. Interestingly, though, the survey--the third annual Backup and Archive User Perspective Report--also finds that many companies still don't distinguish between backup and archiving.

The survey, conducted by Peripheral Concepts and Coughlin Associates, targeted IT managers overseeing operations that had a minimum of 1TB of raw disk space. Of the 135 qualified IT managers who completed the survey, 40 percent listed time-to-restore from backup as their primary problem, while another 30 percent of respondents said that time needed to complete backup operations was the major problem. Twenty percent of the respondents cited time needed to retrieve data from an archive as the most pressing problem.

"People want faster recovery," says Tom Coughlin, principal of Coughlin Associates. This desire is fueling two major trends in the backup arena. First, disk continues to replace tape as a primary backup medium. According to the report, the ratio of disk-to-tape capacity fell to 1.5 in 2005 from 2.0 in 2004. Coughlin suggests that within two years, disk usage could exceed tape usage. "There is a continuing growth in the use of disk products. This is a long-term trend, and it's continuing," Coughlin says.

The second trend is that storage products are beginning to get smarter, to improve retrieval and recovery. For example, Coughlin notes, last fall, Quantum previewed an MFX-aware Super DLT (SDLT) 600 tape drive. MFX is a tape format industry standard developed by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. MFX awareness provides the tape drive direct access to specific metadata such as time code. Consequently, people can access a specific video clip without having to retrieve the entire file.

Along the same lines, last month Google inked a deal with Kazeon to use its storage-indexing and classification scheme, which will let Google extend its search capabilities deep into the storage infrastructure. This partnership will enable Google's search engine to search and access data on servers, storage devices, etc. within an enterprise--not just on the Web or desktop. And in October 2005, Network Appliance unveiled a backup solution that uses Kazeon's indexing and classification scheme to let users conduct Google-like search on the data stored on NetApp storage devices.

Over time, Coughlin says, these kinds of developments will have a significant impact on storage architecture and could enable companies to search and retrieve information from multiple storage devices. "Traditionally, storage decisions have been driven due to media and media formats. But once all storage becomes searchable, the specific media on which information is stored will be less important," says Coughlin.

Smarter storage devices should aid in retrieval and recovery. But storage managers still perceive conducting backup operations within a fixed window as a significant problem, though the operation is getting more efficient. Thirty-two percent of the survey respondents said they could complete a full backup in less than one hour, while 43 percent said they needed one to six hours. In 2004's Backup and Archive User Perspective Report, only 15 percent of the respondents could complete a full backup in less than 60 minutes. On the other hand, 11 percent indicated that full backup operations take 12 hours or more.

Interestingly, despite respondents' different requirements, about one-third of them don't differentiate between backup and archiving, similarly to the 2004 report's findings. Study participants said that reliability, capacity, and long-term retention are the most important attributes of an archiving solution. More than half the respondents (54 percent) archive specific application data, while 57 percent archive email.

The format that IT managers use for archiving is changing rapidly. Currently, 55 percent of the managers surveyed use files for their archive format. Within two years, however, 80 percent of the respondents indicated that they will rely on volumes and content.

For the foreseeable future, improving the speed and reliability of backup and archiving operations will continue to be a priority for IT managers. Not only are enterprises generating more mission-critical data, but new regulations mean that data must be safely archived and easily retrievable over longer periods of time. Within the next few years, the key differentiator for backup and archival technology won't be in the media used but the intelligence in the device.