Sepaton Backs Up Bank

Sovereign Bank goes with virtual tape library system from startup Sepaton

June 21, 2004

4 Min Read
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Sovereign Bank (NYSE: SOV) is one of those aggressive banks that keeps growing through acquisitions, picking up three banks in the last year alone.

All that gobbling taxed its tape backup capacity, leading corporate networking operations manager Joe Ambrosino to get more aggressive about backups. Sovereign has about 530 branch offices throughout the Northeast, with data centers in Dorchester, Mass.; E. Providence, R.I.; and at corporate headquarters in Wyomissing, Pa. Around 150 of the offices joined Sovereign since October 2002.

Ambrosinos is a Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) shop with an Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA 5000) SAN. Late last year, he found his HP MSL 5026 tape libraries and DLT 8000 drives weren’t fast enough to handle the extra load. That led him to install a virtual tape library, but only after exploring other options.

“Tape duplication was a problem with the DLT 800s – they were really struggling,” Ambrosino says. “Our goal is to get tape offsite on the same business day. We need the [offsite vaulting company] Iron Mountain guy carrying them out the same day.”

Last November Ambrosino looked at ways he could improve backup speed. He considered faster LTO tape libraries, but they would not work with his DLT tape and he didn’t want to scrap his existing libraries. He thought about using his Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) NetBackup software to back up to disk, but was skeptical about the ability of software-based disk backup to shorten his backup windows.So he looked into virtual tape. Virtual tape libraries are disk-based systems that emulate tape libraries, but are faster. They also can write duplicate backups to tape for archiving.

There weren’t many tape emulation products around at the time. Ambrosino considered Quantum Corp.'s (NYSE: DSS) DX series, and offerings from startups Alacritus Software Inc.

and Sepaton Inc. “The Quantum DX product was around longer, but it didn’t seem like the flagship product for them,” Ambrosino says. “They were vague about their roadmap.”

He eliminated Alacritis with alacrity when he realized it doesn’t provide disk, because he feared getting caught between the software company and disk array vendor if he encountered problems.

Sepaton, which was just starting to ship its S2100 virtual tape library system, turned out to be the answer (see Sepaton's Virtual Tape a Reality and Sepaton's Got Virtual Tape).

“They’re a small company, and number of units sold was a concern,” Ambrosino says. “To be honest, we’re not dealing with HP here. But they were extremely aggressive about our concerns during beta testing. We beat the daylights out of the system, and they responded with new codes immediately for any problems we found.”Ambrosino says he got the desired result from Sepaton. The system was easy to set up, decreased his backup window, and made it easier to restore data recently backed up, because it was still onsite.

“To do restores before, we had to find the media, which meant sending somebody to retrieve it from the safe and all the happy stuff that goes with that. Now we back up to a virtual library and keep two weeks of virtual tape on hand. If a customer wants data restored from the past two weeks, I don’t have to jiggle any media.”

After buying the evaluation unit, Ambrosino added a Sepaton appliance in March and another in May. Each system includes an Apple Computer Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) XServer RAID array. “We have Sepaton everywhere we have NetBackup,” he says. “We have 40 raw TBytes in a virtual tape library.”

Ambrosino says he does full backups to tape beginning Saturday night, and the tapes are waiting for Iron Mountain to show up Monday morning.

As a bonus, Ambrosini found that Sepaton – “no tapes” spelled backwards – actually enhanced the performance of his epat seirarbil.“The consolation prize was I was able to keep the tape libraries I was looking to roll off. It diminished the overall criticality of getting rid of the older tape drive. The tape drives are much better behaved now, with a much smoother write. We’ve reduced their load, because we back up to disk first and the libraries only write duplicates.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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