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Engineering firm designs private backup cloud

Engineering consulting firm exp wanted to get rid of tape and standardize backup in remote offices, so it built a private backup cloud.

When looking to cut costs and standardize its data protection practice, engineering consulting firm exp ditched tape and virtual tape libraries and built a private backup cloud with Panzura Cloud Storage Controllers and EMC Atmos.

Exp Chief Information Officer Doug Caldwell said many of the Ontario-based company's 70 remote offices lacked on-premises IT personnel to handle backups. The remote sites had different ways of backing up critical data from Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and computer aided-design (CAD) applications. Some offices used tape, while others used virtual tape libraries (VTLs) or USB drives.

In some cases, tapes were stored off site in an Iron Mountain data center, while in other instances, an employee would take the USB or tape drive home.

"That was not the way to store corporate data," Caldwell said. "Our business really is our intellectual property documents that we produce for our clients. What we store in our file servers is the value of the company. There was no standardization because of the numbers of mergers and acquisitions. We had everything under the sun when it came to backup processes. It varied in each branch office."

Exp started the transformation to a private backup cloud by installing Panzura in its four largest remote offices in Chicago, Brampton, Ontario, and Tallahassee and Orlando, Florida. Each office has more than 100 employees. Caldwell said he expects to install Panzura in the other remote offices over the next four years.

Exp also installed Atmos object storage systems in its Chicago and Toronto sites.

Panzura controllers cache most frequently accessed data and keep it locally for quick access before eventually moving it to the Atmos storage. The company no longer uses tape in the large remote sites, eliminating the need to buy tape drives and backup software licenses.

Panzura also is used as part of the disaster recovery (DR) practice. If a file is saved in the Orlando branch office, for instance, it is copied to the Orlando private cloud data center and then the file is replicated to the Chicago cloud data center for DR.

"The two Atmos systems replicate to each other, so no matter how old that data is, I have two copies of it," Caldwell said. "The ultimate goal was to eliminate tape. We also eliminated the need for storage area networks and replaced them with Panzura appliances. It acts like an intelligent cache. If a file has not been used in 12 months, the device uses a pointer while the full copy is in Orlando or Toronto. The user will see 100 files, but half of those files are pointers."

Caldwell said Panzura and Atmos are part of the company's strategic plan to manage data in all the branch offices. They explored the possibility of using a public cloud, but determined early on that the cost benefit was not the same as building a private cloud.

"We looked at different technologies and solutions. We looked at Amazon Web Services. We looked at Nasuni. We were not comfortable with it because of the costs," he said. "You don't have a predictable cost model. We did a cost model and we couldn't justify it. We also were not comfortable with all of our IP on someone else's site. The current solution is behind our firewall."

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