Jessica Twentyman reports on how infrastructure consultancy Halcrow took the fast track to bringing vast quantities of complex data under control.
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When a proposed new road or railway is likely to have an impact on the surrounding environment, experts from infrastructure consultancy Halcrow are frequently called in by government organisations, international funding agencies and private companies to assess the extent of that impact and to carry out public consultations, among other tasks.
Such activities create a sprawling mass of documents, reports and data that must be archived and stored for long periods of time across a network of 30 UK offices. Not only that, but the information must be regularly backed up, a process which, until recently, was conducted regularly and separately in each of those offices, says Anand Patel, management information systems (MIS) technology deployment manager at Halcrow.
"As Halcrow has grown, so has both demand for back-up services and the volumes of data involved. That has placed an unmanageable burden on the IT team, creating a situation that, quite frankly, needed to be brought under control - and fast," he says.
Halcrow turned to data storage consultancy S-Store to review its existing data management infrastructure and propose a more cost and time-efficient alternative that would provide an enterprise-level, back-up infrastructure to support future growth.
Consultants from S-Store quickly identified a number of issues that made back-up a challenge for Halcrow. First, says Patel, the existing infrastructure could not provide visibility of all the back-up functions, making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for Halcrow's MIS team to ensure all files had been successfully backed up.
Second, the distributed nature of the existing back-up infrastructure made it impossible to overcome interruptions to the business caused by lengthy back-up windows.
S-Store's solution was to implement an integrated suite of tools from back-up and recovery specialist CommVault. These would handle a range of data management tasks, enabling Halcrow's MIS team to automate and prioritise them from a single interface that gives access to a single, centralised back-up system from any of Halcrow's regional offices.
Patel says that has reduced the complexity of back-ups and generated savings on training and hardware costs because multiple back-up software installations are no longer needed.
The software provides fast, granular back-up and recovery of distributed environments. "Unlike other solutions, CommVault addresses storage resources and data as logical rather than physical resources," says Patel. "Our client data is logically mapped to multiple storage resources, which allows us to transfer back-up media to offsite locations, while maintaining a local copy for fast recovery."
Since the implementation, success rates for back-ups has improved significantly, says Patel, and the IT team is now confident the back-up processes meet business targets for recoverability.
"The CommVault system provides us with a number of automated reports that allow us to get an immediate view on what has been backed up, what still needs backing up and where our priorities lie."
Storage resource management tools provided by CommVault enable the MIS team to monitor and report on application data growth rates so plans can be made to implement new storage systems and improve utilisation rates.
That has led to a considerable increase in productivity among MIS team members, says Patel. "We have eliminated redundant back-ups and can focus our energies on resolving particular issues that could have a notable business impact, for example, where particular files have failed to back up.
"The time we save through quickly eliminating these outstanding back-up problems can then be used on strategic development tasks that contribute to Halcrow's future success."