Police force recruits CommVault for centralised backup

Devon & Cornwall Police found its previous backup supplier guilty of poor support and licencing chaos when its backup system became unreliable and time-consuming to manage.

Devon & Cornwall Police has resolved a chaotic backup situation by booting out its existing backup supplier and implementing the Simpana suite of backup and archiving products from CommVault.

The police force, which has 6,500 users at 184 sites and covers an area in which the 1.5 million population swells to 8 million in summer, had suffered serious problems with the reliability of its backup system. It was using two different products from its backup supplier and many different versions and support teams at the force were spending about 40% of their time on backup issues.

Waite declined to name that backup product supplier but did say that the company seemed more interested in selling him anti-virus products when he called for support with the backup product.

Waite declined to name the existing backup product supplier but said it seemed more interested in selling him anti-virus products when he made support calls.
The final straw came earlier this year when the supplier twice lost Devon & Cornwall's licences, said Malcolm Waite, technical consultant, Devon & Cornwall Police. "They said, 'We won't let you have the licence information unless you can prove to us that you have them', which was, of course, impossible, because they had all the records," Waite said. "We were in a Catch-22 situation and I spent about two months of the past year trying to sort this out."

"[The backup software] also failed continually," Waite added. "It was unreliable and all our backup was a mess. It was at that point that we resolved to change our backup product vendor."

The catalyst for change came in July 2007 when Devon & Cornwall decided to move to Microsoft Exchange 2007 and implement an archving system. The existing backup product didn't support that version of Exchange.

The police force chose its new backup product from a short list of EMC/Legato (which is widely used among UK police forces) and CommVault. Both products covered backup and archiving and were easily scalable.

But Waite found that the EMC/Legato product demonstrated a legacy of being two separate products. "Backup and archiving were not linked well in the product and we also found the interface clunky," he said. "We expected support to be better than the product we had been using but decided overall there would be no advantage to going with EMC/Legato."

Waite was impressed by Simpana's single interface and its Google-type search facility. Also, Simpana came with many recommendations from Waite's peers. "Commvault was the only backup supplier we'd heard people say nice things about," he said.

After a site visit to civil engineering firm Halcrow, based in Swindon, Waite opted for the CommVault product.

The first phase of the project comprised the design of the backup system and installing CommVault servers for the central backup system, which was completed in March 2008. Remote sites were scheduled to be linked up to the centralised backup infrastructure this autumn.

The benefits, said Waite, are that the force now has a single system for archiving and backup and it can scale it out without a major hardware investment. Furthermore, "support is excellent," he said. "The first calls we have had to make have resulted in fixes in the same day."

Are there any downsides to Simpana? "Licencing again," said Waite. "It's logical but it is very complex. You just have to realise what you're getting into and spend time getting to grips with it."

The force opted to continue to back up to tape. Why did Waite not consider disk? "It was too big a step for the time being," he said. "We didn't have the budget and we are not sure the WAN would cope with replication, but we are planning to look at moving to disk-based backup when we are ready," he said.

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