Q & A with Alan Welsh–Columbia Data Products CEO/CTO
Q: Tell us about Columbia Data Products and why SnapBack was developed.
For more than a decade, CDP has provided reliable data protection for servers and PCs in corporate environments, most notably with our OTM and PSM products. Now we have changed focus from the power users to the ordinary, individual PC owners. We took PSM technology and redesigned it to meet the needs of the average consumer, calling it SnapBack.
Q: Why does the average consumer need SnapBack?
According to Gartner and other storage experts, in 2013 over 50% of computer users will experience a significant loss of files and/or loss of use their PC. Why? Because other backup solutions require users to choose, install, configure, and then maintain some backup procedures to ensure they work. Although these solutions work as designed for diligent people, most people are not always diligent when it comes to maintaining their computer software. In the real world, most users won’t do what’s required, so they are vulnerable to loss of their data or their entire system.
Q: If I have SnapBack, what do I actually do to get a file back?
If you’ve had SnapBack installed for a while, SnapBack has all your file history available and it’s easy to access. If you want to retrieve an older version of a file you can open Windows Explorer, navigate to the current version of the file and right click to see all past versions. Or, if the current version no longer exists, you can right click on the folder that once contained it. You can view contents of the folder at previous points in time until you find it.
Q: What doesn’t SnapBack do?
SnapBack takes care of everything except destroyed or missing hardware. Hardware failure is rare with today’s PC’s. Most instances of data loss or system failure are the result of malware, a virus, or seemingly harmless user actions, such as surfing untrusted sites or rebooting during a system update. Since the computer hardware is still functioning properly, the computer can quickly be restored to its previous uncorrupted condition by a simple “System Revert” action. Even if your hard drive won’t complete a reboot, you can usually start SnapBack and recover your system with SnapBack’s revert process. To guard against loss in the unlikely case that your hard drive is completely destroyed or goes missing, we do suggest that you have an occasional true image of your hard drive copied to an external drive.
Q: If SnapBack is relatively new, why should consumers have confidence in its reliability?
SnapBack is a new product that is designed around our PSM snapshot engine which has been perfected and shipped to millions over the past 15 years by most major hardware and software OEMs. PSM was most often used in high-performance servers, so its engine has been “polished and perfected” by the best engineering minds, both at CDP and at our numerous OEMs.
Q: So, what’s added in SnapBack?
In the past 15 years, most all of our snapshot storage products were licensed and became part of other software and hardware OEMs products. CDP’s software engine was largely never seen, buried under other OEM’s user interfaces. CDP decided to build its own interface and design it to work for all types of users in every type of PC or server, not just to enhance a specific OEM’s products. It is designed to be installed on legacy Windows 2000, XP, Windows 2003, Vista, and Windows 7 systems, as well as integrated by our OEMs into their products with the latest operating systems and hardware such as Windows 8.1.
Q: Will CDP be licensing SnapBack through OEMs?
Yes, but first we plan to make SnapBack available to ordinary users so that they can help us perfect it. We plan an extended user/engineer collaboration effort to ensure SnapBack will satisfy all users before an official product release to millions of PCs at once.
Q: Why now? Why hasn’t CDP released SnapBack before now?
CDP’s been busy on other projects and not very visible in the backup/storage arena. However, when Microsoft pulled the “Previous Versions” function of VSS / Shadow Copy out of Windows 8, we saw a huge need that was not being fulfilled. Windows 8’s “File History” is great for those that diligently connect their external drives, but what about the rest of us? Perhaps the reasoning behind their move was to force use of external devices, as if to say those who don’t use them, don’t deserve protection. Plus, a full recovery from an external drive would take many hours or days. We still like the absolute reliability of SnapBack’s automatic backup on the PC itself, so, we decided to perfect SnapBack for the latest operating systems, VSS, and user interfaces.
Many of us have used PSM on XP in PCs for years, using our “full System Revert” feature as well as file recovery from within Windows Explorer. Personally, I’ve rebooted an “unbootable system” using PSM, and reverted to a good snapshot image more than once. It even corrects a corrupt file system during the Revert of any volume, (if the file system is not too messed up and PSM can read its own internal files). Yet, with Microsoft’s “almost good enough” VSS “Shadow Copy” or “Previous Versions” included Windows 7, I thought it difficult to convince an OEM to include PSM on all their laptops. Further, the UI for end-users would have to be totally bullet-proof to ship to millions of users. But, all this changed with Microsoft pulling “Previous Versions” out of Windows 8.
So, we are now in the process of getting SnapBack’s PSM fully compliant with Windows 7, Windows 8, VSS, etc. We will also support the latest servers and file-systems from Microsoft as well. We think Microsoft’s recommendation that users should rely on an external hard drive as a backup falls short. Its File History feature requires an external drive and will not even use the hard drive itself to store that history as an option. Sure, putting File History on an external drive works just fine and adds protection. In fact it’s a good complement to SnapBack. But everyone knows most users, including me, will very often fail to connect that external drive, in which case SnapBack will still save you.
So, we are positioning SnapBack to fill the role of “do nothing, and it will always work” backup. With 1,000 snapshots that can extend back to over a year, it really does fill the role of primary data protection.
Q: How can users get SnapBack now?
We’ll provide more details to you as it makes sense. If you’d like to help us perfect SnapBack, request an invitation to become a charter SnapBack user and receive a fully functioning tested product to use now. (I’d call it a beta, but that gives the wrong impression.) We’re just asking for feedback to help us polish the looks, usability, documentation and installation.