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Boston-area IT pros face a variety of backup challenges

Andrew Burton

Attendees at TechTarget's Backup School seminar in Dedham, Mass., said they face a variety of backup challenges.

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Capacity demands, long-term data retention, complex storage environments and DR requirements were among the biggest concerns, according to conference goers.

Edwick Quiles, network administrator for soft drink maker Polar Beverages, based in Worcester, Mass., said the biggest backup challenges he faces are long-term retention of data and managing backups at remote sites. The company has been using Acronis Backup and Recovery for about three years to protect about 4 TB of data. Quiles said he chose Acronis for its ability to back up both virtual and physical servers.

"We have basically two environments," he said. "We have an ERP environment on an IBM midrange server, then we have our VMware environment, which is separate and the storage is separate, so we back it up separately. The IBM is all backed up to tape as opposed to disk-to-disk on the VMware side of things."

He said long-term retention of data is relatively easy with tape, because you can spin off weekly, monthly and yearly copies of data for retention and "then it's off in a safe somewhere." But the disk backup side can be a challenge, he said.

Overall he's been pleased with the Acronis product, but "they come out with a patch release every quarter, which is good and bad," he said. "It's stability and features, but it's also ongoing maintenance."

Jorge Elias, IT manager with Advocates for Human Potential Inc., a behavioral health consulting firm located in Sudbury, Mass., said that capacity and backup failures are the biggest backup challenges he faces. AHP uses CA ARCserve software to protect roughly 1.5 TB of data. Like Quiles, Elias backs up physical servers to tape and virtual servers to disk, using ArcServe for both.

"We run a full backup on Friday and Saturday, one to tape and one to disk," he said. "Nightly, we just back up the changes, but we've had our HP disk appliance for about four years and it's only 1.4 TB, so that is basically running at full capacity," he said. "On the tape side, it takes two tapes to complete a full backup. I came here today to learn more about what else is available for hardware and software."

Keith Carey, senior IT network consultant with Sterling Autobody Centers, headquartered in Natick, Mass., said the company is using EMC Avamar to protect roughly 10 TB of data across 62 remote sites, a disaster recovery (DR) site and a primary data center. They use a combination of disk and tape, but are moving away from tape backup. They back up to individual tape drives and Carey said that can be a challenge because those backups require the manual switching of tapes to accommodate the amount of data they are backing up.

"With disk, you have the ability to perform image backups of virtual machines with limited overhead. When you go to tape and you have limited space, you are dealing with file backups and application backups," he said. "Say you are backing up a SQL Server. You protect the SQL information, but you might not even bother with backing up the operating systems, so the time of recovery is not as fast as if you were on the disk-based system."

Right now they are using tape for disaster recovery purposes so they can get data off-site. However, they are investigating what it would take to move away from tape completely and use replication to send data directly to their DR facility.

"Rather than backing up to our disk system and then to tape to get data off-site, we want to back up to disk and then replicate to the DR site," he said. "But it becomes an issue of how much data you are transferring and the infrastructure you want to use. We're using Avamar, which has replication capabilities and we are looking into using that. We're just evaluating our options at this point."


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