Airline cuts sky high costs with VTL

JetBlue Airways is keeping IT costs down by using a virtual tape library for disk-based backups.

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JetBlue Airways offers leather chairs, 24 channels of free DirecTV service at every seat and -- get this -- in-flight Pilates and yoga instruction, but to provide these guilty pleasures to its customers the company has to bring a soaring IT budget back down to earth.

One of the target areas for cost control is the backup process and streamlining backup and restore jobs. With this directive in mind, Oleg Ivanov, IT systems analyst for JetBlue set out to evaluate virtual tape libraries as part of his backup strategy.

Ivanov needed a way to boost the performance of his systems while maintaining the availability of JetBlue's scheduling information and in-flight operational data with RAID-like fault tolerance. And he didn't want to alter his NetBackup 4.56 backup software configuration or his existing EMC SAN. Enter: Virtual tape.

JetBlue began evaluating virtual tape libraries (VTL) to speed backups, boost fault tolerance and to save money on tape media and reduce its data center footprint.

Ivanov said he expects moving to a VTL will eliminate up to 60 cartridges from his daily tape rotation at a cost savings of about $5400 annually. However, tape's not totally out of the equation. "I will use tapes only for off-site storage and monthly archival. I will be keeping copies of the off-site storage tapes on virtual media for fast restores which will let me save about $300 for unscheduled tape delivery from off-site," he said.

Another area where his VTL implementation will save cash is real estate. "It will significantly reduce the footprint required for all of my backup libraries and server racks. I will go from a four-rack footprint to one rack. Everybody knows that real estate is not cheap. You do the math how much per month it costs just in space." He added "as an outcome, I can expand my systems in the saved space without expanding my data center itself."

And the fewer physical libraries JetBlue owns, the more man hours Ivanov can dedicate to managing other systems. "Of course you cannot buy or sell time. But what it means for me is that the physical tape library and tape drives will not be getting beat up on a daily basis, so the chance for hardware down time is greatly reduced."

Ivanov began his evaluation process by researching the specifications of the competing VTL's on the market from Quantum and StorageTek, but ultimately decided on a Pathlight VX system from Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC). Many factors played into his decision. Perhaps the overriding factor was ADIC's existing relationship with JetBlue as a tape library supplier. Ivanov said "Why change your horse in the middle of the race?"

The problem, according to Ivanov, is that several vendors OEM technology for their VTLs from companies like FalconStor. More vendors means more calls to make when something goes wrong. "I've been there, done that. Whoever resells FalconStor will have three or four different vendors involved in the architecture. All of it could complicate the support model," he said.

He tested backup and restore times on both physical and virtual tapes using different types of files and sizes on generic IT gear found in any data center. "I didn't want to use a supercomputer to see performance," he said. In every test the ADIC Pathlight VX outperformed the physical tape libraries.

ADIC's Pathlight VX can emulate up to 40 tape drives, while competitor Quantum Corp.'s DX30 can emulate up to six. The DX30 supports up to 80 MB per second (MBps) data throughput. Pathlight VX supports up to 277 MBps, or 1TB per hour. But there's a reason for the size difference. Quantum's DX30 is aimed at its small and medium-sized business customers, whereas the Pathlight VX is aimed at larger enterprise environments with LTO tape drives.

In a recent study, the Enterprise Storage Group found that 23% of enterprise customers had already adopted VTL and that an additional 23% were evaluating VTL technologies. The adoption rate was much lower in mid-tier markets, in the area of 5%.

"We expect that VTL technologies will gain significant traction this year," Marrone-Hurley said. "Considering the backup window is still the user's No. 1 data protection issue. Any technology that helps reduce the time to perform backups is very beneficial."

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