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Community backup cloud lets Ohio schools pool backup, DR resources

Ohio education network turned to StorServer appliances running IBM TSM backup software to form a community backup cloud.

The Ohio Education Computer Network (OECN) standardized its data protection on StorServer appliances running IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) software, setting up a community cloud for backup and disaster recovery serving districts and data centers with disparate storage systems.

The OECN consists of 23 Information Technology Centers (ITCs) spread across seven urban school districts with an enrollment of around 1.5 million students.  All of the sites are connected through the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARNET) fiber-optic cable network.

Ryan McClay, enterprise project manager for the Management Council of the OECN, said the first StorServer appliance showed up at an OECN site in 2005. StorServer appliances -- ranging from remote site to enterprise configurations -- all include TSM software bundled with StorServer’s management console.

Each ITC and district has its own storage setup with no network-wide standardization, but McClay said there are now 15 StorServer installations throughout the OECN.

The OECN began a pilot program last July to combine resources for those StorServer sites into the community backup cloud hosted at the OECN DR center site.

While integrated backup appliances are gaining in popularity now, they were rare in 2005. McClay said the appliances caught on because they made it easier to manage TSM and backups without dedicated backup administrators.

OECN’s payroll system was designed on a DEC OpenVMS (Open Virtual Memory System) mainframe operating system, and StorServer includes an OpenVMS client for TSM. Also, the OECN has been heavily virtualized on VMware since 2007, and McClay said the network sites liked StorServer’s Virtual Machine Backup (VMB) agent for VMware Consolidated Backup.

“There was zero expertise in TSM in the entire organization,” McClay said. “One site went out and got its own appliance and had such success with it, we were able to get more sites to use that technology. The appeal of an all-in-one solution with one throat to choke drove adoption of the appliances.”

The idea of a backup cloud came after ITCs began replicating backup data between sites. To save money, McClay said, “they discovered it would be more efficient if we just built a community-based TMS cloud using the StorServer appliance. That’s where we are now. It’s providing cloud-type backup services, and avoiding the need for local deployments. We’re retiring local backups.”

OECN standardized backup policies for sites on the backup cloud. Previously, they all had their own policies for backing up and retaining data.

The DR facility includes an IBM DS3550 storage array and StorServer’s largest appliance, the Enterprise Backup Appliance (EBA) 3100. McClay said he expects to add a second storage array and StorServer appliance over the next few months.

The DR site is being set up to enable ITCs to recover from failures. The ITCs replicate to the DR site and they can restore applications quickly as a virtual machine if a server is lost at any of the sites.

McClay said the OECN still uses off-site tape as another safety net. He copies backups from the StorServer appliance to LTO tape in a disk-to-disk-to-tape scheme.

“All backups go straight to disk, but we want to be able to DR the DR site, so we take a copy of tape off site,” McClay said.

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