What affects how fast you can restore backups

May 10, 2009

I was asked today if I thought that a disk-based backup system could do restores faster than a tape-based system. My best answer was a 'maybe', because it really depends on what the limiting factor is in your restores. Let's look at all of the things that have to happen in a restore:

  1. you find and load the tape into the tape drive or tape library, if it's not already there.
  2. if you have a tape library, it loads the tape into the tape drive.
  3. position the tape to the right dump image.
  4. read through the dump image until you get to the data that you want to restore.
  5. transport the data over the network to the target system that you're restoring on.
  6. write the data out on the target system.

Of these activities, a disk-based backup system makes the second and third basically instantaneous and may speed up reading the dump image from the media. It can't do anything about the speed of the network or how fast the target system can write things to disk, or how long you take to find and retrieve the right media.

It's also worth noting that your backup system can make a difference in this, depending on what the limiting factors are. For example, Amanda runs the restore command on the target system, which means that step four requires transporting the entire dump image over the network to the target system.

And speaking of media read speeds, one advantage disks have is that it is less tricky to get good read speeds. Because of mechanical issues, tape drives often have a minimum read speed that's necessary to get good performance; if you drop below that speed, the read performance goes significantly down because the tape drive has to stop and restart all the time (known as shoe-shining).

Written on 10 May 2009.
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Last modified: Sun May 10 23:43:32 2009
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