Biomed IT services firm eliminates 58-hour backup windows and 24-hour restores
- 58-hour full backups on weekends replaced with snapshots of servers which take minutes
- Fast and easy point-in-time recoveries
- Elimination of data going over WAN during workday
For Brian Gibson of Information Management Services (IMS), no one title describes his IT roles accurately – from network engineering to network administration, from software implementer to analyst, and more. In all these capacities, Gibson has had the opportunity to get a very up close and personal view of what works and what doesn’t work in backup and disaster recovery.
“We provide an extensive array of IT services and clinical trial coordinating services for biomedical research,” says Gibson. “We do things like statistical analysis on data from the National Cancer Institute with a high-performance cluster built just for this. We also manage a Web site for the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program. A lot of our data is very granular – for instance, each state keeps track of cancer stats and we can do geo data analysis.”
With all this irreplaceable data, Gibson knows the key to good backup and DR is to be confident that you can always recover what you need when you need it. ”In the past,” notes Gibson, “we backed up all of our systems using a file-based backup, onto a tape backup system. Tapes would break, and/or get stuck in the drive, or the data backed up would be unrecoverable for some other reason. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it made life hell.”
Losing email for 20-24 hours
Gibson and his team were using a combination of Syncsort Backup Express and Symantec Backup Exec. “We used Backup Exec exclusively for our Windows backups, and you can tell the product was designed to be used in a tape environment, even if you didn’t back up to tape with it,” Gibson says. “We had a few cases when it would flat-out fail, and the error reports it generated were practically useless. One time, an Exchange server failed. It took about 10 hours to restore the data over the WAN, and once it was restored, it took another 10-plus hours to run Eseutil utility on all of the databases to get them back to a state where we could mount them again. So there was a 20 to 24-hour time period when there was no email or anything.”
Not only that, but the amount of data Gibson’s team had to synchronize was astronomical. They couldn’t do full a snap of a server and the backup process started to encroach into staff work hours, which meant that people couldn’t get things done. “It used to take me 58 hours or more to do a full backup on the weekend. And even then it would start encroaching on work time,” says Gibson.
Gibson knew that they could do better in terms of protecting the sensitive data related to IMS’s large, million-dollar, long-term contracts.
Finding a new way to backup and recover with confidence
“We were looking for a new way to back up our Exchange,” says Gibson. “We looked at Syncsort’s new offering and Symantec, but I’ve never been really enamored with either since we haven’t had good luck in the past.”
Instead, Gibson turned to AppAssure to give him the confidence that he could protect IMS’s important data. “The ease of use and simplicity of AppAssure are spectacular,” he says. “The best part for me though is all the consistency checks it does for the Exchange data; I can always tell that my Exchange server is in good health, and I have even done simple recoveries for single messages using the tools with AppAssure, and it is VERY easy and fast.”
Reliability, speed and ease of recovery
When asked about the key benefits of AppAssure for IMS, Gibson doesn’t hesitate.
“With the old system, having our WAN tied up with backups during the work day was awful,” he says. “With the snaps, AppAssure has made it so I never have a problem with data going over the WAN during the work day.”
“It used to be very cumbersome to do a single message restore with Backup Exec,” says Gibson. “First, we’d have to restore from tape. Then we’d use another application to restore the message. Now, in the few times we’ve needed to recover data, it’s been there waiting for me – easy to recover at any point in time with a click of a mouse, thanks to AppAssure.”
No more 58-hour backup window
“It used to take me 58 hours or more to do a full backup on the weekend,” says Gibson. “I don’t have to do full backups anymore with AppAssure, and each server only takes minutes to do the snapshots.”
AppAssure has now completely replaced Backup Exec exclusively for IMS’s Windows backups.
Helping to develop a retention policy
Moving into the future, AppAssure has helped IMS develop a robust retention policy, which allows the accurate safe-guarding of data within policy-defined time frames. “We can keep as much data as we want,” laughs Gibson. “But because point-in-time recovery is such a breeze with AppAssure – even with seven virtual hosts (three in our primary location and four elsewhere) – we are able to specify exactly what we want and for how long we want to keep it.”
“Additionally, off-site requirements are assured,” says Gibson. “Initially, we took the AppAssure data, then copied it to tape and mailed it somewhere off-site. But now we’re so confident with AppAssure that we take the AppAssure server and set it up to replicate – just backing up locally and replicating somewhere else. We no longer use tape with anything having to do with AppAssure because the solution is doing real-time replication of snaps, as they happen. AppAssure is way ahead of anything else in terms of its capabilities.”