Hollins University: Backup, Recovery, and Restore

As we all know, our information systems are only as good as the backups we keep. And unfortunately we often don’t realize until a catastrophic event occurs that our backups have been misplaced, saved on defective media, or incorrectly configured. As IT professionals, we live every day with the knowledge that if our institution’s enterprise system were to suddenly and unexpectedly have no historic data, it would indeed be a disaster.

Hollins University has been struggling with how, when, and where to store backups of key systems for years. In the past 15 years, we have tried as many as 20 different backup solutions. Each system had its operational benefits and drawbacks, but none met all our needs. This, coupled with the problem of technology becoming obsolete, led us to seek a data backup and recovery solution that could meet the needs of the entire university. We have converted our computer operations to an enterprise system and were looking for a way to backup the entire system seamlessly. And because we are under the same budget constraints as other educational institutions, the solution had to be cost effective and not capital intensive.

At Hollins University, we recently consolidated data backup for the entire university to DataGuardian, an automatic, online backup and recovery service from IPR International (Conshohocken, Pa.). The solution has required low startup costs and few personnel resources.

DataGuardian automatically captures data from our servers, then compresses, encrypts, and transmits it via the Internet to a secure vault in one of IPR’s remote locations. As each scheduled backup occurs, the DataGuardian agent recognizes the addition of new data or changes in previously stored data. After the initial “seed,” only new or changed data is captured, encrypted, and transmitted to the remote vault.

One of the best features of DataGuardian is that it allows us to instantaneously restore single files or even a complete server through a web-based point-and-click front end. This has significantly reduced the amount of time computing services personnel spend locating and restoring lost files. We recently experienced a system disk failure in a key system, but restoring the server was quick and painless.

Another key feature of the DataGuardian system is that it requires very little bandwidth. We made the initial seed of data directly to an IPR vault. The subsequent delta backups, which capture only new files or the part of the file that was changed or modified, reduce the amount of bandwidth we need as well as the time it takes to run the daily backups. We estimate that our backups are taking less than half the time they did before we switched to DataGuardian.

The backup runs in the background and can throttle back if demands on the server increase, so our users don’t notice any system slowdown during backups.

At Hollins, we sleep a little better because we know our servers and desktops—and the software that runs them—are backed up regularly to a secure, offsite location. We’ve stopped worrying about individual university personnel remembering to backup their computers, and we’ve reduced the amount of time computing services spends resorting lost and corrupted files. In all, I think we’ve made great strides in backing up the critical information at Hollins University.

About the Author

Richard Alvarez (ralvarez@hollins.edu) is chief technology officer for the Office of Computing Services at Hollins University.

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