In early 2011, the college's IT environment included 30 physical servers running 65 virtual servers. Data includes Exchange, SQL and SharePoint databases, other applications' data, plus the home directories of the college's employees and faculty. For storage, IT has a 24TB SAN.
"Before this, our people were used to dedicated storage for servers and desktops," says Don Peterson, Director of IT at Merced College. "We didn't have any centralized storage. Each department had their own server, and they were limited to whatever disk space a given machine had. When we put the new SAN in, we didn't advertise that we had more space available, so it took a while for data volumes to grow."
However, data volume did grow – and as data volume grew, so did the task and challenge of doing backups.
"As of mid-2011, our backup solution still consisted of disk-to-disk (D2D) for on-site, and disk-to-tape (D2T) for off-site storage," says Arlis Bortner, Network Manager at Merced College. According to both Peterson and Bortner, the D2D and D2T approaches had become inadequate and unsatisfactory:
"We were running out of space on our backup media," says Peterson. "We didn't have a good deduplication process, so everything went to tape. And although we had 24TB of SAN storage, we were only able to back up 5TB, because of the large backup time window required.
Tape management was a growing problem. "We had tapes aging out and going bad, so we couldn't count on having enough for a backup rotation, or to retain enough backup history," says Bortner. "And the time, effort and cost of dealing with storing, sending and receiving tapes was an on-going concern."
The D2D and D2T were not scaling as data grew beyond a certain size. "We wanted to do daily, weekly and monthly backups, so we could go back to any point-in-time, and for user data, provide file recovery for two weeks or so, along with disaster recovery," says Peterson. "We wanted to do user-requested restores from the disk backup, and rotate tapes off-site for emergency recovers. But there wasn't enough disk space for D2D backup, and it wasn't as fast as we'd hoped it would be. Worse, doing disk-to-disk-to-tape (D2D2T) would take all night, and, in the process, slow other applications down."
"When we realized our existing backup system wasn't meeting our needs, we started looking at other traditional backup systems, like more D2D's," says Peterson. "But we found we couldn't afford the cost, even to just get started and trial them."
Peterson and Bortner had recently encountered Zetta as part of an initiative exploring cloud services and providers. "We began looking at virtual servers and desktops, virtualized SQL environments, online storage -- and online backup," says Peterson. "We wanted to see what had become available, and what was mature enough. We wanted to see where we could save money compared to what we were spending in hardware, software licensing, IT facilities, and our time to manage these things."
In terms of data, "We were looking for a way to keep our backups online, in a secure, redundant, and available way," says Peterson. "We found that we could start trialing Zetta for backup immediately, for a simple per-gigabyte-per-month price, with no per-server or other costs."
Bortner began by testing it with his own files, and other personal computers – about 500GB worth of data. "That gave me a feel for how the interface worked, and good scheduling and timing settings. I was surprised how quick and easy it was to begin having Zetta do backups – and how quick and easy it was to do restores from these backups. Next, I used Zetta for a non-critical file server, to see how the agent interacted with the server's environment, how much network utilization it would consume, and to try out the threshold and throttling settings some more. And we tried some server-level restores."
The trial almost immediately turned into a production solution, reports Peterson. "We kept adding more machines and storage to our Zetta account."
As of August 2012, about 80% of Merced College IT's live user data is being backed up to Zetta, including SQL databases, VMware consolidated backups, and other files, according to Peterson.
Better Recovery Response:
"Most importantly and obviously, our time to restore a file is much faster, and we have longer backup versioning," says Peterson. "All restore requests go through the IT Help Desk. Once I create a Help ticket, I can go and pull the file without any trouble. Previously, if a file wasn't on our local disk backup, and the tape was off-site, it could take a day or two – or longer – to retrieve the tape that may have the data on it ... and then we'd have to make time to mount and look through the tape. While we typically get only about one or restore requests per week, they're always 'emergencies' as far as the file owner is concerned. Now we can satisfy all requests quickly."
Also, notes Bortner, "Previously we had a two week cut off, meaning if somebody wanted a file older than two weeks it might not still be in a backup. We now set backups to be retained for up to a month. When we get a restore request, we just enter the date and server for the request, and there it is."
Reducing Tape Costs and Effort:
"Using Zetta takes a lot less of our time – with the routines we used to run for the old tape system," says Bortner. "We were constantly having problems with mount requests, and with tapes running out of space before a backup run finished."
"Once we became comfortable with Zetta, and realized how reliable it is," says Peterson, "I changed our tape backup approach to just doing weekly full backups, and cycling these tapes off-site, since, except for certain types of D/R, we don't have to worry about large restores. This freed up a lot of tape space."
"And we were able to pay for it using money we'd expected to spend as we come up on lease renewal for new systems. Now we won't spend nearly as much on a tape solution or on backup software, or other hardware, or implementation." Peterson estimates that these avoided expenditures would have been around $200,000 for hardware, software and implementation, plus monthly maintenance fees.
"The live offsite backup that Zetta provides meets our regulatory compliance requirements, in terms of ensuring availability of the data even if there's a local data disaster event," says Peterson.
Overall, says Peterson, "We've discovered that Zetta's offsite cloud backup solutions are much more efficient than I thought something like this would be, in terms of the time it takes to do backups and restores. The efficiency of storage, and the cost of storage, is much better than I had anticipated. Moving to Zetta was easy to do, and without having any large initial dollar outlay – and Zetta doesn't take any time to maintain once it's set up.