School District Increases Performance, Data Protection

Posted on March 01, 1998

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School District Increases Performance, Data Protection

Multi-streaming storage management and backup provides centralized management, better data protection, and increased throughput.

By Frankie Jackson

With the growing need to link all sites in a geographically dispersed enterprise on a single network, network administrators are increasingly faced with the challenge of how to effectively protect data created at remote locations. Although the most common approach has been to simply attach a tape backup drive to every server at each remote site, this method cannot always be managed effectively to ensure enterprise-wide resource protection.

The reason: Not only is this labor-intensive approach prone to human errors, but it requires an abundance of limited-capacity tapes that must be manually tracked.

The Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District recently faced such a challenge. It needed to link 10 existing LANs and 17 new sites on a single enterprise backbone so that all schools in the district could communicate with a central administrative facility. Driving the district`s networking goal were two factors: the need to improve the access performance of the district`s mainframe computer applications and a State-of-Texas long-range technology plan requiring all students to be taught marketable computer skills, including networking.

At the time, the district`s mainframe applications were being accessed with dial-up modems. An approach that was excessively slow. As a result, the district`s goal was not only to improve throughput for the 10 sites with LANs, but also to expand access to all 27 schools with a T1-based wide-area network (WAN).

In addition to establishing a cost-effective WAN, the district needed a high-performance, high-availability automated storage-management system that would completely protect servers located at all sites. Further, about 2GB of data from 27 sites had to be backed up each night to a single administrative site--the 28th location in our network. And the total data volume (54GB) had to be completely backed up before 6am the next day.

To meet these requirements, Goose Creek turned to Accudata Systems Inc., a Houston-based systems integrator. In addition to designing and implementing the new LANs at 17 schools and the T1 WAN linking all 27 schools to a central administrative facility, Accudata implemented the storage-management solution.

This system, which was installed at Goose Creek`s central administrative facility, relies on Legato Systems` NetWorker for Windows NT enterprise storage- management software and on four independent DLT tape drives, each with a native capacity of 15GB.

With Legato NetWorker`s unique multi-streaming capabilities, Goose Creek is able to meet availability and performance requirements by concurrently feeding data from seven schools to a single tape drive configured as a separate media pool, or all 28 sites to four drives (four media pools).

In this configuration, each school is linked to the NetWorker server via a T1 link, and each night incremental backups are run for six of the seven sites fed to each tape drive. The seventh school in each group is fully backed up on a rotating basis. Only by aggregating data in this way is the district able to keep the DLT drives spinning and so optimize throughput and complete the backups in the allotted window.

Greater Flexibility, Improved Performance

Interestingly, while several storage management products claim to offer multi-streaming, only the Legato software is able to handle more than seven data streams concurrently. With this flexibility, Goose Creek can add more data streams, should the data volumes from any one site increase to the point that the group requires more than the allotted window to back up files. In this scenario, the data stream from a single server would have to be split into two concurrent data streams. The result: The same amount of data is backed up in half the time.

All tapes are removed daily and stored on-site for one week, after which they are stored at a secure off-site storage facility. To restore files from these tapes, end-users simply call the administrative center, where the storage-management system retains an indexed database of all tapes. The right tape is retrieved and loaded, and the file is restored. Previously, end-users were never sure which tape to use to restore files, and even when the right tape was located, the actual backup was not always complete.

The district`s new backup system also automatically confirms that the tape drives are working properly before it launches a backup run. This feature adds an unprecedented degree of reliability to the district`s backup process; it eliminates the problem of incomplete backups due to drive failures. Should the software detect a tape-drive error, a message appears on the administrative terminal.

From this single administrative device, Goose Creek is now able to completely manage the backup procedure for its entire WAN. In fact, it can control a highly complex process with a limited number of staff, while boosting backup reliability and reducing the time needed to complete backups. The school district now exerts about the same effort in backing up the entire network as single site spends on its own backups.

In today`s world, every enterprise needs to optimize performance and minimize overhead. Thanks to our storage-management system we can meet this goal, while adequately protecting the district`s vital network resources.

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Frankie Jackson, director of information management systems, Goose Creek Con- solidated Independent Schools, and Lorenzo Castro, systems engineer, Accudata Systems, Inc.

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Goose Creek backs up its entire enterprise onto four DLT drives using Legato`s Networker for Windows NT software.

Frankie Jackson is the director of information management systems at Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District in Baytown, Texas.


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