For St. John's Prep school in Danvers, Mass., the trip to finding the right cloud backup solution was a long one, as Christopher Butler, the school's director of information services, took his time exploring options.
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The final decision left the school with the ability to expand its use of the cloud to primary data.
Butler selected a TwinStrata CloudArray virtual gateway appliance to back up data to the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) Cloud. His original goal was to move his backups off tape in a cost-effective way.
"We took a full year of poking around and playing with TwinStrata and other things," Butler said.
St. John's is a nine-building campus, networked with Extreme Networks Gigabit and 10-Gigabit Ethernet switching. Its storage consists of a Hewlett-Packard P2000 G3 MSA Array System and two EMC Iomega NAS devices. The school's main application to protect is a Microsoft SQL Server database. IT also backs up staff and faculty files and videos, as well as home directories for each of its 1,200-plus students.
"We had been doing disk-to-disk-to-tape using [Symantec] Backup Exec," Butler said. "We were doing poor man's off-site storage, using my attic and other people's houses to store tapes."
Butler said he took about a year evaluating cloud backup tools and services, including "all kinds of backup software that had cloud links," before narrowing his search to CloudArray and Riverbed Whitewater as the lowest-cost products that met his needs.
He found CloudArray was a better cloud backup solution for his school, which is almost fully virtualized with VMware. He installed CloudArray as a virtual appliance in mid-2012.
He said CloudArray had better compression and more features than Whitewater, which was new at the time. "We could put bandwidth throttles on with TwinStrata, and we were getting better compression," he said. "We also dedupe with Backup Exec, but TwinStrata's compression rates are better. We end up using less storage in the cloud."
He also took a close look at the cloud service providers and found "Amazon beat every other one on costs, hands down." Butler said the school has about 4 TB of backup data after deduplication stored on S3.
"We have as much headroom as we need on Amazon," he said.
That headroom could come in handy when St. John's needs more primary storage. Butler said he will likely outgrow his current storage within two years.
"We're not super I/O users, but we need more space," he said. "I'm investigating how we might do things in the future. If I need massive amounts of storage, I create a LUN on the CloudArray and use Amazon for primary storage.
"In terms of IOPS, a CloudArray definitely meets our needs," he said. "I see it as a gateway to whatever amount of storage I need. I just have to make sure I have some local cache so my storage can take care of immediate I/O needs."
Butler said he is not concerned about cloud lock-in because he already migrated data between clouds. Before purchasing CloudArray, TwinStrata gave St. John's 1 TB of free data on Google's cloud as a promotion. After purchase, Butler said it was easy to move that data to Amazon's cloud.
"We had data in a local cache, and we just pointed it to the other provider," he said. "It filled up our outbound pipe for a while, but it was fairly easy."
He said the school's policies call for keeping backups for one year, so he still has some tape, but he plans to get rid of that after the retention time passes in a few months.
"We're in the final days of tape," Butler said. "We had to hold on to some tapes just in case."