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California State University aims for 100% cloud backups

Dave Raffo

Chris Olsen, senior director of infrastructure services at California State University, Northridge, said he is on a mission to put all his backup data

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in the cloud. He also realizes that is a multi-year, multi-stage project, which he began in late 2012 when he started using Panzura Global Cloud Storage System to replace his tape backups.

Olsen said he spent about two years looking for the best way to implement cloud backups for the more than 20 TB of data California State University, Northridge (CSUN) protects. He had been using on-site tape, off-site tape and on-site disk, along with Symantec NetBackup, but said he found the process -- especially tape -- too cumbersome and expensive.

"Our objective -- and I say this boldly -- is to eliminate on-site backups; period," he said. "We're starting with tape removal and working our way through. We see this as a multi-year scenario where we will eventually be free of on-premises backup."

With more than 20 TB of backup data, Olsen wanted to use a cloud gateway to move the data off-site. But it took him a long time to find one he was happy with.

"We looked around several years ago and did a big internal assessment of providers," he said. "We decided that was not the time. There were not a lot of key players who were ready for primetime enterprise cloud integration at our capacity. You could find a solution for gigabytes or maybe a terabyte or two, but moving 20 TB through the pipe is scary. And our Internet pipe was still small then.

"So we said, 'It's a great idea, but we're not ready for it yet, and the environment's not ready for us yet.'"

CSUN has since moved to a 10 Gigabit network, solving one problem. Olsen said he stayed in contact with Panzura -- one of a handful of gateway vendors he originally looked at -- and the vendor made changes that made its controllers more palatable to the school. Panzura added encryption and more solid-state capacity as on-board cache, and dropped its capacity-based pricing in favor of a flat rate for the appliance.

CSUN bought a 2u 24 TB Quicksilver Cloud Storage Controller from Panzura last year, as well as virtual appliances for on-site and a secondary site.

For a service provider, CSUN uses the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) Cloud, hosted by the University of San Diego, with deep discounts for educational institutions. Olsen calls the SDSC cloud the "Amazon of the education world. They host their own cloud, and we get a pretty good deal."

Six months after installing Panzura, Olsen said he is well on his way to eliminating tape from the 800 servers he backs up. There are still obstacles to using cloud backups exclusively for data protection, however.

"Panzura's still not quite ready for that big leap yet, and we continue to get updates from them," he said.

His wish list includes the ability to aggregate appliances and to connect each appliance to different clouds. That would allow him to connect his Panzura appliances to Amazon Glacier, as well as the SDSC cloud.

"I'd like to have the option to use Glacier for archive backups that I want to store for a long period of time with infrequent restoration," he said. "That's a very low-cost scenario. I have a lot of data I can stick in Glacier and just keep it there."

CSUN placed one virtual appliance at a hot failover site -- another California State campus -- and it can be used to access data on the Panzura appliance in case of disaster.

CSUN has about 200 TB of primary storage on NetApp FAS arrays and another 100 TB or so on an older EMC array. Panzura bills itself as a primary storage vendor, and Olsen said he might eventually use it for that purpose, but he considers backup a better starting place for the cloud.

"We started with a more risk-averse scenario," he said. "If you have an issue with backups -- if they fail or data gets corrupted -- it doesn't affect your students logging into the portal or your administrators' email. But we're looking at how to use Panzura or other Panzura-type options in other ways."


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