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Horizon Bancorp adds Zerto to its portfolio

Zerto reduced Horizon Bancorp's recovery times and improved reporting for auditors. Zerto's cloud-to-cloud replication also helps as Horizon increases its cloud usage.

With clouds on the horizon, Zerto turned out to be a good investment for Horizon Bancorp.

Zerto improved the independent bank holding company's data restore times significantly compared to its previous backup and recovery system. Horizon Bancorp used Microsoft Data Protection Manager (DPM) to back up data across its 65 branches up until switching to Zerto three years ago. Zerto cut large-scale restoration times from days to hours, but most importantly, its testing and reporting mechanisms helped the company deal with audits faster. Horizon tag-teams its data protection, keeping Microsoft DPM for smaller-scale recoveries, protection of physical servers and tape backups.

Horizon Bancorp is a publicly traded commercial bank holding company covering Michigan and Indiana. Its commercial banking subsidiary, Horizon Bank, has 65 branches spanning from Midland, Mich., to southern Indiana. Horizon Bancorp currently has more than $5 billion in capital assets.

Rodney Carlson, system analyst at Horizon Bancorp, said he discovered Zerto during one of Horizon's acquisitions. Horizon frequently acquires companies, to the point of having a dedicated acquisitions team. This team, which Carlson is part of, is responsible for onboarding and assimilating other banks' systems into Horizon's IT infrastructure. Carlson added that all acquisition plans at Horizon have been suspended this year due to COVID-19.

Three years ago, Horizon acquired a local savings bank that used Zerto for backup and recovery. Zerto's ability to test and report on how quickly a server could failover immediately caught Carlson's attention. Zerto allowed him to quickly print test results, providing verifiable proof to auditors. Carlson said Microsoft DPM had a more laborious auditing process that involved logging into a server after recovery to confirm everything worked. He was then tasked with expanding the acquired bank's 15-user Zerto license to cover all of Horizon Bancorp.

Rodney Carlson, system analyst at Horizon BancorpRodney Carlson

"The ability to report on recovery was a big deal, because we're a bank. Internal audits happen all the time, all kinds of things are constantly being checked and monitored," Carlson said.

Before committing to Zerto, Carlson shopped around for better backup and recovery and found that most backup vendors sold their software on proprietary hardware. Given the amount of acquisitions Horizon was projected to go through, he said the last thing the company needed was more hardware. Horizon ran on several storage platforms, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise Nimble Storage and Dell EMC storage arrays. Carlson said Zerto was a good fit because it is just software with no underlying hardware platform.

Although Zerto now handles most backup-related tasks, Carlson still uses Microsoft DPM to back up physical machines -- something Zerto can't do. DPM also handles small-scale, noncritical recovery, such as for individual files that have been accidentally deleted or corrupted. Carlson said DPM's indexing capability is a good way to find specific files, whereas with Zerto, he would need to know which file server contains the data he needs to recover. Zerto is intended for large-scale recoveries, such as when entire servers go down, or if there's an immediate need for the data.

Zerto replicates data from Horizon's primary data center in Michigan City, Ind., to a colocation facility three hours away in Indianapolis. There, DPM serves another important role -- making tape backups of the Zerto servers. Tape was Horizon's primary means of off-site backup before Zerto. Even though using Zerto to replicate to a storage array at the colo fulfills the off-site requirement, Carlson said Horizon's decision-makers felt tape was still necessary. By tag-teaming between DPM and Zerto, he was able to build a backup system that satisfied all requirements.

"There are still thoughts of needing tape backup, so I made everything ultra-redundant," Carlson said.

Horizon doesn't use the cloud for backup and recovery, but Carlson recognizes the advantages of doing so and has plans to migrate. He sees potential cost savings from not having to maintain a colo, and he wants to take advantage of Zerto's cloud-to-cloud replication capabilities. However, he is approaching cloud adoption cautiously. Once again citing the amount of internal auditing that happens at Horizon, Carlson said he must have a way to report on everything that happens with data on the cloud, such as who accessed what info. Horizon also has restrictions on where geographically its data can be stored, so Carlson needs a way to control that.

Horizon currently has what Carlson called a "fledgling" cloud presence. Virus detection, online banking and the identity verification system for it are done through cloud services. Unfortunately, like Horizon's acquisition plans, further cloud adoption has been put on hold because of COVID-19. Carlson said priorities have shifted to helping Horizon's customers through the economic downturn, so IT systems that are working fine aren't going to change. He expects most banking will be done on cloud eventually, but this is a bad time to make any drastic IT investments.

"We're counting this year as kind of a skip year," Carlson said. "We're just doing everything we can for our customers and to just weather the storm."

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