Steamship Authority Sees Less Tape on the Horizon

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Traditional tape-based backup just wasn't cutting it at The Steamship Authority, the Woods Hole, MA-based agency that runs ferries between mainland Massachusetts and Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Even though it was successfully backing up its 20 or so Windows servers, it still wasn't doing anything about backing up end-user PCs.

Systems analyst Curt Van Riper knew that ignoring end-user PCs was against the rules at a state agency. But adding PCs to their existing backup process also wasn't an option. Using Veritas Backup Exec to back up its servers to a Quantum 1500 tape library equipped with two SDLT drives, Van Riper was seeing backup times of about nine hours--still within their backup window. Adding PCs to that mix would have extended the backup windows into working hours.

In the course of their research, he happened upon information from Irvine, CA-based Avamar about its disk-based backup appliance Axion. "The more we heard about it, the more interested we got," Van Riper says.

Axion, which uses a data reduction technique called commonality factoring, is a good fit for backing up end-user data because of the high degree of block-level repetition in end-user files. The more PCs Van Riper adds to the Axion for backup, the less capacity is consumed. With 1.2TB useable capacity, and 40 PCs being backed up, Van Riper reports that only 21% of the capacity has been consumed. Furthermore, "when you add another PC, the percentage barely creeps up."

The Axion agent resident on each PC automates backup, which Van Riper says takes about 10 to 15 minutes per machine. Restores happen through a browser-based interface, and can be performed by end users.

For off-site protection, The Steamship Authority also bought the Axion Replicator, which they installed in a second location approximately 20 miles away.

Van Riper intends to add the agency's remaining 60 or so PCs to the mix, plus his Windows SQL and Exchange Server backups. Currently, Van Riper does nightly full backups, "mainly for ease of restores." Other than being time consuming, nightly full backups are expensive, given that the state mandates that they use tapes only once. By backing servers up to Axion, and replicating the data off site, Van Riper says they'll save on tapes, while improving restorability.

Bottom line: "There will always be tape, but I intend to get rid of quite a bit of it," he says.

This was first published in March 2004

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