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University graduates to Arcserve UDP backup from CommVault

FX Plus IT team reached the end of its tether with physical server-only CommVault three years ago and moved to Arcserve UDP for physical and virtual server backup, plus replication

Falmouth Exeter Plus (FX Plus) – a university site shared between two universities – has replaced CommVault backup software with Arcserve Unified Data Protection (UDP) in a move that has seen it slash its backup window from 14 hours to four, and achieve virtual and physical backup, plus replication, from one product.

FX Plus is a shared campus in which services are jointly delivered to students of two universities – 4,500 from Falmouth and 1,800 from Exeter, plus 1,200 staff – and is located in the Cornwall town. IT services are shared, with dozens of applications served across subjects that range from art and design to scientific disciplines, as well as student and other management applications.

The IT environment is centred on Cisco server and networking hardware with VMware virtualisation. Primary storage for the institution's 27TB of data is on Pillar Data/Oracle arrays with NexSan E18 arrays for secondary storage. It has 150 virtual servers and 20 physical machines, and operates two datacentres half a mile apart on the Falmouth campus.

FX Plus head of technology and innovation Nathan Prisk said his IT team first began to think about moving to a new backup application two or three years ago when problems with the existing CommVault implementation became increasingly apparent.

“We felt at the time that CommVault was not providing proper support and that the product was not sufficient for our needs. This was at a time when virtual server backup was emerging and we felt their product couldn't deal with all our requirements for VMware,” he said.

“At the time CommVault was still a physical backup product. We needed virtual and physical backup as well as email archiving. We probably bought CommVault at the wrong time. There was no-one who delivered these things in one product.

“We had a few near misses and we felt the risk to be too high to continue with CommVault. Also, our staff thought it was ugly and complicated, and that tasks that should have been simple were difficult. It was a management overhead nightmare,” added Prisk.

FX Plus's transition to a new backup product came at a time when the backup product market was in transition. Historically, backup products had been aimed at physical server backup and many people backed up virtual servers using these products, which is not a good practice due to issues with input/output (I/O) bottlenecks.

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There were also specialist virtual machine backup products that existed separately, and until the past three years or so virtual and physical platforms could not be protected from the same product.

FX Plus also needed replication between its Pillar arrays, as that feature had been pulled by Oracle when it bought Pillar in 2011.

Eventually Prisk's team went out to national tender for a new backup product. It evaluated backup products from HP, IBM TSM, Symantec and Arcservethen owned by CA – with the last of these coming out on top. Key among the winning attributes were the time it took to get a test box up and running, according to Prisk. “Arcserve took one day to set up,” he said.

Prisk added that CommVault licensing had been difficult to understand and felt unfair: “They charged us for things we couldn't say no to. There would be, for example, a software interface and we'd say, 'We don't need it; do we need to pay for it?', and they'd say yes.”

He also pointed to the simplicity of the Arcserve licence model, which is based on raw TB backed up. 

FX Plus implemented Arcserve backup and replication products – which were later bundled together by CA into the UDP product – and is currently on version 16.5, which it uses to protect the institution's data. The most important data is replicated using Arcserve's asynchronous replication with a one-hour recovery point objective (RPO), while most applications use backup with an RPO of four hours.

FX Plus runs a full backup every weekend with incrementals on weekdays. Backups are replicated between storage-area networks (SANs) to provide disaster recovery provision.

A key benefit of the deployment is a big reduction in the backup window, which is down from around 14 hours to four. Prisk puts this down to Arcserve's ability to handle VM backup – functionality that CommVault lacked at the time.

Also, he said, the deployment has slashed the amount of time his team needs to devote to backup admin: “We were spending four hours a day managing backups. Now that's down to four hours a week.”

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