Missouri university turns to cloud backup service for data protection

At Missouri's Maryville University, IT pros turn to dinCloud's cloud backup service for a lower-cost off-site data protection option.

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When Maryville University faced the impact -- and costs -- of hours-long commutes for the school's IT staff to maintain an off-site backup location, the institution turned to cloud backup provider dinCloud to handle its remote data protection efforts.

"We talked to a couple different vendors, and we chose dinCloud because their people were very knowledgeable and very flexible in creating a solution that would work for us," said David Brawner, Maryville University's manager of network services.

Maryville used dinCloud's dinBackup, which is aimed at "price-sensitive" customers and is meant to be used with a customer's existing on-site backup solution, plus includes disaster recovery and other services, according to the company.

Maryville University enrolls about 3,800 students at its 130-acre campus in Town and Country, Mo., about 20 miles outside of St. Louis. Brawner said the school spent about two years trying to operate a remote backup location at Columbia College -- located more than 110 miles west -- but the travel time for IT staff and the technology used going back and forth made the effort difficult, Brawner said.

"We were going to use that as our off-site backup location. … The equipment we took down there was old equipment. We tried to patch and bandage it all together, and it didn't really work the way we wanted it to work, and it wasn't as reliable as we wanted it to be, and it took a lot of our time to manage it, quite frankly," he said.

He said the school has a NetApp Fabric MetroCluster SAN on campus, with one-half of the SAN in the administration building and the other in its library. Brawner said they would have had to purchase another NetApp SAN in order to use the NetApp level tools for data synchronization for a remote solution.   

"And for us, that was going to run somewhere in the area of $125,000 to $175,000 in the first year alone, and then maintenance and everything on top of that just to keep it running. … For us, that was the impetus for looking at alternatives to actually purchasing and managing our own hardware," Brawner said.

He said they turned to the cloud because their initial attempt at backing up about 4 terabytes of data off-site was time-consuming for the three people in the school's network services division staff, whose responsibilities also include managing the data centers, internet access, infrastructure and other tasks. Adding a four-hour round-trip commute to Columbia College was "overwhelming," he said.

"On top of that, it was a cost thing. When we replaced our older IBM SAN with a newer NetApp SAN here, we took the old IBM equipment to the off-site location. But making a heterogeneous SAN connection between those two and getting a good backup was troublesome at best -- keeping the VPN connections running and getting the data transferred in a timely fashion," Brawner said.

He said dinCloud came recommended from the Los Angeles-based En Pointe Technologies, and dinCloud turned out to be the best option for Maryville.

"They were very willing to sit down and work out how data was going to be shared, how it would be encrypted, who is responsible from getting data from point A to point B -- they offered specifics, not sales fluff," said Brawner, who noted that the company helped the school throughout the process.

"Our biggest headache was getting the VPN connection set up, which always seems to be the biggest headache when you're transmitting something over an open connection. We already had the bandwidth -- we have about 500 megabits of bandwidth spread out among three ISPs, so bandwidth wasn't a big deal for us. But the VPN, getting it all configured properly -- dinCloud was really very helpful with that. … [They] helped us to configure the connection, work out a couple of bugs with some routing issues between their ISP subnets and ours, and then away we went," he said. "They also even helped us get into our NetApp hardware here and configure it to set up the SnapMirror remote instance so we can replicate the data over to their site."

Brawner said they've begun the process of preparing a DR strategy with dinCloud.

"Beyond the simple backup of our data -- and we're not looking at archival backup; this is just one copy [of the] latest data, no restoring a file from a month ago or anything like that -- [we are] beginning to utilize dinCloud services for standing up some servers at their location as a DR site," Brawner said. "Initially, we're going to stand up some DNS servers … so that if we have a disaster, we already have a DNS server at their location already responding to our domain name and ready to go in the event we have to transfer [or] stand up our data that we've backed up."

Brawner said the school has been able to save thousands of dollars purchasing hardware and maintenance by transitioning to cloud backup and is investigating whether to use dinCloud services for disaster recovery, as well.

"On our existing infrastructure here, we spend probably $40,000 a year just in maintenance. So dinCloud's prices were significantly cheaper -- we're saving more than three-quarters of that cost just by using our own hardware maintenance on it. And then on top of that … we were spending a lot of time keeping the VPN running [and] keeping the old hardware running at the other university location," Brawner said. "And doing it with dinCloud, frankly -- we set it up, [and] once we had all the bugs worked out … we don't even look back. It just goes."

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