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Ham radio group tunes in disk-to-disk backup

A group representing ham radio operators now uses disk-to-disk backup. Not only is the new system more efficient, the organization's IT manager, a self-proclaimed "paranoid," sleeps a little easier at night.

Testing, testing. Is this thing on?

The American Radio Relay League, based in Newington, Conn., is a national organization that serves as an information clearinghouse, promoting the interests of amateur radio operators, more commonly known as "hams."

The league turned to a Data Protection Unit (DPU) from UniTrends Software Corp. to protect more than a terabyte of data.

Don Durand, IT manager for the ARRL, is charged with supporting the IT needs of the organization's 120 employees and more than 163,000 members.

"When it comes to safeguarding our data, I'm very protective," Durand said.

As with most IT shops, Durand has traditionally backed up his data to tape.

"We found that backing it up to a variety of standalone tape drives was becoming an increasing problem. We didn't have the room, we didn't have the time and we didn't have the money to continue down that path," Durand said.

After researching new ways to fine-tune his backup strategy, Durand turned to disk-to-disk backup.

With a Data Protection Unit from Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based UniTrends, Durand said the ARRL now has the leeway to back up key information to disk, to archive critical data to tape, and to move both off-site for additional data protection.

Durand, a self-proclaimed "paranoid," said the DPU's $7,000 price tag sealed the deal. "UniTrends' DPU is easing my concerns, at a price that eases the strain on my budget," he said.

Durand said that, prior to installing the DPU, his team would receive time-consuming data recovery requests a few times per week. Now they can retrieve data from disk in no time.

"We've gotten to the point where we have about 1.2 terabytes of data to backup, and I certainly didn't have that much tape backup capability," Durand said.

The ARRL jerry-rigged a process of rotating its backups on a priority basis. One of the biggest data hogs in the ARRL's data center is an e-mail forwarding system that supports 60,000 people.

"We could not afford to do a tape backup on e-mail. It was too large and took too long," he said. Now the ARRL takes a snapshot from its Network Appliance filers and moves it to the DPU.

Tape still plays a role at the radio league, but Durand is minimizing his dependence on the medium.

"I have about ten 70 GB DLT tape drives. As they fail, I'm simply not going to replace them," Durand said. But given his paranoia, the more places he can store data, the better he feels.

"Nothing against UniTrends and the DPU, but if the DPU catches on fire or a meteor hits it, it becomes a single point of failure. I've been burned enough times over the years to where paranoia is a good thing," he said. That's why the ARRL will maintain a bare-bones tape backup operation, just in case.

According to the ARRL, the term "ham" began as an insult to selfish radio operators. Two amateurs, working across town, could effectively jam all the other operators in the area and, when this happened, frustrated commercial operators would badmouth the jammers and refer to them as hams, along with a few other names not fit for print.

Amateurs unfamiliar with the real meaning of the term picked it up and applied it to themselves.

The ARRL operates a Web site, publishes print magazines and maintains a presence in Washington, D.C, to give its members a voice on Capitol Hill.

John Webster, an amateur radio operator and, coincidentally, the founder of Nashua, N.H., analyst firm the Data Mobility Group Inc., has been on the air since age 14.

"Ham radio has thousands of devotees, particularly in countries like Japan, Russia, the Eastern bloc and a number of European countries," Webster said.

According to Webster, the ARRL is a collecting place for the aspects of the hobby that have to do with information sharing. "It has become a central collection and dissemination point for information. It has gotten a lot more sophisticated than people just having casual chats over the radio or passing coded messages to each other," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story. E-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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