Sepaton Makes Virtual Backup a Reality

Sterling Infosystems Inc. gained all the benefits of server virtualization when it consolidated its server environment and reduced the number of devices by half. But that smart business move alone didn’t solve the company’s problems with data backup. For that, the company turned to Sepaton.

Thanks to Sepaton’s virtual tape library (VTL) products, Sterling, a New York-based provider of employment and background screening services, has reduced restore times and is in the process of improving its disaster recovery plan too.

“Today, we’re in a good place with our backup,” said Andrew Madejczyk, vice president of global technology operations at Sterling, who said he welcomes anything that can trim operations through automation.

Using the Sepaton S2100-ES2 VTL, Sterling is also further optimizing its VMware (NYSE: VMW) ESX virtual server environment.

Founded in 1975, Sterling has 600 employees and offices in Denver, Boston, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago and India, in addition to its New York headquarters. The company offers its screening services in more than 200 countries.

Caught in the Backup Window

In the course of a year, Sterling leveraged VMWare’s ESX, the foundation of the vendor’s VMware Infrastructure 3 suite, and virtualized 90 percent of its servers, with the exception of some databases and applications.

Like many organizations, the company was looking to ease deployment of new servers, simplify making changes and moving hardware platforms, enjoy the high availability benefits of virtualization and make its IT environment a little greener.

Sterling’s data and tech operations in New York City are hosted with a third party.

While gaining the benefits of virtualization, the company was still suffering from crippling backup windows. “It took us more than twenty hours to complete our backups,” said Madejczyk.

Sterling, a user of EMC’s (NYSE: EMC) Networker backup software at the time, was utilizing a tape jukebox with two drives and backing up about 6.5 terabytes of data weekly.

“With operations in Mumbai, India and New York, we were running two shifts. Backup was bleeding into the workday and we were incurring a tax on the systems,” said Madejczyk.

Not only did the company lack enough hours in the day to deal with its backup, but the demand also drained its IT staff and users were complaining. It was clear to company decision makers that they needed to find a better way to handle backups.

The search for a more efficient backup solution began in mid-2007. Sterling had several purchasing criteria:

  • To reduce the backup window
  • To be able to handle the company’s capacity and speed
  • To accommodate growth

Madejczyk reached out to peers in the industry and to vendors and did his homework before narrowing down the list of potential vendors.

There were three potential solution providers on Sterling’s short list: EMC for its Disk Library, NetApp’s (NASDAQ: NTAP) VTL and Sepaton’s VTL.

“What we did know is that we definitely wanted a VTL for backup and recovery,” he said, adding that despite the fact that the company still uses tape for off-site archiving, he doesn’t have a lot of faith in tape.

Price, Performance and Word of Mouth

Sepaton and NetApp came in to make a presentation to the company. In the end, Sepaton won Sterling’s business based on price/performance and word-of-mouth experience of IT colleagues, according to Madejczyk.

Sterling purchased Sepaton’s S2100-ES2 VTL data protection product with 22 terabytes of capacity to optimize backup and recovery for its virtualized environment and to rid the company of its reliance on tape for all but archival purposes.

“We keep a week and half of backed up data on hand for retention purposes and back up 6.5 terabytes of data weekly,” said Madejczyk.

Sterling utilizes VMWare snapshot functionality and backs up its snapshots directly on the VTL, which allows the company to save on the cost of near primary storage.

Not only has Sterling been able to eliminate its dependency on tape, but also the required hands-on management of a tape backup solution, and is enjoying the ease of managing disk.

As the company moves into 2009, Madejczyk said he expects to add another 10 terabytes of storage capacity. Sterling is already in the process of purchasing another Sepaton system for replication to its disaster recovery site in Cambridge, Mass.

To date, Sterling has taken the first step in its improved disaster recovery strategy with daily incremental backups, weekly full backups and copy to tape for archival off-site storage.

Other aspects of the company’s disaster recovery strategy are SQL replication of mission-critical transactional data to the Cambridge, Mass. hosting facility every five minutes using lower end disk storage.

Sterling’s ultimate goal is to switch to using the VTL solution at its replication site so the company can simply switch from one VTL to the other to achieve a near-hot site scenario.

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Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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