Magazine Article | June 1, 2003

A Sneakernet?! You're Kidding, Right?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

If direct attached storage is giving you backup fits (if it hasn't, it will), centralize and automate your tape drives.

Integrated Solutions, June 2003

A "sneakernet" can sneak up on you. When your server and storage infrastructure was in its infancy, you could probably manually manage your nightly backup operations. For one, you had a relatively limited number of direct attached storage devices. A few hours of popping cartridges in and out of tape drives hanging off of a small handful of servers, and backup was complete. But, your server infrastructure has grown to match your rapidly expanding data needs. So, a continued reliance on direct attached storage, let alone the manually operated sneakernet version, is out of the question.

That's the situation faced by Purdue University Calumet (PUC) (Hammond, IN). PUC's IT department supports all administrative, business, and academic applications, as well as the data storage needs of nearly 9,000 students. Faculty's increasing use of data-intensive electronic presentations and distance-learning materials is representative of the storage burdens being placed on PUC's systems.

Given the university's need for multiple platforms (to support a varied application infrastructure), including NT, Solaris, Novell, UNIX, HP-UX, and IBM AS/400, the direct attached model was causing backup nightmares - in time and in maintenance. "Except for the NT and Novell environments, where we had DAT [digital audio tape] libraries connected to the LAN, the tape machines were all direct attached," says Wayne Samardzich, manager of systems operations at PUC. "Our operators had to have specific knowledge about each different type of tape drive or format we used." To initialize tapes to start the backup process for a particular server platform, operators were forced to insert and remove each tape in, for example, a 12-tape magazine. Then, during the night process, operators had to move from machine to machine, running and monitoring the backup process on each. Not only were the tape systems getting hard to manage, they were breaking. "It seems we always had one or two drives out for repair," says Samardzich. "Basically, we had an inelegant way of doing backup - a mess, really. So, we decided to centralize backup/restore from one location, with one set of hardware and one tape format."

AIT Pushes Centralized Backup
Samardzich's team chose AIT (advanced intelligent tape) as the new tape media and purchased Qualstar TLS-series automated tape libraries, including an 8 TB capacity Qualstar TLS-4440 to house it. PUC is currently using AIT-2 tapes, storing 50 GB on each cartridge and backing up 1.5 TB in support of all university IT needs. The scalability of the solution is significant. "We expect student storage alone to double in the next few years," Samardzich says. Most importantly, the new system has eliminated the sneakernet. "The day operator schedules the backup jobs, and they run unattended," says Samardzich. "We don't think about it anymore. It just works. It's a boon to my sanity."