Tape Backup Put to the Test

National Instruments saves by consolidating tape technologies into an LTO-2 library

February 22, 2006

3 Min Read
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Test equipment company National Instruments has shaved more than $100,000 a year off its tape and IT staffing costs, thanks to a major overhaul of the backup and recovery systems at its headquarters in Austin, Texas.

Jeff Mery, National Instruments data center and enterprise storage manager, explained that rapid data growth forced the firm to rethink its backup strategy. The company, which does technology testing for the likes of Microsoft and Nokia, backs up 30 Tbytes of data a week, a figure that's on the rise. A recent upgrade from Oracle 10.7 to 11i, for example, accounts for a 40 percent hike in the data volumes.

In the past, National Instruments relied on a complex mix of tape technologies from a range of vendors while struggling to cope with the firm’s growth. These included StorageTek’s L180 library with 9840A drives, a Qualstar 46120 library with AIT-2 drives, and two Overland LibraryPro Libraries, also using AIT-2 drives.

For Mery, this technology mix was a constant source of concern. “The multi-vendor, multi-tape environment is increasingly complicated to manage,” he says, adding that the libraries were often pushed to their capacity limits. “Imagine every Christmas, you or one of your employees having to come in and actually add tapes or pull tapes out of libraries. It’s not too much fun.”

About two years ago, National Instruments decided to begin overhauling its tape infrastructure. The firm looked at tape technologies from a number of vendors, including StorageTek and Qualstar, before eventually opting for Overland’s NEO 8000 box with LTO-2 drives.According to Mery, LTO-2 offered up to 10 times the capacity of the 20-Gbyte 9840A drives, and the technology was cheaper than both the 9840A and the AIT-2 drives. Flexibility was also a factor. “The important thing for us was that (the NEO 8000) can grow. We can expand this by 2X the capacity by tacking another chassis onto the side of it.”

National Instruments started to phase in the NEO 8000 in 2004, gradually replacing the StorageTek L180, the Qualstar 46120, and the two existing Overland LibraryPro devices. But this process was not without its problems. Mery and his team attempted to remove a Sun backup server from their data center as part of the consolidation effort, but this actually slowed backup times, prompting the firm to put it back into service.

Nonetheless, by standardizing on LTO-2 drives, and throwing in some Legato Networker backup software, Mery has been able to cut the number of tapes he uses. “The fewer tapes, the less prone to errors we are,” he explains. On a typical Friday prior to the overhaul National Instruments handled up to 470 tapes, while it's now down to 75.

The exec hopes for some significant cost savings, and estimates that LTO-2 will prove to be around $250,000 cheaper than the 9840A and AIT-2 drives over five years. He also expects to save another $250,000 in personnel and maintenance costs. “We were getting pretty close to having to hire someone to come in and help us rotate tapes -- that’s something that we eliminated.”

Although Mery did not reveal how much he paid for the Overland NEO 8000 and two new REO 4000 boxes to backup National Instrument’s Domino email system, he claims that the investment paid for itself within 14 months of deployment.The exec also says that the system overhaul has improved National Instrument’s backup times. Email backup windows have been slashed from 9.5 hours to around two hours and ERP backups have been cut from 7.5 hours to just five hours.

But, for Mery, one of the biggest benefits of the new system is that his backup guy is much happier. “Our tapes don’t have to be rotated over a long weekend so he gets to spend time out and enjoy long holiday weekends with his family,” he beams.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • EMC Legato

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)

  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)

  • Overland Storage Inc. (Nasdaq: OVRL)

  • Qualstar Corp. (Nasdaq: QBAK)

  • Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek)

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