University CDP's Laptop Legion

University officials roll out CDP to protect laptop data after hard drive snafu

April 15, 2006

4 Min Read
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The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) has shaved more than $200,000 off its hardware maintenance and help-desk costs by deploying continuous data protection (CDP) software to back up critical data from its 700 desktops and laptops.

The Fort Belvoir, Va.-based DAU trains Department of Defense personnel to negotiate their way through the minefield of vendor relations. But, ironically, the University's CDP overhaul was prompted by some underperforming kit of its own.

DAU network security engineer Dwight Simmons tells Byte and Switch that problems with a batch of laptops bought in 2003 and 2004 highlighted the need for a new backup strategy. Over half of the 85 laptops developed hard-drive problems, each costing up to $4,500 to fix and recover users' data, he explains.

"Our budget could not continue on like that," says Simmons, who would not reveal the identity of the laptop vendor. "That's why we looked at getting the CDP -- it was definitely cost effective."

The new laptops, apparently, were no respecters of rank. "The colonel who actually came up with the idea for the project lost his hard drive three times."Prior to deploying CDP, the University relied on staff being sufficiently conscientious to save their data to central servers. "Before, we would plead with the customers to save their data to the server -- but getting the users to back up regularly can be hard."

In late 2004, DAU officials opted for Storactive's LiveBackup software in an attempt to get around this problem. The software, which is now owned by Atempo, is currently deployed on the University's 350 laptops and 350 desktops. (See Atempo Swallows Storactive.) These devices, according to Simmons, are automatically backed up to an 8-Tbyte NAS storage device from NetApp.

Simmons isn't saying who else was in the frame, although he says there were two other potential partners for the deal. A number of vendors are currently offering CDP technology, including Revivio and Mendocino, which has an OEM deal with EMC. (See EMC Pulls Forward With Backup.) But Revivio and Mendocino focus more on backing up entire applications, such as email and databases. LiveBackup is aimed at PC devices.

Another vendor targeting specific devices is IBM, which launched a laptop product last year, while startup Lasso Logic, now part of SonicWall, is also playing in this space. (See IBM Hops CDP Bus, SonicWall Intros CDP, and SonicWall Lassos enKoo.)

"We're really not concerned about a name, were only concerned about the support," says Simmons, adding that LiveBackup was chosen largely for its unobtrusive nature. "Our end users don't even know it's there until we tell them."But Mike Fisch, director of storage and networking at The Clipper Group analysis firm, warns other users to take a cautious approach to CDP deployments. "There are a number of players, and the technology is in the early stages of adoption –- always take a little more research and a closer look to figure it out," he says.

For the DAU, this meant three full months of testing before rolling out LiveBackup software agents on laptops and desktops via Microsoft's Systems Management Server. These agents transfer document data back to the NetApp device using LZRW4 compression. "Each end user's data is being continually backed up," says Simmons, with the NAS currently storing 2.6 Tbytes of laptop and desktop data.

DAU officials spent around $175,000 on the LiveBackup software and the NetApp hardware, although Simmons notes that he recouped this sum within five months. This was by avoiding the costly implications of hard-drive crashes, as well as reducing calls to his IT helpdesk.

At Fort Belvoir, according to DAU officials, there are also ongoing savings, with the yearly help-desk costs for each PC slashed from $600 to $100, and the cost per incident for lost files falling from $9 to 90 cents.

The next stage for the University will be to encrypt laptop data, according to Simmons. "We're talking about sensitive data. We have had a couple of vendors conference call with us, and we're at the beginning stages of taking a look at the project."— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Atempo Inc.

  • The Clipper Group Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Lasso Logic

  • Mendocino Software

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Revivio Inc.

  • SonicWall Inc. (Nasdaq: SNWL)

  • Storactive Inc.

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