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Case Study

OSU Adopts Hybrid Backup Approach

A new backup and restore system at Oregon State University Foundation has reduced weekly backup time for the system administrator from days, to just 90 minutes. "I'd hate to think how my Mondays would be without it," said Systems and Database Administrator Lyle Utt.

System Switch
The system, on which all of the foundation's data is backed up to either disk or tape, is "a huge time-saver," according to Utt, who backs up about a terabyte of data nightly. "I was spending all day Monday doing backups. So I'm quite pleased with [STORServer]; it's freed me up to do other things."

The OSU Foundation, with assets of more than $500 million, is a nonprofit organization chartered to raise and administer private funds in support of Oregon State University education, research and outreach. Utt backs up two server locations, a local office in Corvalis, OR, where the foundation is located, and another in Portland, on OSU's campus. The OSU computer, which is also used for offsite storage, is synched up nightly with the local system and is backed up to disk only; the local server is backed up to disk first, then from there eventually to tape.

When the rapidly growing foundation first implemented STORServer, Utt said, he was backing up just six sets of data, versus the current load of 21 sets. To back up that amount of data using the old system would take two days a week, he estimates, versus the hour and a half a week he spends now. "And it's easier and faster to restore; I'm not lugging a lot of tapes around."

The system, STORServer's Business Continuity Appliance, includes hardware, software, server, tape slots, disks and user training.

Before STORServer, Utt was backing up all of the content on each server. His biggest adaptation to the new system has been a change in how he approaches backups, since STORServer structures backups in terms of files, not entire servers. The system detects whether a file has been changed since the last backup. "When you back up the server, you're backing up absolutely everything absolutely every time," Utt explained. "With [STOREServer], you're backing up the files that have changed [only]."

Disk Backups Save Time
Since the STORServer system backs up first to disk, restoring a file is now far simpler and quicker. When a user requested a file on a backup tape, Utt would physically retrieve the tape, mount it onto the system, and retrieve the file from the tape back to disk. With the new system, when someone calls to request a backed-up file, Utt said, "you don't have to go get a tape, because [the files] are all online."

Security Concerns
Adding an element of security, the foundation is running the backup system in conjunction with a Tivoli database that tracks the objects backed up. STORServer, with Tivoli, encrypts the data in the database as it conducts its nightly backups. The encrypted, backed-up data is unique to the database it comes from. "I can't take the Tivoli backup tape out of my machine, put it anywhere else, and read it at all," Utt explained, without the corresponding databases.

Also, under the earlier system the foundation backed up its production servers only.  Because of the time saved using STORServer, Utt is now able to back up all of the foundation's 27 servers. "We are now able to redo a whole system in less than a day," Utt said. "It used to take us multiple days and still didn't provide us with the kind of data protection that we have now."

The system also features extensive reporting for tracking backup. From within STORServer, Utt said, he can monitor each client performance, along with a log of errors. "[It] gives a summary at the end of what objects it updated, which expired, and which failed, so you can easily find what you need.... I didn't have that at all [before]."

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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