Data backup and recovery software: A financial services case study

A financial services firm used data backup and recovery software to optimise its newly virtualised infrastructure and remain compliant.

Amid stringent data-retention regulations and a recent move to virtualisation, a financial services company found...

that its network-based backups were taking too long.

The Funding Corporation, a privately owned UK-based debt recovery and consumer finance company, needed cost-effective backup and recovery software that would enable quick restoration of virtual and physical servers.

“As our core emphasis is on service, if a critical server goes down, it must be recovered on demand,” said Dan Tinsley, The Funding Corporation’s principal systems engineer. “Second-tier servers need to be recovered in 24 hours. As a result, Tier 1 and 2 servers must be of a redundant design.”

After considering these needs, compliance requirements and the company’s existing IT infrastructure, The Funding Corporation decided on Acronis to provide data backup and recovery and boost its disaster recovery efforts.

The problem

The Funding Corporation depended on disk-to-tape backups and found that each full backup took five days to complete. As soon as the backup was complete, it was already out of date. Data recovery was also time consuming.

“This was unacceptable,” Tinsley said. “For every hour of downtime, we lose revenue.”

He knew he wanted a cost-effective backup and recovery software that would address those problems, minimise downtime and help the company remain compliant and deal with growing volumes of data. Company execs also wanted the new product to allow a bare-metal restore, which allows for quick restoration of failed servers without having to first manually load the operating system, applications and set policies.

The infrastructure

Funding Corporation’s IT infrastructure spans three data centres in the UK, one at the company’s headquarters in Chester and two in London. It includes 102 physical servers, which run predominantly Windows and a mix of VMware vSphere 4, Citrix’s XenServer 5.6, as well as Microsoft Exchange, Sun Microsystems hardware, Oracle databases and financial applications.

The Funding Corporation initiated the move to virtualisation in 2009.

“As the volumes of data we store grew, and as the number of servers increased, simply adding rack space was not cost efficient,” Tinsley said. “We chose VMware because of wide industry support and for its bare-metal hypervisor.”

Tinsley explained that a typical secure rack in his industry can cost about £20,000 each year, plus the power costs associated with running several physical servers. Server virtualisation helped the company decrease its physical server footprint by half and save £40,000, he said.

The IT team’s next mission was to set up a disaster recovery plan that took advantage of this virtual infrastructure. After assessing Symantec Backup Exec, Symantec NetBackup and products from CA Technologies, the company opted for Acronis Backup and Recovery 10.

Acronis’ speed of recovery and integration with VMware were keys in helping The Funding Corporation make the decision, Tinsley said. He said that the company purchased 87 Acronis licenses to back up its physical and virtual servers, spending £200,000 total on the IT project.

The Acronis product takes a disk image of every system on every server in the company’s three data centres, where the disk images they are stored on Overland SnapServer storage appliances. Acronis also replicates the backups to the data centres in London for redundancy and then archives them from disk to tape.

Slashing backup times

This new system has reduced the time it takes to back up a full system -- including data files, applications and the OS -- by 90%, Tinsley said. Previously, recovering individual files from archive was a lengthy process. IT staff had to bring the archived tapes on-site, find the right tape, test the file and then manually load it back onto the system.

Instead, Acronis takes full system images, which allow the IT team to catalogue, search and recover or restore even a single file that was lost or corrupted.

“It helps us meet our disaster recovery objectives,” Tinsley said. “If a physical box goes down, we can bring it back immediately in a virtual environment. ... Having seen the benefits, speed of recovery and cost savings, we wish we had initiated the project earlier.”

Tinsley predicted that by the end of 2012, 75% of The Funding Corporation’s IT infrastructure will be virtualised, which will bring further cost savings. After putting in place a cost-effective data backup and recovery process, the company is also exploring virtual desktop infrastructure.

Read more on Datacentre disaster recovery and security