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VTL users talk shop

Three different users pick three different VTLs and discuss their implementations.

Backup windows had become a serious problem for the Louisville Water Co. (LWC) due to an ever-growing volume of data. With the implementation of a virtual tape library (VTL), the firm was able to slash its backup window -- which often exceeded an entire weekend -- down to a matter of hours.

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LWC has an EMC Corp. Symmetrix 8830 providing about 10 terabytes (TB) of raw storage provisioned into a 3 TB business continuance volume and five standard volumes, in addition to an EMC Celerra 702G NAS device. In another location, it maintains a Celerra 600G with an attached Clariion CX600 with several TB of capacity. Other infrastructure includes a diverse mix of Unix, Windows and some IBM AS400 servers, all serving around 350 users.

"In some cases, [tape systems] weren't able to finish their backup window over a weekend, spilling over into our production timeframes on Monday mornings," said Tony Gregory, director of information technology at LWC. The goal for Gregory was to shrink the backup window and consolidate backups to reduce tape utilization using the company's existing EMC Legato backup software.

According to Gregory, the move to EMC's Clariion Disk Library (CDL) for VTLs was a natural fit since LWC had already standardized on EMC as a storage provider. The Clariion Disk Library was acquired at the same time LWC purchased a Celerra 702G. "We really didn't go through an evaluation process of different VTL technologies [products]," Gregory said. "We knew EMC had an offering and were comfortable with that."

Gregory reports that EMC engineers were able to install and configure the CDL within the LWC environment in less than four hours. The unit worked properly with its existing Legato software, which saw the CDL as a tape library. "There were minor configuration changes on the server, and we were up and running, and using it that night to back up our data," Gregory said.

The move to VTL has had a significant impact on backup and recovery efficiency. Although Gregory cannot attach a solid dollar figure to the benefits, he points out that some procedures only require a fraction of their original time. "Recovery procedures that could have taken us several hours to several days have been cut down under an hour."

Retail entures picks FalconStor VTL

With over 30 TB of useful storage serving some 1,200 corporate users, Retail Ventures Inc. (RVI) was challenged to manage nightly incremental backups of 2 TB per night, along with full weekend backups of the SAN. Like other data centers, RVI faced the problem of expanding backup and recovery windows but still required off-site data storage to guard against disaster. According to Dennis Moore, director of enterprise architecture at RVI, virtual tape technology proved to be an excellent complement to conventional tape.

Moore had an existing relationship with FalconStor Software Inc. and its IPStor software, making FalconStor an obvious choice for VTL technology. The company chose Overland Storage for its physical tape library.

In terms of performance, Moore notes that writing speeds are not significantly faster than conventional tapes, but the real speed benefit is in the VTL's ability to thread multiple backup jobs to disk more efficiently than writing backup jobs to individual tape drives. For example, a larger backup job can be broken up and spread to multiple virtual tape drives -- a practice that Moore terms "scaling horizontally." Since tape drives are "virtual" on the VTL, the cost of each drive and tape is eliminated. "Instead of taking seven hours to backup because of one stream, I'm now running 10 [virtual] jobs that might take that down to an hour and a half."

Once the initial backup is completed to VTL, the backup contents can then be duplicated to tape for off-site storage. Since the VTL is separated from the production network, the VTL can push contents to tape during the normal working day when more time and personnel are available. Once the tape is shipped off site, it generally does not need to ever be shipped back because current backup data remains on the VTL system, saving critical time in a crisis. Moore is particularly pleased with the ready accessibility of VTL data versus a large tape library. "There's no load/unload -- you don't have to wait for that -- so it's remarkable how fast you can restore that executive's Excel spreadsheet."

Epicor picks Quantum VTL

About three years ago, Peter Popovich, network engineer at Epicor Software Corp., needed to select a replacement for Epicor's aging DLT 7000 system. Not only was the current backup system nearing the end of its working life, but his backup window was often spilling over into the workweek. "The capacity per tape wasn't large enough for the volume of data we were backing up," Popovich said. The goal was to re-evaluate emerging backup options available in the industry and select a "forklift upgrade" that could backup 2.5 TB to 3 TB of data storage over the weekend using Symantec Corp.'s NetBackup. The IT staff scarcely had time to master new technologies, so any new backup system would have to be a turnkey product.

Popovich had initially envisioned a more traditional tape system as a replacement for the DLT 7000 but quickly acknowledged the problematic nature of tape. Although mainly a Hewlett-Packard Co. shop, Epicor settled on a Quantum Corp. DX30 disk-based backup appliance for the corporate office in Irvine, Calif. Quantum was just down the road from Epicor, which weighed heavily on the company's decision, Popovich said.

"In real terms, even coming close to doubling the amount of data we're backing up on the weekend, I'm taking about one third of the time to backup my data," he said. Since the initial installation, the original DX30 has been upgraded with an expansion array. A second DX30 is in place at Epicor's San Diego site, and a third DX30 (with an expansion array) is running at a Minneapolis site. The biggest hurtle to overcome was proper zoning of the VTL into the SAN so that only relevant devices would see the DX30.

While there is nothing particularly innovative about Epicor's use of VTL technology, Popovich emphasizes that very issue as a benefit of VTL. "The idea behind implementing the DX30 over other technologies was to try and keep the process fairly familiar." Perhaps the most unique application of the DX30 is to provide impromptu backups for software development personnel, allowing new or changed work to be protected virtually on demand -- without the hassle that might normally be encountered with tapes.

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