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NAS gives hotel a vacation from backup headaches

When you operate a chain of hotels, the focus is supposed to be on guest hospitality, not the labor-intensive practice of performing frequent backups with fickle tape-based systems. With that problem in mind, the corporation recently enhanced a company-wide effort to streamline IT operations around standard servers and desktops by investing in a network-attached storage (NAS)-based storage system from the same vendor.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is a hotel brand with properties located in the United States, the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Owned, managed and franchised by Wyndham International Inc., Wyndham's brand philosophy centers on the needs of business and leisure travelers, and responding with personalized services. According to the company, Wyndham International, Inc. is the "fastest-growing upscale brand," and the 4th largest hospitality and lodging company in the United States. It was also rated No. 3 in customer satisfaction, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey.

Wyndham has implemented a number of aggressive programs to help build customer loyalty. The company has also been adept at making technology a differentiator. For instance, the company recently announced that the Wyndham Pittsburgh Airport would now provide high-speed wired and wireless Internet connections throughout that property's meeting and public spaces. Longer term, the company says its growth strategy includes "increasing distribution and building brand equity

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through acquisitions, conversions, development, franchise contracts and e-commerce initiatives," as well as finding economies of scale, simplifying organizational structures and reducing corporate selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A).

Supporting all these ambitious goals is an equally ambitious IT operation that recently updated the company's storage assets. Andy Miller, Wyndham's director of network operations in the 63-person IT department, explains that Wyndham did an RFP about two-and-a-half years ago with the goal of exploring the benefits of standardizing on specific servers, desktops and laptops. Dell emerged from that process as the company's choice for its Intel-based infrastructure. (Wyndham also has some core applications running on IBM RS6000 Unix-based machines.)

As part of the IT department's ongoing consolidation and standardization effort, Miller noted that the process of backing up servers through the use of tape and tape drives at the various facilities often came with its own brand of headaches and reliability issues. This was largely due to the fact that the majority of Wyndham hotels do not have dedicated IT staff to assist with performing backups. Swapping tapes was proving to be cumbersome and unreliable due to employee turnover, tape wear, failure to use cleaning tapes, etc. Consumption of tapes was also costly over the long term and tape drive meantime between failure (MTBF) varied widely.

While Miller says there was no specific plan to switch from tape backups by a particular date, he began to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. When hotels needed replacement of their existing tape backup system due to age or system wear, the company chose to install Dell PowerVault NAS devices. Indeed, that became Wyndham's standard for backup storage in all its hotels. Miller says the switch to PowerVault was predicated on economics and reliability. "One of the challenges we faced with traditional tape is that it is quite expensive on a recurring basis when you count cleaning, tapes, maintenance of equipment and labor," said Miller. "We have found that disk backup simplifies things because there is no more tape swapping, and fewer of the moving parts that contribute to breakdowns," he said.

A proof-of-concept approach was taken with a single hotel. This approach demonstrated that when NAS was compared with tape drives, the results were highly in favor of NAS due to lower TCO, less administration and greater reliability.

"Previously, tape systems were deployed and IT personnel had to connect remotely to set up the tape rotation schedule, SOP [standard operating procedures] needed to be published, personnel needed to be trained and tapes needed to be purchased on a recurring basis," said Miller. Now, NAS systems are procured through Dell, who then installs the product preconfigured with Veritas Backup Exec.

Miller said his staff still must perform some custom configuration work, but much less than before. Furthermore, all administration is done remotely and automatically without requiring on-site personnel to perform any steps. The recurring costs are also lower since the need to purchase tapes has been eliminated.

Backup and restoration times have decreased significantly due to faster read/write performance of "disk-to-disk" rather than "tape-to-disk." Wyndham currently has a PV775 NAS deployed in its data center. As Wyndham centralizes more of its applications, Miller says the requirement for a SAN will become greater. "Should we decide to implement a SAN, the PV775 can be incorporated into the SAN," notes Miller. He adds that the ability to leverage the existing PV775 NAS in the future further justified the ROI on this particular storage solution. NAS storage currently totals about 1.5 terabytes (TB).

"Our overall strategy is to centralize applications because that creates economics of scale with operations and maintenance," adds Miller. Furthermore, it allows consolidation of customer information into a centralized repository. Compared with having scores of different databases, Miller said consolidation would improve Wyndham's ability to make business decisions.

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For more information on Wyndham Hotels, visit its Web site.

Additional information on Dell can be found here.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC:

>> Advice: Backing up with tapes and disks

>> Tip: Hospital's diagnosis: Replace the backup system

>> Best Web Links: Network-attached storage


This was first published in April 2003

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