Nisa Retail opts for backup appliance for rapid disaster recovery

Nisa Retail ditches tape-based servers-in-a-van disaster recovery with Quorum backup and high availability mirroring between sites

Distributor Nisa Retail has revamped its disaster recovery plan from a tapes and server rebuild setup with restore times measured in days. It now has disaster recovery and high availability (HA) using Quorum backup appliances that can get the company up and running in hours.

Member-owned Nisa Retail represents 2,500 shops across the UK and pools the purchasing power of its members to cut supplier costs to retailers. It has 280 staff at its head offices in Scunthorpe as well as depot and office sites throughout the UK.

Scunthorpe is also the location of its two main datacentres, which run its key systems – Microsoft Active Directory, Exchange and file and print on eight physical hosts with around 35 VMware virtual machines. It also outsources key Oracle retail systems to Attenda and warehousing systems to Blue Chip.

The disaster recovery upgrade came about when the company examined all its business and IT business continuity systems in 2013.

Nisa Retail’s existing disaster recovery provision was not up to the job, said infrastructure manager Darren Scarrett.

“We had traditional disaster recovery arrangements in place that involved vans with servers in them and rebuilds from backup tapes. The process took too long. We are totally reliant on our IT systems and the existing process would mean we’d be down for several days. In all honesty it was not fit for purpose.”

Disaster recovery specifications

Scarrett’s team consulted with the business and developed requirements for recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs) of around four hours to cover all its IT systems at Scunthorpe.

After investigating some other options Nisa Retail opted to deploy OnQ disk-based backup appliances from Quorum, one at its main Scunthorpe site and one at a secondary site in Rotherham, about 40 miles away. It also deployed a Quorum OnQ Archive Vault appliance for longer-term retention.

The Quorum OnQ backup appliance at Scunthorpe backs up data to its on-board disk, which is around 20TB capacity and has enough space for around 60 days' retention. This is mirrored via high availability to the Rotherham site.

The Archive Vault appliance takes data after the 60-day period and also has 20TB of capacity, which, says Scarrett is enough – with data deduplication – for about a year of data and has plenty to spare at the time of writing.

Cloud option

Quorum also offers the ability to send data to its cloud, but Nisa Retail has not gone down this route.

“We’re not averse to the cloud,” said Scarrett. “We use Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services for Office 365 and our CRM and helpdesk systems, but it’s not something we’ve looked at for disaster recovery yet.”

The benefits of the Quorum setup for Scarrett are simplicity of use and peace of mind. “Disaster recovery and HA are easy to use, simple to restore from and we have confidence it will just work. It’s easy to make disaster recovery over-complicated, but there’s enough to worry about if you have to invoke the disaster recovery plan.”

Restore times for most data is now about four hours. That’s a reduction from timescales of days with the existing setup.

Backup appliances merge pre-configured disk hardware and backup applications and are easier to deploy and maintain than traditional backup applications on in-house hardware. Backup appliances have become increasingly popular with smaller organisations and for branch office use. 

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