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Southern Co. Seeks Smarter Storage Strategy

The process of backup and recovery was getting downright painful for Southern Co. Here's how the utility solved the problem

The process of backup and recovery was getting downright painful for Southern Co. When an accounting server failed during a month-end close, it took the Atlanta-based utility 30 hours to recover the server's 300 GB of financial data.

"We were seeing our risk increasing with the size of data that had to be backed up," says Roger Park, the company's manager of messaging, server support and enterprise storage.

Much of what Southern had been diligently backing up nightly was outdated or extraneous data, such as casual e-mail messages. The company, which produces about 30,000 megawatts of power for more than 4 million customers in the Southeast, has seen an explosion in data-storage requirements as its business has become more automated and has expanded into new areas, such as gas power. The Windows NT data alone grew from 27 TB to 50 TB in the past year and a half, some of which came from Microsoft Exchange data that its users had moved to Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders on the company's SANs (storage-area networks).

So archiving has become the new mantra at Southern. The utility is now test-running an archival strategy based on Veritas Software Corp.'s Storage Migrator. Until now, Southern has archived its data by storing manual information on spreadsheets, for example, on an IT staffer's C:/ drive. But by instead aging off its data to archived tape, the utility expects to save 40 percent of its storage capacity.

"By simply archiving data that's used less frequently, we expect the backup-and-restore process to speed up by a factor of six," says Gail Commer, manager of enterprise storage at Southern. Backup has been a hot button at the highest levels of the organization for some time (see "The Hard Sell," below), and the archiving strategy was a natural next step.

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