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Small business eliminates downtime with CDP

Continuous data protection improved production for database designer Mount Vernon Data Systems -- after a significant investment in increased disk space.

When Mount Vernon Data Systems president Michelle Poolet recently sought continuous data protection (CDP) software, she wanted to solve two nagging problems: unreliable tape backups and the downtime that came with taking databases offline to return data to clients.

Mount Vernon, a small company based in Golden, Colo., re-architects and tunes databases for other businesses. In addition to its in-house data, Mount Vernon has to back up its client's proprietary data. The company works off a copy of a client's database, and the big sticking point was that whenever Mount Vernon wanted to send an updated version of the database back to the client, the company would have to stop all testing, take the database offline, detach the database, compress it into a zip file and then send it to the client.

Poolet said this can take only five or ten minutes, but it's still downtime. "We're a small company, so it's not the end of the world. But at a big company, if a database is down that long, you're losing money."

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Hence the lure of CDP. This is a technology that made a lot of headway in 2004. In a recent survey of buying intentions by TheInfoPro, roughly half of the 90 managers who responded either had purchased CDP technology or plan to do so by 2006. The real benefit of CDP is the promise that data will be backed up constantly and recovery time will be reduced to zero. Mount Vernon Data Systems was intrigued by this promise.

During her initial research, Poolet ruled out high-availability backup software from HP called Lifekeeper for SQL Server because it entailed using HP hardware only. She got hooked on the concept of CDP and while doing Web research, came across TimeSpring Software Inc.

When Poolet spoke to TimeSpring about her desire to speed up backup and always have databases up and running, she felt they understood her dilemma and had a good solution. Mount Vernon has been beta testing TimeSpring's TimeData software for six months and plans to buy it. The software costs $1,295 per file server.

With TimeData, Poolet sets up content groups and assigns which data needs to be backed up where through policies. For databases, TimeData takes a snapshot of the entire database and only makes copies of the files that have changed. Now when Mount Vernon wants to send an updated version of a database back to a client, she goes to the TimeData server and rolls back to any point in time to retrieve the latest changes to the database. The database itself does not need to be detached and taken offline.

As for regular backups of company data, Poolet said TimeData has saved her a lot of time and freed her from "weekend tape backups that may or may not work." But Poolet did note that if you choose CDP software, be prepared to buy a lot of disk. "It really depends on how much data you want to protect, but if you're dealing with transactional data such as e-mail, retail or invoice that changes constantly, you'll need lots of disk space," Poolet said.

One drawback to TimeData that Poolet mentioned is no wide area network (WAN) support and she is currently looking at startup XOSoft to fulfill her WAN replication needs. Also, Poolet said TimeData could be improved with some fine-tuning to controls. "For example, we back up our own SQL database on the Time Data server," she said. "It would be better if you could pause a TimeData content group while our SQL backups are happening."

Along with TimeSpring, other CDP vendors include Alacritus Software, FilesX Inc., Mendocino Software, Revivio Inc. and XOsoft.

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