Trauma center sticks with tape for data backup process

Truman Medical Centers IT boss uses disk and replication in data protection, but uses enterprise tape libraries as his main data backup process.

Truman Medical Centers, a two-hospital system in Kansas City, Mo., known for its trauma centers, uses a sophisticated storage setup. It has an EMC SAN and archiving for its medical imaging data, replicates data from key applications between two data centers and 70% of its servers are virtualized.

Yet tape is far from dead at Truman, where it serves as the main backup medium for around 30 TB of corporate data.

Truman uses an EMC Avamar disk appliance to back up virtual machines and a few other servers, and hosts its electronic medical records (EMR) and PACS imaging data off-site. But file/print data, SQL backups and other general data get backed up to a SpectraLogic T120 enterprise tape library.

"Ideally, we'd love to use all Avamar and have everything spinning on disk and replicated to our second data center, but it gets cost-prohibitive," said Chris Dean, Truman's manager of IT infrastructure. "We try to justify the [spending] there every year, but for our environment, tape is never going away. There are things our legal department wants to have on tape for a certain amount of time and guarantee that it's off-site. A lot of checkmarks can be filled with our tape library."

Dean said he is considering adding an EMC Data Domain dedupe target device to give him more disk backup capacity, but even that would not mean the end of tape for him. Although tape is seen as more of an archive medium today, Dean said many health care IT pros believe tape is also necessary for backup.

"I talk to a lot of colleagues in health care, and we're all in the same boat. Some systems just require tape," he said. "Budget-wise and from an organizational perspective, they still want to know there's tape sitting at Iron Mountain for X amount of years, and yes, it's encrypted. They want to be able to check that off for auditors."

Truman upgraded its tape system in early 2012 to save space, power and money when it switched from an old Oracle/STK L700e enterprise tape library. Dean said the SpectraLogic library's significantly smaller footprint played a big role in his decision. He went from 80 LTO-1, LTO-2 and LTO-3 tapes that took up two racks of data center space with the STK library, to 15 LTO-5 tapes and one-third of a rack with the SpectraLogic device, storing the same amount of data.

"We're like every other hospital, or just about every other business, for that matter. Our data center was full," Dean said. "We needed the space, and that old tape library was huge and it took a lot of power. For us to get a full backup, get Iron Mountain to come out and pick up tapes, store them for us, cycle them back, there was a lot of cost in involved in maintenance and transport of tapes. We've significantly reduced that."

He projects the return on investment of the library switch to be less than 24 months.

Cloud backup has emerged as another data protection option. Truman uses Cerner Corp.'s EMR as a Service and a private cloud between data centers, but probably won't be exploring cloud backup anytime soon.

"Cloud is a heavy buzzword now, but we're still focusing on our private cloud between our two data centers and getting everything replicated that we need to," Dean said. "We're making sure via Site Recovery Manager that our VMware infrastructure is robust from one data center to the next. We will look at getting some capacity on the [public] cloud if somebody wants to spin out a test/dev system, but that will probably be a few years."

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You should consider alternatives to EMC Avamar and DataDomain solutions. Most of them are as-much-as capable and less expensive.