Iomega Rev 70: For Backups Both Fast and Vast

By Gerry Blackwell
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Iomega Corp., the company that brought us Zip and Jaz super floppy drives in the 1990s, recently introduced a significant enhancement to its latest-generation family of Rev removable hard drive products. The new Iomega Rev 70GB uses cartridges that hold 70 GB of data (140 GB compressed) — double the capacity of the earlier Rev 35GB product — and also introduces improvements in performance and durability.

Iomega is positioning the Rev 70GB as the ideal all-in-one solution for small-business backup and archiving. The base product comes bundled with EMC Retrospect Express backup software from EMC Corp.

The Rev drives use cartridges with 2.5-inch hard disks inside, while the more delicate disk reading and writing apparatus resides in the drive. The cartridges are very durable and portable — they easily fit in a shirt pocket. And you can rewrite them as often as you want.

The Rev 70GB product is available in four versions. The external USB 2.0 version ($600) that we reviewed works with both PCs and Macs. The internal version ($580) works only with PCs. Both come with a single 70GB cartridge and the EMC software. Additional cartridges sell for $70 each or four for $250.

The internal and external products are also both available in a Backup Kit bundle ($830 and $850, respectively) for servers. The Backup Kits include five cartridges and CA Inc's BrightStor ARCserve Backup software with disaster recovery functionality.

Faster Than Tape
The Rev drive is first and foremost a superior, if considerably more expensive, alternative to tape backup. It's significantly faster than tape — both when writing backup files and, more especially, when recovering files. Recovering backups from tape is slow because you have to wait for the tape to unspool. The Rev drive is a hard disk and can access data randomly with speeds not much slower than internal hard drives. Unlike a tape drive, Rev lets you access any file as quickly as any other. Iomega says it's up to ten times faster than tape.

Yet the Rev drive also gives you the advantage of being able to take a cartridge out and transport it to another location, which means you can easily store backups or archives off site. (Archives are files you no longer need regularly and can afford to take off your computer or network.) Storing both backups and archives offsite is a useful precaution. If you have a fire or burglary and your backups are only stored onsite, you could still lose all your data.

The portable Rev cartridges could be useful as well if your company is in the media industry, and you need to transport large volumes of data — digital video, audio or multimedia productions, for example — from one office to another. Rather than trying to transmit gigabytes of data over a network, you can put a Rev drive in each office, even in clients' offices, and employees can carry files with them to meetings on a cartridge.

The Rev drives are also faster than network attached storage (NAS) products which have become popular small business backup solutions in the last couple of years — Western Digital's WD NetCenter line, for example, or Seagate/Maxtor's Shared Storage line. These are external hard drives that attach to a network router and any computer on the network can access them.

NAS products, while often fairly compact, are not intended to be moved regularly. Many small businesses use both NAS and tape so they can have convenient onsite backup and also offsite backups and archives as extra insurance.

Networkable But…
The Rev drives cannot be used as network attached storage, even if you have one of the new network routers with ports for attaching a USB hard drive — the Linksys Wireless-G Media Storage Link Router, for example. The Rev product needs proprietary Iomega software running on the device to which the drive is attached, and that software only runs on PCs and Macs.

Other computers on a Windows network can back up to a Rev drive over the network if you configure sharing and permissions correctly, but it means the computer it's attached to must be turned on, and network backups can slow performance on the host computer.

You could also establish a dedicated server with a Rev drive or drives attached to it, but that adds considerably to the cost of a backup solution, and the Rev 70GB is already a premium-priced solution. Total cost for 350GB of storage (on five cartridges) is $850. That compares to $400 for a 500 GB Maxtor Shared Storage Plus NAS drive — or $2.43 versus $0.80 per gigabyte.

So why would you want to invest in a Rev drive? First, it's an all-in-one solution. You can use the same technology for both onsite and offsite backups and archives. Secon, it's very fast compared to tape and even NAS — even, as we'll see, when backing up over the network.

Iomega Rev 70
Iomega's Rev 70 doubles the capacity of its previous cartridges and offers a simple, all-in-one solution for onsite and offsite data backups and archiving.

Easy Set-Up
Our experience with the product was virtually problem free. Set-up is very simple, although the procedure is not quite standard. You install the software and then turn the computer off, plug in the drive using the USB cable and turn on the drive, then reboot. Our only complaint is that it commandeered a drive letter that was already in use by another external drive — and changing the drive letter on that drive would have caused some applications to malfunction. This is not a hard problem to solve, however.

We already have Retrospect running on our system. It's bundled with hard drive products from other vendors, including Western Digital. Retrospect offers all the capability and flexibility most small businesses will want or need in a backup program.

It lets you set up conventional Backups that create compressed files that require you to use the Recover functions to reinstate them. Or you can create Duplicates, copies of entire folders or volumes that retain their native file structure — which means you can access files at any time without going through a Recover process. Retrospect also offers sophisticated scripting capabilities so you can schedule automatic backups.

The Iomega product appears to work flawlessly with Retrospect. Some other hard drive products we've tried generate errors in Retrospect when running scripted Duplicate actions and cause the program to continually recopy unchanged files every time the script runs. That problem did not arise with the Rev drive.

Impressive Performance
On paper, the Rev drive doesn't offer quite as good performance as a standard USB 2.0 hard drive. The spindle speed in revolutions per minute, an often-used base measure of performance capability, is only 4,200 rpm, compared to 7,200 rpm for most hard drives. A typical sustained transfer rate for a USB 2.0 hard drive — the speed at which you can copy or write files to or from the disk — is 33 megabytes per second MBps. The maximum transfer rate for the Rev drive is given as 30 MBps.

But in our not-very-scientific tests, the Rev drive performed impressively. we tested transfer speeds by measuring the time it took to transfer the same large (550 MB) file in a couple of different situations. It took 30 seconds to copy it from the hard drive on our main PC to the Rev drive and one minute and 45 seconds to copy the same file from the PC hard drive to a Western Digital WD NetCenter network drive attached to a network router. This shows the advantage of backing up to a directly connected drive versus a network drive — it's much faster.

The surprising result was that when we copied the same file from the network drive back to the Rev drive — simulating backing up from another computer on the network to the Rev drive — it took only one minute and 24 seconds. So clearly you won't pay any speed penalty if you use this product to back up other computers over the network. The other disadvantages versus network hard drives — that the Rev host computer must be on and that remote backups could impact performance on the host — still apply.

Bottom Line
If you're looking for a simple, all-in-one solution to both onsite and offsite backups and archiving, the Rev drive makes good sense. If you already have onsite backup and are only looking at Rev as an alternative to tape for offsite, it certainly outperforms tape, but you will pay a sizeable premium.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s. Just for fun, he also authors features and columns on digital photography for Here's How, a spiffy Canadian consumer technology magazine.

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This article was originally published on September 28, 2006
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