Disaster Recovery Options: Comparing Carrier Pigeons, Tape and the Cloud

By: In: Data Management On: Feb 27, 2013
Disaster Recovery Options: Comparing Carrier Pigeons, Tape and the Cloud

I was recently listening to a podcast by Jon Toigo (the podcast is currently sponsored by Iron Mountain) where he talks about cloud vs tape backup.  The talk covered many interesting considerations about backup and most importantly, recovery and the choice of those two different protection mechanisms.  Jon also mentioned IP over Avian Carrier (IPoAC) which is a topic I found intriguing and wanted to explore further in this blog post.

Disaster recovery (DR) is a critical requirement for all companies.  Put simply, customers need to copy their information offsite in a timely and reliable manner to protect against significant outages.  However, the ability to transfer data to a DR site depends on bandwidth.  The less bandwidth, the longer the information movement will take and the more risk a business faces.  Similarly, recovery requires data to be transferred back and the slower the transmission speeds, the greater the outage.  In short, bandwidth is a critical consideration.  Jon Toigo talks about different technologies to address the issue including IPoAC, tape and cloud and I wanted to look at the DR bandwidth implication of each of these.


The idea of IPoAC is to use a carrier pigeon as a medium to send data to a remote site.  Amazingly, people have actually tested IPoAC and you can read about it in this Wikipedia article.  While IPoAC appears comically complex and entirely unusable in the real world, it is interesting to look at the bandwidth potential of said approach.

The key question that every DR professional has to ask is how long it will take to get your data transferred in the case of a disaster.  With IPoAC, we would attach a small USB flash drive to our pigeon and send him/her on his/her way.  The good news is that flash drives keep growing in size and the largest I found was 512GB.  If we assume that the pigeon flies at about 40 miles per hour and that our DR site is about 80 miles away, it will take 2 hours for our 512GB of data to arrive at the DR site.  This equates to about 550 Mb/sec bandwidth.  Not bad, really.

We may also want to be extra cautious in our transfers and so we could consider redundant pigeons.  A nice benefit is that pigeons require limited power and minimal cooling so the economics would work well too, but we must remember the cost associated with feed and medical care.  Furthermore, in certain parts of the country, we have to be concerned that some people may try to shoot down the bird and cook him/her for dinner.  (Hence the need for redundancy.)


Jon discusses the benefits and potential pitfalls of cloud protection and specifically highlights bandwidth.  In the world of cloud, bandwidth is everything since all backups run through the Internet.  Thus the time required to backup and recover data is inversely related to the amount of bandwidth.  To make matters worse, the amount and availability of bandwidth can also vary based of time of day and network traffic.  If we assume that a customer has a T3 (45 Mb/sec) and 512GB of data, then it would take more than a day to transfer the information.  Hmmm, the carrier pigeon looks better from a timing standpoint.  However, this assumes no data reduction technology.

Iron Mountain’s cloud-based backup solutions use unique data reduction algorithms to reduce the required bandwidth. Factoring these technology benefits, the backup and recovery times can be reduced to about 1:20.  Clearly that is much better especially when you include the enterprise class security and availability of Iron Mountain’s datacenters.  Security with IPoAC?  Good luck, you are on your own with that one.


Tape provides a proven methodology for transferring large quantities of data between sites.  It has been used consistently for years and the question of bandwidth makes it clear why tape delivers such compelling business value.  Simply put, let’s run the numbers and see why.

A full Iron Mountain van can hold approximately 5,000 tapes and if we assume LTO-5 (we are being conservative) then we get an effective capacity of 15PB per truck.  Assuming that the driver needs to go 80 miles and averages 50 MPH, the resulting travel time is about 1:40 or an equivalent throughput of about 20,000 Gb/sec!  Clearly, the bandwidth is massive and is larger than what you can get from virtually anywhere else.  (To further blow your mind, we could send two or more vans or even upgrade to LTO-6!)  Furthermore, Iron Mountain is on call 24×7 and so the team is available to deliver this bandwidth on demand at any time.

In summary, there is no doubt that bandwidth is critical when it comes to disaster recovery and users must consider all options to ensure that they can get their businesses back online the case of a disaster.  IPoAC provides meaningful bandwidth with significant added complexity and while it is a solution that Mother Nature and perhaps The Audubon Society would love, it is rarely practical.  (Maybe if you live on a deserted island, although I question why you would have a datacenter there to begin with.)  Cloud and tape-based DR provide meaningful alternative protection solutions that are suited for enterprises of all sizes.  It is also clear that tape provides bandwidth that far exceeds other technologies and this is an important illustration why tape maintains its leadership as the DR medium of choice.

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About the author

Jay Livens

Jay Livens has over 10 years of experience working in the data protection industry and is responsible for product and solutions marketing for Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery products and services. Prior to joining Iron Mountain, Jay was responsible for HP’s disk-based backup portfolio, enterprise tape and StoreOnce technology in the Americas. Jay previously worked at SEPATON a provider of high performance virtual tape libraries and deduplication technology. Mr. Livens also holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.