Australia’s Fenner Dunlop ditches tape backups for cloud

Australian manufacturer of conveyor belts Fenner Dunlop has freed up its IT staff to focus on future projects by moving tape backups to the cloud

Melbourne-based Fenner Dunlop, part of the Michelin Group, manufactures and services conveyor belts used in mines. It operates three round-the-clock manufacturing lines and 27 sites around the country where service personnel are based, ready to fly in and out to service equipment as required.

Any interruption to the information systems that support these teams has a ripple effect on Australia’s mining sector. For Sammy Jammal, the company’s national IT manager, getting backup and disaster recovery (DR) right were front of mind when he stepped into the role.

“As a company, everything we do is supported by information systems – manufacturing, technical support, installation, maintenance, diagnostics services, you name it,” Jammal told Computer Weekly.

“If the system is down for even 10 minutes, the whole operation would come to a halt. This not only has financial implications but is detrimental to our brand reputation and diminishes our customers’ confidence.

“As an IT team, we want to leverage technology that can help optimise our processes, allowing us to focus on enabling our users and thereby benefiting our customers.”

A 13-year veteran of the company, Jammal knew exactly where the weak spot was because he had overseen backups for many year, often spending two or three hours a day backing up data to tapes, sending the tapes offsite for safe storage, and ensuring the company’s DR site was ready if required.

After he was appointed to the top IT job at Fenner Dunlop two years ago, Jammal made modernising its backup and DR processes a priority – by moving to a cloud-based backup and recovery platform, his IT team has clawed back 91 days of productivity a year.

Gartner’s most recent report on backup and recovery suggests Jammal won’t be alone in taking on this sort of transformation. It predicts that 40% of organisations will replace the system they had at the beginning of 2018 by 2022, as IT leaders seek simpler, cheaper and more agile backup and recovery options.

At Fenner Dunlop, Jammal has a team of six IT staff who provide the information systems for almost 1,000 employees across 30 locations. It runs Epicor as its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, Kronos for workforce management and Microsoft Office 365 as the administrative platform.

Office 365 is currently the only software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform used by Fenner Dunlop, though Jammal says he is keen to explore other cloud options over the next two years.

Transforming backup and DR

The first step Jammal took to transform how backup and DR was done at Fenner Dunlop was to list all the issues that he currently faced.

That includes the cost of managing offsite storage for seven years and running a DR site that was replica of the firm’s operational system, complete with hardware, virtual machine (VM) licences and internet connections just waiting for the day they were needed.

Working with Solista, an Australian cloud transformation consultancy, Jammal selected Rubrik’s cloud data management platform to manage the backups, with a copy of the data sent to Microsoft’s Azure Blob object storage for 10 years. Rubrik’s CloudOn feature allows instances to be spun up in Azure, if required, for recovery.

“I could put everything in the cloud, have instant backups and I don’t need tapes anymore. I did the numbers and thought it’s on par with the cost – but I don’t have to spend any time on it.”

At the same time, Fenner Dunlop bought a storage array that was set up within a day. “We migrated all the storage, installed Rubrik and since then, I’ve never touched a backup again,” said Jammal.

Instead, he gets a daily email that confirms all the VMs have been backed up. Jammal operates three backup tiers – gold, silver and bronze with data backed up every four, 12 and 24 hours, respectively. Once the data is backed up, a copy is sent to Azure Blob storage.

Before, we had to go through the tapes and that would take two days. We have to grab the tape offsite, do an inventory check, find it and recover it – now I can do that in 10 minutes
Sammy Jammal, Fenner Dunlop

“Our previous solution was extremely unreliable,” said Jammal. “We didn’t know if backups would take four hours, 20 hours, or if they would work at all. Because of this, we were spending 15 hours per week just managing the system. It was important to us to find a solution that would reduce the man hours maintaining backups and allow us to move off tape.”

Although the transformation improved the productivity of the IT team, Jammal has not reduced headcount. “The main thing is we can do our job better. We used to spend two to three hours in the morning trying to fix the back up and make sure it’s 100% complete before moving onto the next task. Then it backs up every other job.

“Sometimes, we were working weekends because we wanted to reboot the servers and patch with the latest backup agents, to make sure next week works, or because the tapes need replacing. Then you’d be dealing with the vendor, spending three or four hours on the phone.

“I don’t worry about that anymore. That time we got back means we do our job day to day better, we monitor things better. Just move forward. Then we can plan our future projects.”

The solution also allows streamlined access to archived information. “We deal with users deleting things all the time. We have lawyers knock on the door and say they need this file from last year for some court case,” said Jammal.

“Before, we had to go through the tapes and that would take two days. We have to grab the tape offsite, do an inventory check, find it and recover it – now I can do that in 10 minutes.”

Read more about IT in Australia

Read more on Data protection, backup and archiving

Data Center
Data Management