School district uses Actifio to tame copy data, manage data protection

Palm Beach County school district uses Actifio to tame copy data and manage data protection of more than 1 PB of information.

The Palm Beach County school district in Florida is streamlining its data protection process, which its infrastructure manager said requires too many products, costs too much money and takes too long.

The Palm Beach County (PBC) school district has more than 1 PB of data, stored mostly on NetApp storage arrays, and a new Dell Compellent SC8000. One of the largest school districts in the country, PBC has to manage data generated by more than 180,000 students, 23,000 employees and 187 schools.

Henry Martin, IT infrastructure manager for the district, said his backups often run over into the weekends. He has to manage a myriad of backup products, including IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) for physical machines, Veeam Software Backup & Replication for virtual backups, Vision Solutions Double-Take for replication, and an IBM Protec TIER virtual tape library (VTL).

TSM requires specialized administrators, and two of them left around the same time earlier this year. "We lose a TSM administrator, and we're in a jam," he said. "I wanted to consolidate our backups and I didn't want to be held captive, so I had to have a TSM administrator do backups and restores. I really wanted to have a single solution."

One of his resellers introduced him to Actifio in early 2013. Actifio Copy Data Storage software runs on an appliance, discovers application data and creates a gold copy that is available for instant access. Customers create service-level agreements to set the frequency of snapshots and backup and replication policies.

Because it was so much different than what he was used to, Martin said he had to see the Actifio demo several times before he grasped it. "At first I was taken aback. I said, 'I'm not sure how this product works.' Finally, a light went off in my head."

The district's first phase with Actifio is to replace TSM to protect non-production data on IBM AIX systems.

Martin said he has seven IT people dedicated to storage, virtualization and backups, and some of them work weekends backing up all of the district's data.

Actifio sold Martin on the concept of copy data management, which comes in handy with his DB2 database and AIX servers. Each of the district's three DB2 databases holds identical data used for non-production, quality assurance, staging and testing. Before Actifio, PBC had to keep copies for all of those processes and back them up separately. Now it can work off the golden copy.

"It's a lot of data to manage," Martin said. "We do a shutdown every Friday night to back up our non-production environment. That takes three or four hours. This is going to free up a lot of resources and time.

"Once we ingest the production database into Actifio, we can bring up as many copies as we want of the same data. If the developers want new data, they ask us to refresh the database [and] we go in there and refresh it. It's simple."

Martin said he expects to save at least $700,000 over five years because he will replace his VTL and current backup software. He also expects to use less storage by reducing the number of copies of his non-production data.

He plans to replicate to the district's disaster recovery site in Tallahassee, Fla. through Actifio instead of using NetApp SnapMirror and IBM High Availability Disaster Recovery.

Some of those savings will rely on future Actifio features. PBC still uses Veeam for its schools that IT treats as remote sites. Martin said he is looking forward to testing Actifio's upcoming virtual machine protection software. And the tape connection module on Actifio's roadmap will move backups directly to tape. That will enable PBC to remove its VTL.

Martin said the first decision he had to make with Actifio was whether to run it in-band or out-of-band. Actifio originally required customers to run it in-band, but added out-of-band support this year for organizations reluctant to put their appliances in the data path.

Martin said he decided to run Actifio in-band, although it was more complicated in the initial setup. "Out-of-band is easier to set up, because it's just on your network," he said. "Running it in-band, you have to give LUNs [logical unit numbers] to Actifio. But once it's set up in-band, it's just a pass-through and it's easier to manage."

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