Data backup strategies simplify remote disaster recovery

New backup and accelerator technologies are making remote disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) faster than ever. Learn more about implementing a cost-effective formal disk-based backup for disaster recovery.

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New York-based Maxim Group was forced to come up with a new data backup strategy following a series of disasters that date back to the summer of 2007.

In a span of less than a year, the investment banking, securities and investment management firm had a hard drive fail, resulting in a quarter-hour loss of its Exchange server; a nearby steam pipe burst forcing an evacuation; and the air conditioner in the data center failed, sending the temperature into that room to 128 degrees. This was all topped off with the building flooding on Easter Sunday.

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"These events really opened our eyes," said John Michaels, chief technology officer at Maxim Group, which has branch offices in Long Island N.Y., Manhattan, N.Y. and Red Bank, N.J. "Fortunately, the Exchange server was on a mirrored drive, and we dodged bullets in the other cases."

Oftentimes, the disaster recovery (DR) or business continuity (BC) plan for a remote location revolves around how to access, restore or co-locate data. Fortunately, a new crop of robust backup and accelerator options is making that task easier than ever, freeing workers at remote locations from having to change backup tapes and allowing central IT workers to remain in control of the backup process by leveraging their existing infrastructure to implement a cost-effective formal disk-based backup.

Maxim Group purchased a standalone FalconStor Software Network Storage Server (NSS) for the Manhattan office that now replicates data on 29 servers in all three locations. "We had 3 MB (transmission) lines but now have 10 MB lines so data can be transmitted from one location to another in an overnight period," Michaels said.

The Manhattan servers are backed up to a FalconStor NSS appliance, which replicates to another FalconStor NSS appliance in Long Island, and vice-versa. FalconStor NSS uses its built-in Microscan compression --replication at the sector level (512 bytes) rather than the track level (32 KB) -- and only replicates delta changes, enabling the completion of back up off hours and overnight. Before FalconStor, backup was done to a local hard drive (one server to another), and Maxim couldn't complete the backup on 3 MB pipe in the designated backup window.

Data backup strategy saves time for remote offices

Data backup software from EVault (a Seagate company), combined with a WAN accelerator from Silver Peak Systems Inc., has also brought peace of mind to Luis C. Wiedemann, network manager at Broad and Cassel.

"We're not really in the regulatory/compliance area, so we don't have many rules to comply with in terms of external auditing, but we needed a central storage solution," said Wiedemann about the Orlando Fla.-based law firm that has 350 employees in eight Florida offices.

After a transmission line upgrade from 1.5 MB to 3 MB, the law firm added a WAN accelerator product from Silver Peak to allow overnight backups from each office to a central location in Miami. "We chose to do non-encrypted backups, and the Silver Peak product brought a 40% to 60% reduction in backup traffic," said Wiedemann, who explains that non-encrypted data flows faster. "The initial backup took two nights, but we can do everything overnight now."

The firm uses an agent on the remote servers, and all data is backed up to two locations, the main office and a collocation facility.

A central location for data has taken the burden off individual offices to remember to backup locally and move tapes to a secure location. "Before, I had to rely on the diligence of someone from each office," Wiedemann said. "Now I manage the operation from one seat and don't have to worry whether data was backed up last night."

Day-to-day administration is minimal, and restoration of lost or missing files is easy. Wiedemann considers a central data repository the de facto position to maintain business continuity, so the advantages he sees are to maximize the integrity and availability of the latest data.

"We choose not spend time and resources quantifying the amount of dollars saved on administration, maintenance and restoration times," said Wiedemann. "It's not that it's not a bad idea, but in contrast to backing up to and shipping tapes off site, the savings in implementing a centralized backup-to-disk solution speaks for itself and loud enough for upper management to not ask either."

Although companies of all sizes are looking hard at capital purchases, Michaels from Maxim Group says that the mishaps that were befalling the investment firm made the decision an easy one for top management.

"It really has saved the day on several occasions," Michaels said of the FalconStor product. The price point was attractive, and the CTO says his limited IT staff can maintain it.

"We're dealing with a network virus right now, and restoring the servers was the easy part," Michaels says. "All we had to do was restore to the most recent snapshot before the virus and load whatever protection we needed. The hard part is going from computer to computer."

About this author: Matt Bolch (mbolch@mindspring.com) is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to more than a dozen consumer and trade magazines on a wide range of topics, including technology and general business.


This was first published in May 2009

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