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Mining company strikes remote office backup gold with Riverbed Granite

Dave Raffo

Protecting data in remote offices is enough of a challenge when those offices are scattered around the United States. When they are in locations such as Turkey and

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the mountains of Mexico, it requires a different way of thinking about storage and data protection.

That was the challenge for Alamos Gold, a mining company with projects in Turkey, Mexico and -- as of this year -- Oregon. The company's headquarters and data center are in Toronto. Alamos geologists produce computer-aided design files and maps from mine locations, and those files need to be accessed by people in the Toronto office.

Until the firm implemented Riverbed Granite devices this year, it was up to the remote offices to protect that valuable mining data until it could be delivered to Toronto via mail on external hard drives. And there were no IT personnel at those sites, which left a potential for losing information that was literally worth its weight in gold.

The problem, according to Alamos Gold Director of IT Rohit Tellis, was moving data from remote sites where bandwidth is spotty. Alamos built a private cloud in Toronto and centralized whatever applications it could, but not all the gold mining apps could be accessed at remote sites.

"File servers, domain controllers and some SQL applications for geologists were not conducive for being used over the WAN," Tellis said.

Replicating between branch offices or to Toronto would be difficult, if not impossible, without upgrades to bandwidth and network infrastructure.

"We went looking for WAN optimization, and that [was] when we came across Granite," Tellis said. "We did a TCO [total cost of ownership] study and realized that a branch-office-in-a-box approach would be best for us."

Riverbed launched Granite as part of its Steelhead WAN optimization platform with the goal of consolidating and optimizing block-level data traffic to the data center. It allows customers to back up at the data center instead of the branch offices.

Tellis said other options included installing storage or servers at each office with either a WAN acceleration device or software to sync data with the data center. Instead, he placed a Riverbed Steelhead appliance and a Granite Core device connected to his Dell EqualLogic iSCSI storage area network (SAN)  in Toronto, and a Steelhead EX device with Granite Edge software in the remote sites. Each Granite Edge box acts as an iSCSI client and writes back to the SAN in the Toronto data center.

Tellis said using the Granite devices cost less than putting storage -- or even servers -- in the remote sites.

"It gives us a stateless branch office," he said. "Everything is sitting in the data center where the IT expertise is. We can manage it and back it up there.

"If we had to buy a separate SAN, separate compute and WAN, and sync that up to Canada, it would be hard to justify the cost. Granite integrates with VMware and our SAN infrastructure in the data center. We could do application-consistent snapshots from the branch office and back them up at the data center. That deeper level of integration was an advantage for us, and gave us one throat to choke."

The first step with Granite was to run a pilot last August at a Turkish site. If that worked, the plan was to repeat it at other sites.

"We wanted to come up with a templated infrastructure for our branches," Tellis said. "We wanted something that was repeatable and easy to support for our centralized IT team."

The pilot site had 600 Kbps upload and 1 Mbps download links with 120 msec latency. Alamos generates 50 GB to 100 GB of data per week from the site during drilling season. "That was the baptism by fire for Granite," Tellis said. "I figured, if we can run it there, we can run it anywhere."

Granite moved data at 1 GB per hour and achieved 90% data reduction with deduplication. Tellis said he has since installed Granite devices at five other remote sites with another one soon to go live. "Those sites have more bandwidth than Turkey, but some have worse latency."


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