Backing Up for the Future

Posted on June 01, 1998

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Backing Up for the Future

Two companies chose backup/restore software based on long-term investment protection.

By Sam Diamond

In an era of planned obsolescence and surging technological advancements, the longevity of software investments is all too often measured in months, not years. But data protection is so critical to business operations that companies cannot afford to have a short-term view when it comes to storage management. In fact, with corporate resources at risk, anything less than a long-term storage management solution is simply no solution at all.

One company that recognizes the importance of long-term storage management strategies is Western Printing Machinery Company (WPM) of Schiller Park, IL. "Our customers rely on our products for their success," says Linda Cygan, WPM`s systems administration manager. "As a result, we simply cannot take any chances with our information resources."

An engineering-oriented manufacturing firm specializing in "in-line finishing" (i.e., the design and development of customized machinery and cutting dies for such printing and converting operations as folding and printing cardboard boxes), WPM also offers a software system called GILDA that supports similar operations.

WPM started its search for a long-term backup solution more than five years ago when it replaced a primarily PC-based network with a new architecture based on TCP/IP, Unix, and Sun servers and workstations. "With this network enhancement," Cygan recalls, "we also decided to upgrade our labor-intensive, error-prone backup approach from one that relied on tar-based (a native Unix utility) backups to individual internal tape drives to one that was automated."

Because WPM`s network was based on Sun servers, WPM sought Sun`s advice about a storage-management solution. The accepted recommendation: Legato Systems` NetWorker.

As currently configured, WPM has two copies of this software package--one for each of its two buildings, which are networked. The software backs up data to a 10-slot Exabyte 10i tape library at one site and to an Exabyte 210, with two drives and 10 slots, at the other. The backup software, while operating on a Unix server, also supports all platforms and operating systems in their network--including NetWare and Windows NT--through the implementation of client modules.

"Each day," Cygan says, "we run incremental backups at each site, and once a week a full backup is completed. These full backup tapes are then cloned at each site, using the software`s automated cloning feature, and the tapes are swapped with the other site. In addition, on a daily basis we back up NetWorker`s indexes from one site to the other over the network. By leveraging our network, our storage management solution, and our remote buildings, we have achieved the security of off-site storage without the need for a third-party service."

In addition to off-site tape storage, WPM stores up to three weeks of data in each tape library, which facilitates the file restoration process. "Although we have never had any major disasters to recover from," Cygan says, "the wisdom of on-site storage of files was recently proven when one of our software developers mistakenly deleted an entire directory that contained important source code. Without asking for technical support from the systems administration department, the employee was able to go directly into the backup software and use the GUI to completely restore the lost directory in a matter of minutes."

Gennum Keeps Pace

Gennum Corp of Burlington, Ontario has also found such backup/restore software invaluable. Gennum designs, manufactures, and markets electronic components, primarily ICs, for specialized applications, including low-voltage audio amplifiers and signal-processing circuitry for the hearing instrument industry and video-signal distribution and processing components for the professional video and broadcast television markets.

"Support for multiple platforms is important to us because, while most of our systems are Suns, we also have several HP machines," says Albert Elmer, Gennum`s systems administrator. "In addition, we`ve started adding Windows NT servers and want to be able to seamlessly integrate backups from all platforms, including end-user PCs."

Like WPM, Gennum`s automated storage management solution replaced an earlier backup system based on Unix scripts and multiple independent 8mm tape drives.

"When we first migrated to a client/ server architecture several years ago, backing up data using Unix scripts and tar was satisfactory because few workstations were involved," Elmer says. "But as the network expanded and the volume of data requiring backup grew from a few gigabytes to over 100GB, we needed a more effective system."

There were several reasons for the upgrade. Because each server had its own 8mm tape drive, the amount of manual intervention was significant, which meant the potential for human error was also great. Also, because the restoration process relied on complex Unix commands and physical access to the computer room, all requests had to go through the MIS department. Consequently, users did not always get files restored as quickly as they would have liked.

"While we were extremely fortunate that none of these shortcomings ever significantly affected our business," Elmer says, "we recognized that this outdated approach to backup and restore presented unacceptable risk as our network grew to 8 primary servers, 20 Unix workstations, and more than 100 PCs. And so, after evaluating alternative products, we decided to automate the process by implementing NetWorker and a tape library."

Gennum uses a 40-cartridge (expandable to 100) 2-drive (expandable to 6) model 9714 DLT library from StorageTek.

As configured, Gennum`s entire multi-platform-based information resources are partitioned into four groups, which get backed up monthly on a rotating schedule. Full backups take place on Saturdays--a different group for each Saturday of the month. On a given Saturday, the three groups that aren`t scheduled for a full backup get an intermediate level-5 backup, which encompasses all changes of data since the last full backup. Daily incrementals--including weekends--back up all data changes for the current day. This schedule is only modified for business-critical databases that change significantly each day.

"Using the media pool capabilities of our storage management solution, Elmer explains, we simply group these databases for daily full backups. Our storage management system is now so automated that it can be left to operate hands-free, as proven recently when I was away from the office for two weeks. All I did before I left was make sure the library had an adequate supply of fresh tapes; the system then just ran by itself."

By automating storage management with an easily scalable multi-platform solution, both Gennum and Western Printing Machinery are able to meet current and future backup and restoration requirements. As Cygan says, "I`m from the school that doesn`t waste time fixing what`s not broken, and since NetWorker has met our needs for a long-term backup solution, we expect to rely on it long into the future."

Sam Diamond is a freelance writer in Tucson, AZ.


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