HP Hood outsources backup operations

Outsourcing enabled HP Hood's IT department to close its server backup window and slashed annual backup expenses by more than 50%.


With yearly sales of $500 million, Chelsea, MA-based HP Hood provides frozen desserts, citrus, non-dairy, and specialty food products throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic states.

Approximately 550 employees use 15 Windows NT servers-a mix of IBM NetFinity and Compaq ProLiant systems-distributed across six offices in New England and two offices in New York. A WAN connects all the offices.

Located in five of the offices, six systems administrators for almost a year-and-a-half performed daily incremental backups and weekly full backups for each server. However, backing up more than 100GB onto eight HP SureStor DAT tape devices-one located in each office-became a daily lesson in spilt milk.

William J. Moulton, Jr., HP Hood's IT network manager, says, "We'd start at 8 p.m. to do a full backup of the corporate server's 35GB. When my systems administrators came in the next morning, the backup would still be running. We'd have to kill it so employees could use the server without any latency issues."

Backing up Windows Exchange servers using Computer Associates' ARCserve backup software didn't meet our needs. Moulton says, "A lot of times, backups would fail and there wouldn't be anyone around at 3 a.m. to switch the tape. At about 8 a.m., we'd have to re-start the backup just as employees were getting on the network."

Moulton put manual fail-safe procedures in place. Before the six systems administrators could handle other tasks in the morning, they had to verify that backups had run on the servers assigned to them. If not, they had to investigate the cause, with all findings going to Moulton each day. "It took each administrator [at least] an hour and 15 minutes each day to verify their servers," he says.

Moulton declared a moratorium on the Windows NT backups. He decided to pay $45,000 a year to outsource the entire task to amerivault corp., a Waltham, MA-based start-up offering online backup-and-restore services to companies in the New England area. The service enabled Moulton to cut his yearly backup expenses by more than 50%. Before he outsourced, Moulton's yearly expenses included $20,000 for tapes, $8,000 for software licenses, and $81,000 in wasted manpower (nine hours per day x $35 an hour). Two budgeted expenses included $28,000 to replace the DAT devices and $8,000 to upgrade ARCserve for Windows 2000.

"Now, our systems administrators can schedule backups any time and from any location, and amerivault does all the work," Moulton explains.

Unlike traditional tape backup, which copies entire files, amerivault shrinks HP Hood's backup window by transparently taking only the changes since the last backup for that server. When HP Hood first came online, amerivault did a full backup of the company's files and then created a mapping strategy in an index file. Each time a backup occurs, amerivault looks for files that have changes and then locates those changed blocks, compresses and encrypts them, and sends them over the wire.

To use ARCserve, Hood's systems administrators completed a 40-hour training session. With amerivault, they installed the amerivault agent software on their workstations, laptops, and servers. The software provides the procedures for scheduling even a series of staggered backups. Moulton says, "[Administrators] can walk away or watch as the backup occurs. They can see which files have changes and how much data was compressed."

HP Hood's backups now take anywhere from five to 20 minutes, rather than several hours. And employees can use the servers while they are being backed up.

To transmit the backup to amerivault's DS-3 line, HP Hood uses its T1 Internet connection, which goes to a port outside of the company's firewall. amerivault stores the files live on two SCSI-based RAID subsystems-an LSI Logic MetaStor RAID and a Dell PowerVault.

Previously, HP Hood's systems administrators would have to search ARCserve's backup log to locate the tape, load the tape in the DAT device, and then go back and find the file and restore it.

To restore files with amerivault, Hood's systems administrators select the files, directories, or entire drives they need and then answer a couple of questions about where to place the data. Their server then connects to amerivault and forwards the files to the designated location.

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a freelance writer in Boston. She can be contacted at elizabethferrarini@yahoo.com.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2001