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College students may be too busy partying in the wee hours of the night to notice when the university servers go down, but Lou Ramirez isn't. Every night, administrative systems at the University of Southern California (USC), in Los Angeles, are shut down for nearly four hours while approximately 1TB of Sun Microsystems StorEdge T3 array enterprise storage is backed up. Servicing more than 28,800 students and 3,800 faculty spread over 50 USC departments, the administrative systems--custom-built applications based on UniVerse databases running on more than 30 Sun servers--manage student records and grades, university financials, alumni communications and other critical information.

For Ramirez, associate director of administrative information services at USC, the four-hour backup window meant the applications were staying down much longer than she liked. Aiming to close the window to a mere crack, USC recently implemented Sun's StorEdge Availability Suite to begin doing backups using point-in-time snapshots.

The move has reduced downtime and laid the foundation for a more robust data availability model. In this model, databases are quickly duplicated using Sun's StorEdge Instant Image snapshot software. One mass data copying job will initially establish the working data set, while regular delta updates will ensure the snapshots stay up to date as data changes.

Once the snapshot has been made, USC will back it up onto tape--a process that is no longer time-sensitive

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because the primary system no longer has to go down during the backup. Maintenance of a complete audit trail of point-in-time backups will allow the system to be restored to its condition at any point in the past.

"It's going to provide higher reliability and protection when it comes to data recovery," Ramirez says. "We can be back up and running within half an hour using the snapshot, and get our users back onto the systems faster."

Getting your data from here to there
Both software and hardware vendors offer a number of snapshot and replication solutions. Here are the tools to look for, depending on your need.

This was first published in June 2003

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