Product Reviews

Plug and Play & Remote Site Backup

ATL LanVault makes protecting data simple.

Suppose you have 30 people working in a branch office in Cincinnati. The Internet makes it easy for them to stay in touch, but what about backing up their critical data? In the past, your choices were to have all that data sent back to the main office, to train someone in Cincinnati to act as the IT gopher, or to ignore the problem and hope nothing ever goes wrong. Now ATL (a Quantum company) has delivered a better solution: the LANvault network backup device.

The LANvault consists of two pieces joined by a SCSI cable. The first is a Quantum tape drive: either a DLT4000, capable of 40G per cartridge at 3.5M per second, or a DLT7000, which holds 70G per cartridge at 5.0M per second. (Those numbers include an allowance for compression; cut them in half for uncompressed files.) The drive comes in a tape changer unit that holds seven tapes and a cleaning cartridge. The second box is a server running Windows NT 4.0 in a “headless” configuration, without keyboard, mouse, or monitor. On the back are connections for a power cable and a 10BaseT Ethernet cable (either 10 or 100MPS). Together the two units are about nine inches wide, 24 inches deep, and 12 inches high, and weigh about 60 pounds. The industrial-strength cooling fans make the LANvault a bit noisier than the average desktop computer, but not so noisy as to be a problem in an office environment.

The total capacity for the seven tapes ranges from 140G for the DLT4000 with compression turned off to nearly 500G for the DLT7000 using compression. That should be enough for the backup needs of most small and branch offices. If it’s not, ATL is preparing a second model, the LANvault 500, which will feature two DLT7000 drives and 14 cartridges for nearly a terabyte of backup capacity.

I was able to back up data within an hour of the FedEx guy arriving at my front door with the pallet loaded with boxes. LANvault’s instructions start with “Installation instructions inside this box” and stay easy from there. Connect the boxes, load the tapes, plug it into your network, and install the included software on a network server, and you’re ready to roll. There’s a simple program that runs to detect the LANvault and properly configure its IP address. If your network uses DHCP, the LANvault will get an address that way. With a minimum of telephone support it should be easy to get this up and running in any office, whether you’ve got an IT staffer there or not.

Depending on the model chosen, LANvault installs either Veritas Backup Exec or CA ArcServeIT on your network server. Either of these packages is capable of easily backing up all the machines on a network to a single device. (MCP Magazine reviewed both packages in the October 1999 issue). The installation manual even walks you through completing your first backup.

In addition to the backup software, the LANvault CD installs two programs on your network server. The first is an automatic restore for the factory hard drive image of the LANvault’s own operating system; this provides protection against accidental changes. The second is the LANvault management software. This software runs directly in a Java-based browser and lets you control all aspects of the LANvault directly. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the same office with the LANvault or not. If you can see the device over Ethernet, you can control it. Companies that use a VPN to communicate with remote sites will find it simple to manage LANvault devices from the central office using this software.

The LANvault management software doesn’t handle backups. Instead, it offers four major functional areas:

• Manage Server
• Manage Library
• My LANvault
• Product Manuals

Manage Server lets you configure the device location and time zone, network settings, Administrator and Backup accounts, and email settings for the dedicated NT server inside the LANvault. You can also use this choice to apply software and BIOS updates directly from ATL to the device. In addition, Manage Server lets you shut down and restart the LANvault. Finally, a remote control choice in the software puts you into the browser-based pcANYWHERE client, from which you can directly log on to the LANvault’s server and work with it like any other NT system.

Manage Library opens the ATL WebAdmin Java applet. This applet lets you control the tape library directly. You can monitor the status of the various parts of the library and view a detailed event log from the library hardware. You can also access a variety of self-tests from this applet.

My LANvault provides you with access to a password-protected area of ATL’s own servers. Here you can register a product, view product errata and service bulletins, and download any software patches that exist for your version of the product.

Finally, the product manuals include Adobe Acrobat format manuals for the tape drive itself, the LANvault software, and the backup software installed with the unit.

Though ATL is targeting the LANvault for branch offices, there may be some other potential here for certified professionals who are independent consultants. How many offices do you visit over the course of a month that don’t have a good backup scheme in place? How many of those would take your recommendation for a piece of hardware and then outsource its operation to you? Imagine using your Web browser to log on to half a dozen LANvaults every week, then collecting tapes for offsite rotation once a month and sending a bill for your services. The turnkey nature of the LANvault solution makes this distinctly possible.

With all of the configuration and technical support hassles normally associated with hardware and software, it’s a great relief to find a product that’s as simple to use and as well-designed as the LANvault. Once you’ve got it installed and set up a rotation schedule for taking the tapes off-site and swapping them with new ones, you can forget about it. What more could you ask from an information appliance? LANvault is a good idea well-executed, and deserves serious consideration by anyone with large amounts of data that need to be backed up in locations without IT staff.

Pricing for the LANvault starts at $9,995 for the economy model with the DLT4000 drive, and $11,995 for the performance model with the DLT7000 drive.

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