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Community health center changes data protection strategy with Syncsort

A community health center switches its data management and data protection strategy, moving from an EMC SAN and reliance on tape to NetApp and NetApp Syncsort Integrated Backup (NSB).

A proliferation of virtual machines and digitized patient data prompted Community Health Center (CHC) of Snohomish County, WA, to changes its storage management and data protection strategy. The medical center network switched to NetApp FAS storage last year along with NetApp Syncsort Integrated Backup (NSB) to enable disaster recovery, speed backups and the provisioning of storage.

The Snohomish CHC provides medical, dental and pharmacy services to lower income residents without healthcare insurance. IT manager Bob Scott said data growth due to electronic medical record (EMR) systems and large-scale virtual server implementation played havoc with his backup windows and the ability to quickly provision storage. He said using NetApp storage with NSB to back up to disk drastically reduced his backup windows and the time it takes to create a virtual testing environment.

Scott said CHC first decided to switch storage area networks (SANs) around the middle of 2010 because it found his EMC Corp. Clariion system difficult to manage for his six-person staff. After he decided to move to the NetApp FAS3100 platform, he discovered NSB. NSB is developed by Syncsort and NetApp and integrates Syncsort BEX backup software with NetApp’s snapshot technology.

CHC has more than 80 virtual servers -- mostly VMware -- and a Microsoft cluster for his EMR. NSB lets him mirror data on two SANs to provide the ability to failover with no loss of the critical EMR application.

Before switching to NSB, CHC did its daily data backups to tape with Symantec Corp. Backup Exec. Now it uses Syncsort to handle daily backups to disk, including virtual server backups.

“We had outgrown our SAN and were looking for something easier to manage,” Scott said. “We were getting bogged down in backup. We had no service windows because our backups were taking so long. I needed a better solution for backup.”

NSB includes Syncsort's BEX backup software for physical and virtual machines, and is integrated with NetApp snapshot technology. It uses NetApp’s SnapVault for bare-metal recovery and SnapMirror to replicate snapshots for disaster recovery.

Now CHC backs up to a 20 TB partition on the FAS3160 with a 20 TB mirror on a FAS3140. Scott said he still has tape for monthly backups because of long-term retention compliance requirements. He said moving to disk cut his nightly backup window by five hours -- giving his team more time for maintenance.

“We went from running backups all night from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., and that’s if they ran correctly,” he said. “Now we start at midnight and we’re done at 3:30 a.m. That gives us a nightly service window from 8 p.m. to midnight that we didn’t have before. We were backing up every night except for a two-hour window on Sundays.”

Instant Virtualization comes in handy

Scott said he takes advantage of NSB’s Instant Virtualization to feature create a virtual testing environment. Instant Virtualization lets him convert any backup image into a VMware virtual machine by using a NetApp FlexClone volume instead of through the VMware console. He said the process takes minutes, and uses no additional storage. Because it runs off the backup storage, Instant Virtualization doesn’t impact the production environment.

The ability to test within the Syncsort application utilizing the NetApp SAN was huge for me.

Bob Scott, IT manager, Community Health Center 

“The ability to test within the Syncsort application utilizing the NetApp SAN was huge for me,” he said. “We didn’t have the funding to create a sandbox test environment. The Instant Virtualization within the backup environment gives us a test environment. I can snap a production database, test it, and if it breaks we can blow it away. If it works, we copy it over to production.”

Being able to set up a test environment quickly comes in handy at CHC. Scott said at any given time he might have 60 or so testing projects to support, and many come to him with little or no advance notice. He said it took up to two weeks to re-stripe a LUN on his Clariion storage but no re-striping is required in his current setup because he can make data-in-place point-in-time copies of LUNs with snapshots.

NSB uses Syncsort’s Zero Impact Block Level Backup on the client side to only transfer blocks of data that have changed since the last backup and takes advantage of NetApp’s target-side data deduplication.

“We dedupe in each aggregate [multiple RAID group] across the board before it hits Syncsort backups, so we’re not backing up more information than we need to,” he said.

He said he came across Syncsort last July when looking for a disk backup product around the time he was switching SANs. “I didn’t believe some of their claims for restores, especially with large Exchange mailboxes and servers,” he said. “I made them come down and prove it to me, and they did. Then I found out about the integration with NetApp. The fact they worked so well together was icing on the cake.”

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