Storage

Veritas NetBackup's roots: A brief history of the software

Veritas Technologies' popular NetBackup software is about to see version 8, and now its prehistory has become clear.

Image: iStock/gmac84

Veritas Technologies will release version 8 of its flagship NetBackup software later this year, but the program's roots go back almost 30 years, starting with a problem at a Chrysler data center and being developed by mainframe experts at the now defunct Control Data Corporation.

That part has long been public knowledge — Veritas mentioned it in a blog in 2009, and Wikipedia also documents it. Ex-Chrysler and Control Data employees recently shared the rest of the story.

"My recollection is a bit foggy... I think that we had lost some critical CAD files, we couldn't find or restore them, and the engineers had to recreate them," explained John Lisiecki, who was a systems analyst and team leader in the mainframe group. The computers from Control Data were rebadged Silicon Graphics 920-series workstations connected to external drives using disk packs.

(For younger readers: Disk packs were removable storage devices holding a few hundred megabytes. They were circular, about a foot wide, several inches tall, and weighed several pounds. Drives were the size of dishwashers. The concept of backup meant copying the whole pack onto another one, or at best copying the data onto magnetic tape.)

SEE: Data backups: The smart person's guide

"We needed something more reliable than those disk packs, and we needed a system that could retrieve and reload the files relatively quickly. I remember the users were asking for a system with a user interface that would allow them to restore files without manual operator intervention," Lisiecki said.

So, in 1988, the team checked in with Control Data along with Silicon Graphics (now Rackable Systems), IBM, and Digital Equipment Corp. (now part of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise).

Control Data got the contract and developed a program called Automated Workstation Backup System, generally called AWBUS by the employees. "I was the inventor, designer, and project lead," said Rosemary Bayer, a Control Data programmer. "Never let an engineer name your products!," she joked.

"I volunteered to help figure out how to use and support the newfangled things called engineering workstations, running this weird OS called Unix. We had sold 250 of them to Chrysler and no one had the foggiest idea of how they worked or how to support them," Bayer continued. "After a few months of hauling extra disk packs around on hand carts and making copies of engineers' disks and hauling them back to the data center as backups, I was determined to stop the backaches and find another way to solve the problem... We had sent out an RFP and didn't get anything useful back, so we decided to try to build it for Chrysler. It took me 4 or 6 months to convince Control Data to let us build it — we were just a field office in Detroit."

Chrysler assigned several more engineers to the project. It took about six months to develop, with the backups residing on a tape jukebox. AWBUS worked well enough.

"We installed the hardware in June 1990, tested in July, and put it into production in August. As with any system there were a few updates that were needed, and by November we had already upgraded to version 1.5," Lisiecki added. "I remember the system worked as expected, and we continued to add on to the hardware to increase the backup capacity," he said.

Control Data sold the product, at that point called BackUp Plus, to OpenVision in 1993. Veritas acquired it in 1997, leading to the modern name NetBackup. It's currently in version 7.7. Veritas product management director Simon Jelley said his team is already thinking beyond the upcoming version 8.0 with plans for web services integration.

As for the original developers, Lisiecki moved to another division at Chrysler, Bayer went to work for Amdahl, and they did more than stay in touch — they got married. To their knowledge, Chrysler still uses NetBackup.

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About Evan Koblentz

Evan Koblentz began covering enterprise IT news during the dot-com boom times of the late 1990s. He recently published a book, "Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers". He is director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 50...

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