Investment firm Audax Group revamps data protection system with Actifio

Audax Group revamps its data protection system with Actifio copy management appliances to eliminate tape, traditional backup and replication software.

Investment firm Audax Group turned to startup Actifio to streamline its data protection system, and then used its new setup to swap the roles of its main data center and colocation site to increase availability.

The Audax Group uses Actifio's Product and Availability Storage (PAS) appliances to protect financial and research data for the companies it invests in, as well as those it is considering investing in. The Audax Group implemented Actifio in early 2012 as a replacement for its Symantec Backup Exec software, CA's XOsoft WANSync, Vision Solutions' Double-Take host-based replication and tape drives.

Actifio uses what it calls "copy data management" to keep all backup, disaster recovery, business continuity and test/development data on its PAS appliances. The Audax Group installed one PAS system at its main data center in Boston and the other at its colocation site 30 miles away in Massachusetts, with 20 TB of licensed capacity on each appliance.

Erik Dubovik, Audax Group's vice president of IT, said Actifio's unique approach to data protection took him some time to get used to before he decided to implement it.

"When you look at the competition, historically, it has been point solutions for various business processes," he said. "It took some time to get our heads around how and where to use Actifio."

Dubovik said Actifio's PAS deduplicates data across the entire data store before replicating to the second box. "You put an agent on a server, and then you apply a policy against it," he said. "When you first implement Actifio, it has to go through a process of identifying and ingesting data on the servers. You assign an SLA [service-level agreement], and the box brings in the data according to the policies you define. Once the data is ingested into Actifio and you're protecting locally, you can apply different policies that let you protect remotely."

The Audax Group set up three policies for its servers, depending on how often they need to be protected. Level One has a recovery point objective (RPO) of three hours and a recovery time objective (RTO) of 15 minutes, which means data gets protected every three hours and would take 15 minutes to restore. The RPO is 12 hours and RTO 30 minutes for Level Two data, and Level Three has an 18-hour RPO and 45-minute RTO.

Dubovik projects that using Actifio will save the Audax Group about $750,000 over three years, mostly from eliminating backup licenses and tape, and replicating data to a third site in New York. Having one data protection system is also easier for his IT team to manage, he said.

It also freed up space on the Audax Group's IBM XIV storage area network (SAN), which had been hosting snapshots for test/dev data. "Now we can maintain snaps on Actifio, and not put them on our storage system," Dubovik said. "If you're working on a data analytics project and want to take a copy of your business intelligence warehouse and work against that, before Actifio we had to make a duplicate of that warehouse available on production storage. Now we can spin up a duplicate of that business intelligence warehouse on Actifio, let our team access the PAS, and let it expire when they're finished. We don't have to put it on production storage and manage it and protect it."

But he also found another unexpected use for PAS outside of a new data protection system. Dubovik said the Audax Group's Boston data center occasionally loses power and no backup generators are available in the building. After he set up Actifio, he used it to switch the roles of his data centers, making the more reliable colocation site the main site. He acquired a low-cost SAN for the colocation site and promoted its servers to production servers.

Dubovik said the process was seamless because Actifio already synchronized data between the two sites, so there was no difference between the data at the sites. He said the conversion was completed over a few weeks during October, using Actifio's integration with VMware vCenter and vMotion.

"When we were ready to change a server, say at 11 at night, we would shut down the production server, and execute manual data migration," he said. "Actifio would look at the data that changed from the last snap to the manual change and copy the data over. We would then go into our VMware vCenter, turn the servers on, spin them up on Actifio, and VMware turns on the server on the disk inside Actifio. We confirmed all the servers were operational, executed vMotion to bring servers onto our production servers at the colocation. The last step is to apply a protection policy against that server because Actifio sees it as a new server."

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