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Save Fewer Copies, Cut Storage Needs

Boston University Medical School reduced the storage it needed to protect hundreds of terabytes of data through the use of Actifio's PAS platform.

Dr. John Meyers had a problem with too much data--"big data"--that he needed to manage better, but protect as well. Meyers, an assistant professor and director of technology at Boston University School of Medicine, was faced with protecting hundreds of terabytes of original data stored on Isilon and HP 3PAR storage while reducing his storage needs. He wanted to avoid future storage capacity purchases and still be able to support the School of Medicine's research activities.

Meyers is one of those unique individuals who paired a PhD in pathology with a love for IT. He was a network engineer at Bowdoin College, where he got his undergraduate degree in biochemistry. After joining Boston University, he realized that he wanted to get the university away from tape as a means of data protection, and also reduce the amount of data stored on disk from the university's researchers' genome sequencing applications.

When Meyers was introduced to Actifio and its protection and availability storage platform, he had the same reaction to the radical approach to storage as others probably have had. "The first time I saw it, I thought, 'These guys are on a trip'," said Meyers. "This stuff is never going to work for us."

[ SSDs can make sense in the long run. See Solid State Storage Can Save You Money. ]

Actifio's PAS is based on the concept of reducing the number of copies of data that are produced for databases, snapshots, replication, and disaster recovery. Some analysts estimate that the number of copies are reduced by four to five times though use of the Actifio software-based appliance, which deals out virtual copies of data to applications that need it, without increasing the amount of data stored.

When Meyers met Ash Ashutosh, CEO and founder of Actifio, he decided to give Actifio a second look. "In a research department, we need to be very careful about how we manage copies of data," said Meyers. "We have a tremendous amount of data to manage and we don't want to start replicating copies of data that of themselves are already copies of data."

Meyers needed to protect the original copy of data, not all of the copies produced for different applications. He now protects his storage environment with Actifio PAS, which consists of HP 3PAR Storage Systems and EMC Isilon scale-out NAS.

"I've really come to appreciate it," he said. "Because I'm not a typical IT manager, when I look at a product, I tear it apart." Meyers estimates that by using Actifio's PAS, he will save about $800,000 on future hardware expenditures for backup storage.

For Meyers, Actifio's PAS is implemented on IBM's SAN Volume Controller storage virtualization platform. Actifio PAS also can be run on the IBM System Storage DS3500 Express, IBM Storwize V7000 virtualized storage system, IBM XIV Storage System Gen3 high-end disk storage system, or the IBM SAN Storage Volume Controller storage virtualization appliance, which is powered by the IBM System x server. The PAS system, which can scale from one to eight hardware-based appliances, sits in-line between servers and production storage where it provides both data and deduplication for backup data.

In addition to the savings on storage capacity, Meyers has realized other benefits. "The user interface is just so simple," he said. Using the console, the administrator defines a service level agreement (SLA) for each protected system or application based on data protection requirements and business policies. The PAS captures changed blocks as they occur and stores the captured data on the storage device or devices as defined by the SLA.

Meyers was so impressed with the Actifio PAS, he installed two in his primary data center and one in a remote data center for disaster recovery purposes.

"You have to realize how important backup is and that when you need to get data back, the product needs to work," said Meyers. "We had an issue where we lost a volume during a VMware upgrade. We could restore to the dedicated backup array and then onto the production SAN."

Using Actifio's PAS, Meyers is meeting his goal of protecting hundreds of terabytes of data--without having to protect all the copies, thus dramatically reducing the amount of storage needed. "Depending on the type of data, we are seeing a data reduction of better than 50%," he said.

Deni Connor is founding analyst for Storage Strategies NOW, an industry analyst firm that focuses on storage, virtualization, and servers.

There are no silver bullets when it comes to protecting company and customer data from loss or theft, but there are technological and procedural systems that will go a long way toward preventing a WikiLeaks-like data dump. Download our How To Prevent An Online Data Dump report. (Free registration required.)

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