Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA)

Defense contractor and hotel chain take alternate routes to using less tape

February 10, 2007

6 Min Read
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When planning a backup infrastructure, IT administrators must decide between tape, no tape, virtual tape, or a combination. Fortunately, they have more options that ever.

But more choices mean more planning decisions, and there's no single correct way to go tape-free.

Two case studies show two different approaches. The Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) last year eliminated tape from backup in 22 data centers spread across 14 countries without the help of VTL, CDP, or data de-duplication. (See DCMA Picks CommVault.) Around the same time, Interstate Hotels & Resorts saved money and improved backups with VTL while reducing -- but not eliminating -- its number of tape libraries. (See Sepaton Goes Standard on VTL .)

DCMA: DCMA, which is the contract manager for the U.S. Department of Defense, has about 384 Tbytes of storage on NetApp FAS3020 and FAS6070 systems. DCMA chief of network design Peter Amstutz calls eliminating tape a monumental task,” but not an insurmountable one. "We are now 100 percent tape free," he says.

Amstutz considered VTL but estimates he saved around $250,000 by bypassing it because of his company's setup. "We compared the cost of virtual tape to going direct to disk," he says. "It looked like going direct to disk was less expensive in the long run. We didn't want to carry the baggage, nor did we have our Unix environment tied to tape. We saw virtual tape as a bridging technology, and it didn't look like it would fit for us. We had the luxury of starting from scratch."DCMA uses CommVault Galaxy's Auxiliary Copy with NetApp's SnapMirror replication software to do nightly backups to NetApp R200 disk systems. Amstutz says DCMA copies critical datasets to a secondary volume, which gets replicated offsite.

Besides saving money, Amstutz says he also greatly reduced the time needed for backups.

"We wanted to eliminate tape for a couple of reasons," he says. "We wanted to increase the reliability of backups -- a lot of times tapes couldn’t be read. We wanted to decrease the time it took to backup and restore. We wanted to reduce the labor of handling tapes, changing, shipping them. We also wanted to increase automation and reduce touch point and eliminate human error."

DCMA was backing up 1.5 Tbytes each week and close to 160 Tbytes each month to tape. Amstutz found backups in the contractor's largest data centers in Boston and Carson, Calif., took too long.

"We were running into problems in the two largest data centers," Amstutz says. "We would start Friday at 6 p.m. and sometimes go into Tuesday morning. That would impact production. Now we finish our backup cycle by Saturday afternoon. Right after we deployed, we lost four Exchange servers because of data corruption. We had to do four Exchange restores the same day at four sites, and they were all successful."Another reason for getting rid of tape was that the agency is required to keep contract information online for six years. "Because it was an online requirement, tape wasn’t a fit," Amstutz says. "Our CIO has the attitude about records retention that if you have an archive of data online, it's the equivalent of a warehouse. If you had a record in a warehouse, you wouldn’t make another copy and send it to another warehouse."

Amstutz says he swapped out Symantec's Veritas Backup Exec for CommVault when he scrapped his tape. He also looked at Veritas NetBackup, EMC Legato NetWorker, and CA BrightStor. He says Backup Exec wasn’t up to snuff for the enterprise, while Net Backup was “too enterprise” -- in other words, Unix-centric and complicated. He likes CommVault’s reporting capabilities and single-panel management view, and he was impressed by the amount of NetApp and VMware support on its roadmap. (See Sepaton Goes Standard on VTL .)

“We’re a NetApp shop and we’re moving heavily towards VMware,” he says. “We thought it was a good investment.”

Interstate: Unlike DCMA, Interstate wasn’t starting from scratch when it upgraded its backup infrastructure last year. Interstate took the VTL plunge about three years before when it had a lot less data. At the time it purchased about 4.6 Tbytes of capacity on Sepaton S210 libraries. Network engineer Vesal Tirgari says his company found it less expensive and more efficient to stick with VTLs when it came time to upgrade.

So Interstate bought an enterprise Sepaton S2100-ES2 library with about 10 Tbytes as part of an extensive overhaul. (See Sepaton Goes Standard on VTL .)Interstate spent $130,000 to upgrade its backup infrastructure for more than 200 properties in 40 states as well as Canada and Russia. Besides the Sepaton VTL, upgrades at the chain's Arlington, Va., headquarters included adding four LTO-3 IBM tape drives, licensing four extra ports for its QLogic SANbox 2500 switch, and upgrading its Legato NetWorker backup software license.

Interstate has 15 Tbytes of capacity on Network Appliance FAS3000 filers, and it’s full nightly backups total about 2.89 Tbytes per week. Tirgari figures the upgrade will pay for itself in a few years from the savings on tape and more efficient upgrades. The larger VTL and LTO-3 tapes will let him use half the amount of tape cartridges as before.

"We upgraded because our data requirements had grown considerably in the past two years. The space we had just wasn't cutting it,” Tirgari says. “We copy to disk, then clone from disk to tapes, then send tapes offsite. Our amount of data had grown so much we weren't able to keep three onsite and three offsite. After cloning onto tape, we had to go back in, recycle disks, and get it ready for a full backup job. We needed more capacity.”

Tirgari says he reduced backups on his largest shared filer from 21 hours to about six hours. Using the larger VTL with higher capacity LTO-3 from LTO-1 also helped Interstate meet Sarbanes-Oxley requirements of keeping three weeks of data onsite and three offsite.

"Now we keep four weeks of data onsite and off,” he says. “I only need to prepare four physical tapes for off-site storage, instead of 12 so it saves me a lot of physical space. And we can recover data much faster by having it here at our fingertips.”Although he’s committed to LTO-3 tape for now, Tirgari looks to the day when he can set up disaster recovery without using tape.

"I would like to be tapeless, a lot of organizations are starting to head that way," Tirgari says. "Disk backup reliability has grown with RAID, mirroring, striping, and hot swappable disks.

— Dave Raffo, News Editor, Byte and Switch

  • CA Inc. (NYSE: CA)

  • CommVault Systems Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC)

  • Sepaton Inc.

  • Symantec Corp.

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