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Healthcare trust tackles backup malady with D2D2T

Antony Adshead, UK bureau chief, storage
Wolverhampton Primary Care Trust has implemented a disk-to-disk-to-tape strategy and replaced existing Symantec and Microsoft backup tools with BakBone NetVault: Backup in a move which has seen it slash backup windows and cut backup management time by 90%.

The trust has 2,500 users and runs 75 servers at two main locations delivering clinical data, office applications such as Microsoft Word and a 600 GB Exchange email filestore to more than 90 sites including GP's surgeries and local clinics. It was using Symantec Backup Exec and Microsoft NT Backup to stream data to DLT tape drives at its HQ location.

Backups now fit into the overnight window and when we do full backups over the weekend they're finished by Saturday lunchtime instead of Monday lunchtime.
Mark Parsons
IT server managerWolverhampton PCT
But, towards the end of 2007 the trust was finding it was unable to backup all its data because of growing volumes and regularly faced the prospect of backups not completing at all, said Mark Parsons, IT server manager with Wolverhampton PCT.

"The reason we invested in a new backup product was because of a range of problems with our existing set-up," he said. "Capacity was an issue and we couldn't back up everything. We also had reliability issues with failures on backup jobs and we were exceeding the window with very important jobs, with, for example, Exchange backups running into working hours on Monday morning."

So, the trust's IT team decided to update its data protection strategy to free up staff time, increase tape capacity, improve the backup interval and make the hardware more reliable.

The trust opted to implement Bakbone Netvault Backup in a disk-to-disk-to-tape setup writing to its two 12 TB Nexsan SATABoy SANs which are located – but not fully mirrored between – its two core sites. From here data is eventually streamed off to a Tandberg T40 LTO-3 tape library. The BakBone NetVault: Backup software allows the trust's IT department to manage the entire infrastructure from a single point.

Wolverhampton PCT chose the Bakbone product after also being recommended Symantec Backup Exec by its Dell and HP partners. Parsons said he wasn't swayed by their pitch because he had had issues with Backup Exec previously.

He said, "Dell and HP both recommended Symantec Backup Exec. I had used it in previous jobs and I wasn't convinced it would be good for the size of organisation we have here – I had seen too many niggles and problem, such as reporting jobs as failed when they weren't."

Parsons also said that the trust looked at EMC Networker, and also decided against it on grounds of lack of user-friendliness and reliability.

The key benefits for the trust of moving to disk-to-disk-to-tape and the new backup software have been huge amounts of staff time saved each day, said Parsons.

"The main benefits have been reliability and time saved in managing the system," he said. "Backups now fit into the overnight window and when we do full backups over the weekend they're finished by Saturday lunchtime instead of Monday lunchtime. I now spend 10 to 15 minutes a day dealing with backup issues instead of four hours."

Disk-to-disk-to-tape is a strategy that allows users to shorten backup windows by making use of faster throughput speeds from disk-to-disk than disk-to-tape. Instead of writing to tape, backups go straight to nearline disk - often formatted in ways that emulate tape in a virtual tape library – and are then archived to tape at appropriate times. Benefits include quicker backup and restore times – because they are straight from disk – and potential for decreasing the load on the network and the backup and media servers.

Possible drawbacks to disk-to-disk-to-tape include adding an extra point of potential failure into the system and that the step from disk to tape, if not using the backup software, can add extra complexity. The latter can be the case if, for example, the disk appliance moves data to tape and the backup software has no awareness of the image stored there. It will usually be the case that restore from tape will have to pass through the secondary disk before returning to the production environment. Such issues mean that restores are not always quicker using disk-to-disk-to-tape.

Could Bakbone do better though? Yes, said, Parsons. "The interface is a little clunky and we still haven't got Server 2008 support, but we have been told that is imminent and overall our experience is very positive."


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