A Hands-Off Approach
Striking just before a distant third data center came online, a significant data recovery failure stung the sprawling Crystal Springs Resort complex in Vernon, N.J.
“The recovery challenge demonstrated our data protection strategy was antiquated and lacked capacity,” recalls David Lawrence, IT director for the four-season mountainside getaway. “We were only backing up our most critical data and user files regularly.”
Complicating matters for the two-person IT team was its reliance on nontechnical personnel to initiate nightly backups. “If something didn’t work according to the written procedure, then the backup just wouldn’t occur,” Lawrence says.
Crystal Springs needed to improve its backup reliability and consistency without adding overhead. The answer: automating backup-tape handling with an autoloader.
“Although the epitaph for backup tape has been sung for several decades, it still shines for safeguarding information from natural or man-made disasters,” says Robert Amatruda, research director for data protection and recovery at IDC. “I can’t emphasize enough that innovations in tape automation and management are still occurring.”
In short, automating tape backups makes sense. Performing unattended backups using an autoloader means less human intervention, which reduces the likelihood of a failure, Amatruda points out. “Plus, you have more capacity, which means more terabytes for less money.”
For Crystal Springs, the impending completion of its new data center added urgency to the late-2008 security refresh. The resort was fast-tracking its data protection project, so it was important to stay on familiar ground with respect to backup software, says Lawrence. As Symantec Backup Exec users, they wanted a compatible tape automation device from an industry-leading manufacturer.
Another consideration was tape technology. Lawrence says the company looked at LTO (Linear Tape-Open)-4 for its speed, but settled on LTO-3 because it couldn’t justify the added cost.
With software and tape specs set, hardware evaluation followed. Crystal Springs chose the Quantum SuperLoader 3 because an eight-tape magazine holds up to 6.4TB of compressed backups; plus, the solution permits adding a second 6.4TB magazine in the future.
During the backup-technology planning and selection process, file server insufficiencies also surfaced. Ultimately, the company purchased three new 2TB file servers, one for each data center, then developed a strategy for replicating the data using Microsoft’s Distributed File System.
The actual implementation began in October. A SuperLoader was placed behind each of the three file servers to manage backups. Although the autoloader installation went smoothly, complications with other system components stretched the overall deployment into mid-January 2009.
Once completed, data security enhancements proved phenomenal. “Since we’ve removed the manual tape changes, backups don’t fail,” says Lawrence. “And, with the Quantum devices automatically performing a six-day tape rotation, we’re fully backing up each server, daily.”
The worldwide market for midrange tape automation in 2009
“Now, we can recover data from days, months, quarters or years ago,” Lawrence continues. “Plus, we can recover from a catastrophic loss in our primary systems with little or no data loss. Such a comprehensive and redundant strategy would have been impossible without automating the tape backups.”
A Better Way
At its lone data center, advertising firm Results Unlimited stores piles of data in the form of digital video footage. Until recently, even minimally safeguarding data at the marketing and video production house consumed an entire day every week.
“On Fridays, I would transfer client files onto 250-gigabyte external hard drives or, for smaller projects, DVDs,” explains Joel Dennis, a video editor and photographer who doubles as the Minot, N.D., firm’s one-man IT department. “Then, I would take them offsite.”
As the February 2009 transition to high definition drew near, the prospect of client files overwhelming existing backup processes loomed. “We anticipated needing up to a terabyte of storage per client for high definition,” says Dennis, a self-taught IT administrator. “Prior to HD, it was 5GB to 10GB.”
After inserting a connectivity card into the server, Dennis installed Tandberg’s eight-tape expandable autoloader and its accompanying backup management software, EMC Retrospect.
Today, a keystroke protects data, freeing the ad-hoc IT tech to focus on his primary job. “Before, we would delay performing a full backup,” Dennis says. “Now, I click on the backup icon and walk away.”
Will tape-based solutions continue to play a role in your data backup, recovery and archiving strategies for the foreseeable future?
42% Yes, a significant role
30% Yes, to some degree
14% We do not use tape-based solutions
13% No, not at this time
1% Don’t know
SOURCE: CDW poll of 456 BizTech readers
Redundancy has also been achieved. “It’s such a simple system that I’ve taught another nontechnical individual to perform both incremental and complete backups,” Dennis adds. “With Retrospect executing the scripts I’ve written and the StorageLoader managing the tapes, my stand-in just hits ‘go.’”
Already a tape automation convert, 3C InfoCorp was forced to refresh in 2009 when its reliable but aging LTO-2 autoloader finally wore out.
The company was completing daily full-system backups of about 800GB, explains Ben Ongoco, senior network architect. But Ongoco projected that the company’s eight-fold data growth rate would continue, so it needed more capacity and better performance for the future.
The Houston-based IT and business solutions provider evaluated LTO-3 and LTO-4 tape automation devices from various manufacturers and settled on the new LTO-4 NEO 200s by Overland Storage.
The NEO was compatible with 3C InfoCorp’s software, Symantec Backup Exec, which meant no disruption to existing processes, Ongoco says. Most important, the company’s positive track record with Overland for quality, service and support led the company to continue its existing relationship.
To sell the LTO-4 device to executive management, 3C’s nine-person IT staff posed a simple question: How much is our data worth? “We helped management understand the cost of downtime and the benefits of the NEO, including the ability to expand beyond the compressed 19.2TB,” Ongoco explains.
With the NEO 200s installed, daily backups dropped from eight hours to six, and tape consumption plummeted from four to one. “We do expect to exceed one tape per day late in 2010,” Ongoco asserts. “Effectively, this will only accelerate the cost effectiveness of adopting a next-generation device.”
Five Tape Automation Tips
To maximize the benefits of today’s robust and mature autoloaders, balance the following:
- Technology. Evaluate capacity, expandability and data transfer speed capabilities with a goal of keeping future full-system backups to less than 24 hours. Expect feature-rich and user-friendly backup software bundled with your device.
- Integration. Choose the solution that drops into your existing infrastructure the most seamlessly.
- Service. While autoloaders generally run trouble-free, minimize potential downtime with an onsite service contract or equipment exchange program. For distant locations, consider a maintenance agreement to ensure tapes are properly swapped out and stored offsite.
- Support. Because backup software typically requires more support than hardware, choose support options that match your organization’s IT expertise.
- Total Cost of Ownership. Get the best fit for your organization by calculating ongoing expenses, including backup tapes, support contracts and software updates.