Northeast Delta Dental

Insurer taps into virtual tape library to save time and money

January 24, 2006

4 Min Read
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For Northeast Delta Dental, migrating to a virtual tape library was as satisfying as a cavity-free checkup.

Concord, N.H.-based Northeast Delta Dental, a branch of the nationwide dental insurance network, manages the medical records of thousands of groups, individuals, and businesses in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Last year, the insurer dumped its legacy server-based DLT tape backup architecture in favor of a Pathlight VX disk-based backup appliance from ADIC, says Dan Kaplan, the companys manager of networking and technical support.

“We had six different tape drives attached to six different servers,” he says. “Our volume of data that we needed to back up daily got too big for that [platform], and we were beginning to run out of space.”

Kaplan also felt the DLT foundation made the company vulnerable. Because Northeast Delta Dental shipped the backed-up tapes to a remote location for archival purposes each day, Kaplan and his IT staff couldn’t quickly restore user data in the event of a system disruption.“I wanted to have something in place that would let us retain the backed-up data on-site,” a capability Pathlight accommodated.

In late 2004, Kaplan began examining alternatives to the DLT foundation. He investigated, and quickly rejected, a SAN-anchored backup strategy from another vendor. “It was too expensive and too complex,” he says. Pathlight, he said, enabled Northeast Delta Dental to corral all of the company’s backup and retrieval requirements into a discrete system that blended the best of what disk- and tape-based backup and retrieval can offer.

The Pathlight VX, introduced in 2004, features a 4.2-Tbyte Clariion ATA RAID from EMC that’s meshed via 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel to an ADIC Scalar Library. Pathlight VX management interface software directs the flow of data from Northeast Delta Dental’s more than 150 users, permitting information slated for tape storage to first be stored on the array before written to the library at a later time.

That so-called virtual tape library approach lets users capitalize on the faster information retrieval performance of disk while retaining the benefits of tape-based backup. Backers maintain the design also eliminates the steps and time associated with conventional backup schemes.

Kaplan says Northeast Delta Dental saw benefits almost immediately after the firm installed the appliance last April.“If there were a quality-of-life ROI, that is how I would measure its impact,” he notes. Backups that used to take nine hours under the old system now take three and a half hours. A 3-Gbyte email database restore, which formerly required 90 minutes, can be accomplished in less than a minute with the Pathlight VX.

“It’s fast, and I really like the fact that I don’t have to manage multiple systems,” Kaplan says, citing the system’s blended backup and restore functions. “It all resides in a single rack and it doesn’t require” assorted maintenance or management oversight.

Equally important, Kaplan has access to the backed up data onsite, thereby permitting fast restores in the event a user loses his or her data.

Each night, Northeast Delta Dental backs up about 450 Gbytes of the 2 Tbytes of data Kaplan oversees. Content ranges from Microsoft Word documents and Lotus Notes email messages to database dumps and scanned claims and images.

As the system writes the data to be stored to the disk array, it’s also sending backup data to one of the 24 200-Gbyte LTO tape cartridges housed in the Scalar library.The next morning, an operator ejects the LTO cartridges used for the backup and sends them offsite to archival storage. He then writes/protects the disk from which the backup flowed. The write/protection remains in force for six days, Kaplan says, ensuring that user data can be quickly restored from the disk if needed.

“Now we have the backup data available here as well as at a remote location."

Kaplan also didn’t make any major modifications to Northeast Delta Dental’s 10/100 Ethernet network outside of adding a gigabit switch to support the appliance. He used Fibre Channel to connect the array with three HP servers running Backup Exec software from Veritas.

Kaplan declined to disclose the cost of installing the Pathway VX, which generally retails in the low $100,000 range, according to ADIC.

Quantifying ROI on backup-and-restore investments is often difficult for users, who instead cite time savings as the most important component -- that, and knowing that data can be quickly retrieved if needed.“Time is the biggest factor. And not worrying if there is a problem,” Kaplan says, adding that Northeast Delta Dental plans to buy a second 4.2-Tbyte array this year to increase the amount of data the company can keep online. “It will give us more flexibility for weekly backups."

— Chuck Moozakis, special to Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Advanced Digital Information Corp. (Nasdaq: ADIC)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Veritas Software Corp.

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