Magazine Article | May 1, 2001

Move Forward With Tape Backup

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

See how a large law firm upgraded its tape backup system and is able to perform backups in less than two hours versus 36 hours, previously.

Integrated Solutions, May 2001

Have you ever spent days working on a document and then, just before you put the final touches on it, a warning message pops up on your screen? The message informs you that a particular error has occurred and your document has become corrupt. After contacting your IT staff, you are informed in the most technical terms that your document is "hosed." It's times like these when tape backup becomes very important.

For enterprises like Reed Smith LLP (Pittsburgh) tape backup is a very big deal. Reed Smith has more than 670 attorneys in 14 offices throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. The law firm, established in 1877, represents companies that range in size from the Fortune 100 to the mid-market on down. It covers such vertical markets as financial services, healthcare, communications, manufacturing, education, real estate, and technology companies.

Previously, the company was using a Spectrologic 4 mm, DAT (digital archive tape) storage library. The library was equipped with about 300 tapes that stored 50 GB of data. The tape storage library incorporated robotics which automatically selected and stored tapes without human intervention. "The problem with our legacy tape backup system was threefold," recalls Tim O'Donnell, network technician for Reed Smith. "The main concern we had was the time it took to perform a backup. It took us 36 hours to back up 50 GB of drive space. Because of this, we could not do a complete backup each night." Potentially, a lawyer who experienced a software crash could lose two days' worth of data. Imagine what this kind of information would cost to recreate. Reed Smith didn't want to take the chance of that situation becoming a reality. Additionally, the DAT media wore out quickly. "We couldn't get much use out of the tapes," recalls O'Donnell. "The recommended amount of use per tape was five overwrites, which would mean that we would have to replace the tapes every five weeks if we followed the manufacturer's recommendations. But even when we exceeded the recommended replacement suggestion, it still was a big inconvenience." The DAT media cost approximately $20 apiece. This number multiplied by 300 tapes in circulation, which had to be replaced 10 times per year, cost the company $60,000 per year in tape storage. This tape backup cost represents just one of the company's 14 branches. And, this does not take into account the IT time that was devoted to switching the tapes, overseeing the lengthy backups, and handling other troubleshooting problems associated with the legacy tape backup library. "Often, one of the two drives on the library would become faulty and would cause a tape to jam during a backup procedure," says Paul Strope, S&T operations manager for Reed Smith. "It would take us one to two weeks to ship the faulty drive to the manufacturer, get it fixed, and get it back and running again. Overall, because of general problems with the system we devoted nine hours per week of IT time to the library."

The Search For Better Backup
Reed Smith began exploring other backup options to remedy the problems it was having with its legacy system. "The first thing we knew we wanted to upgrade was the type of tape media we were using," says O'Donnell. "Instead of continuing to use DAT backup libraries, we began researching other backup media. Ultimately, we chose an AIT (advanced intelligent tape) solution." AIT media offered significant benefits over the legacy DAT media. First, an AIT drive can store 50 GB on a single tape, which can be backed up at 6 MB per second uncompressed. With the addition of compression software/hardware, AIT drives can store up to 250 GB at a rate of up to 20 MB per second. Additionally, Reed Smith was impressed by the length of life of the AIT media. Unlike the DAT media, which lasts for only a handful of uses, the AIT cartridges are specified for 30,000 overwrites and have an archival life of 30 years.

"After deciding on the AIT media, we compared tape library manufacturers and chose Cybernetics (Yorktown, VA)," says O'Donnell. "Cybernetics offered much better customer service and tech support than other companies we researched. Additionally, we liked some of the extra compression and tape-to-tape backup features its system provided."

Reed Smith was able to install the Cybernetics AIT tape backup library in about four hours, which included installing Veritas (Mountain View, CA) software. The Veritas software uses a GUI (graphical user interface) to enable Reed Smith's IT staff to define and configure backup policies and backup schedules, as well as perform virus scans.

Where The Tape Meets The Head
After installing the new tape backup solution, Reed Smith was able to realize an immediate IT time savings of nine hours per week that was spent watching over the legacy system, previously. Furthermore, full 90 GB backups can be performed in less than two hours, versus 36 hours for 50 GB backups, previously. As an added bonus, the new backup system uses fewer tapes - 50 AIT versus 300 DAT - and the AIT media has a life cycle of 6,000 times more overwrites than the legacy DAT media. "Even more valuable than the time and cost savings we have realized from this solution, is the peace of mind our attorneys and clients have knowing that our data is backed up and secure," says Strope. And it only makes sense that when lawyers are eyeball deep in litigation, the last thing they want to be thinking is, 'If I only had that corrupted document, I bet we could win this case.' The next time you seek out legal counsel, remember; don't just find a lawyer who will back you up in court; find one with a tape backup system that will back both of you up in court.

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