Sergey Tarasov -

TRC Companies pairs cloud-first push with Druva-infused data backup revamp

US-based engineering consultancy TRC Companies scooped the prize for Best Cloud Project at the Best of VMworld 2019 Europe User Awards with its story of how a long-overdue revamp of its data backup systems ties in with its hybrid cloud push

After years of pursuing an aggressive, acquisition-focused business growth strategy, the technology team at engineering consultancy TRC Companies had collected a hodgepodge of legacy IT systems along the way that required upgrading and streamlining.

One area of acute concern was the collection of different backup and data archiving systems the company had accrued during its trek along the acquisition trail. 

The company had no central means of managing or monitoring the data contained within its data backup estate, which – given the size of the company and the geographical spread of its workforce – is a situation that needed to be urgently rectified.

Particularly as compatibility issues between these disparate systems meant that data was being lost or mis-placed. There was also no means of ensuring data within its various offices across the US was being backed up regularly or effectively either.

“In the time I’ve worked here, we've been through 20-plus acquisitions,” said Rob Petrone, director of IT operations at TRC Companies, who joined the company originally in 2001 as a network systems engineer.

“Each acquisition brings its own challenges, and we’ve inherited backup solutions and we’ve inherited data, and we’ve also inherited people and offices and all that fun stuff. And I’m not exaggerating, but we probably had between 10 to 20 different solutions floating around the company for backing up our data,” he said.

These included everything from tape drives to network attached storage appliances and even USB sticks, he said. “We had everything from somebody taking a hard drive or tape home at night or a tape sitting in the office and continually getting overwritten.”

Data management and backup system

What the company needed was a data management and backup system that would provide Petrone’s IT team with a centralised and single view of all the of data being processed within the 160 offices it has within the US, as well as its UK HQ, which collectively employ more than 5,500 people.

The company also had designs on pursuing a cloud-first strategy for new IT products and services at this point, so another stipulation that Petrone and his team had was that whatever system they chose had to come from a “born in the cloud” supplier.

“We looked at four or five different companies, but one of our major goals for selecting a solution to help us with our backup strategy moving forward was finding someone that was born in the cloud,” he said.

“We didn't want to bring in a company that was a transplant of another. For example, a company that was acquired by somebody else, and had just put their branding on the product, and then moved it into the cloud. We wanted a company that was truly born in the cloud, and a partner that could help us on this journey.”

At this time in 2015, the company had a growing interest in using the Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud across its business, and came across Druva’s cloud-based data backup system while attending an AWS tech conference.

This, in turn, led to the company selecting Druva’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) data protection platform, which is used to protect information stored in on-premise datacentres, edge environments, cloud applications and other assorted endpoint devices.

“We migrated all of the data in, and backed it up,” said Petrone. “We worked with the Druva team to set up policies and it has been a very transparent journey with them.”

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One of the major benefits the firm has seen from deploying Druva’s technology is greater efficiency, as it has now managed to streamline the number of people that need to be hands-on across its various locations with helping to manage the company’s data.

“In the past, we would have had however many people monitoring these various solutions, or doing the best job they could with monitoring these solutions, because there were so many to keep track of,” he said.

“Now the biggest benefit to us is having that single interface, and a single version of the truth about what is going on within our data estate. And I have one person today that monitors the solution.

“Also, any sort of alerting that happens about a backup or something else not happening actually goes right into our service desk, so that our team can take action on it straightaway, rather than relying on an email alert being sent,” he said.

Furthermore, the much greater ease with which the company can now add the data accrued from any new acquisitions it has made to its backup repository is another huge plus point for the firm, said Petrone.

“Any acquisition that comes on board, we're able to effectively put them right into our solution on day one. If it works, the restoration of the data is a couple of clicks away, and we can restore it pretty quickly anytime we need to.”

Downsizing reliance on in-house datacentres

Since the project completed, the company has continued on its journey to the cloud, as part of a parallel drive within its business to downsize its reliance on its own in-house datacentres.

The company now has one datacentre, which is home to some of its endearing on-premise servers that will remain in operation for some time to come.

“While we are a cloud first company, we have a hybrid strategy. We still have physical servers, wherever they're needed. For example, in situations where large files need to be accessed quickly.”

Petrone is quick to acknowledge the data management challenges that TRC Companies was coming up against are unique to the type of company it is and how it operates.

However, his top tip for anyone else embarking on a similar data backup project is to take the time beforehand to clean up the datasets that need to be saved.

“My advice for anyone going forward is to make sure you have a good solid data strategy and make sure your data is cleaned up before you effectively go forward in any type of solution because any backup solution you use is going to give back what you put in. So, a trash in, trash out kind of thing,” he said.

“In our case, we inherited a lot of data. Some of its good, some of it bad, and some of it is people just didn’t want to get rid of. But what we did, along with that project, is try to clean up as best we could, but if we were walking into it on day one today, and I was going to give anybody advice, I would say get the data cleaned up, and make sure you have a good data strategy before you deploy any data backup solution.”

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