Healthcare Ad Firm Prescribes VTL for Backups

Grey Healthcare Group decided to move to a virtual tape library when the time to restore important data stretched to three or four days

March 7, 2009

4 Min Read
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Grey Healthcare Group has carved out a successful niche in the highly competitive advertising industry by maintaining a sharp focus. When the company experienced trouble with its tape backup system, it decided to find an alternative approach. That decision lead to deployment of a virtual tape library.

Grey Healthcare Group develops multi-channel advertising campaigns for pharmaceutical companies. The advertising firm's programs integrate consumer and professional advertising, branding, medical education, search optimization, and managed care strategies. The company, which operates on five continents, has about 500 employees, including a handful of sites in the U.S. Its client list includes Essilor, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer.

Because the advertising firm had been growing, the increase was straining its Dell tape system, which maintained 8 TB of information. Grey Healthcare Group works with a lot of complex video and animation files, so the company understood that it needed to double the size of its backup storage system.

While the growth in the business was welcome, the changing storage requirements were causing problems. The company had staggered its backup times, so all of its data was copied weekly. As the time needed to complete the different backups grew, it became more difficult to finish the work within the various backup time windows.

There were also problems whenever the company had to recover data. "The time needed to recovery important data was increasing from three to four days," says IT director Chris Watkis.In addition, the tape system was proving to be unreliable at times. "We were having problems with the system regularly breaking down, which increased our volume of service and repair calls," he says.

After deciding to double its backup storage capacity, the firm decided to evaluate a variety of options. "We were thinking of hard disk infrastructure because we wanted to focus more on managing our data and not physical hardware," Watkis says. A VTL offered the company the ability to shorten its backup and recovery times. So in the middle of 2007, the company began looking for one and sent RFPs to three companies: FalconStor, DataDomain, and NEC.

Grey Healthcare Group was concerned with each vendor's VTL expertise and customer service. Another factor in the decision was the VTL's ability to be integrated with the advertising firm's storage infrastructure, a SAN from Virtuent, and its Dell systems. The advertising company decided to go with FalconStor because its software and configuration was compatible with its data infrastructure.

Grey Healthcare Group had to make sure that the system could be installed quickly. The company was concerned that increasing time constraints for backup and recovery were putting the business at risk. The firm was not certain it could complete its backups on time and was leery about the quality of the tape restorations.

The advertising company ran a demo of the FalconStor system in the fall of 2008. Once it worked, they decided to deploy it. The implementation, which took about a week, ran into few minor glitches. Grey Healthcare Group had been working with LTO 4 tapes, but the VTL was designed to support only LTO 3. After some minor modifications, that flaw was fixed. Initially, the FalconStor system's reporting capabilities were a bit quirky, but the vendor made some improvements to the system.While the implementation issues with the Falconstor product were minor, the cost of the product was major -- more than $100,000. But Grey Healthcare Group could justify the expense because it determined that it was spending about $100,000 annually buying and managing backup tapes. Moving to a VTL would reduce that number to $20,000, so the payback seemed quite quick.

In addition, the new system increased backup reliability. In some cases, the information on the tapes was not recoverable. VTLs are more reliable than tape backup systems, so reliability is much less of an issue.

The FalconStor system supports data de-duplication, a feature that has proven beneficial. This new capability enables Grey Healthcare Group to determine not only which files are backed up, but also when each backup takes place. Consequently, the company is better able to determine when to migrate or remove files from its system.

Now that Grey Healthcare Group has addressed its storage problems, Watkis says the company can once again focus more on its value-added business applications rather than worrying about whether or not it will meet its backup windows.

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