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New Mexico DOT gets back on the road with efficient backup and disaster recovery solution.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) is responsible for building and maintaining roads statewide. With this responsibility comes a great deal of research, mapping, engineering specifications, AutoCAD files, etc. Each year the NMDOT had not only created more highways, but more data as well--critical data that impacted the entire state.

In the early 1980's NMDOT was an IBM mainframe shop. They soon added VAX/VMS to the mix and both systems used 9-track tapes for backup, requiring a 24/7 operations staff.

"A tape the size of a medium pizza and weighing about 5 pounds held about 90 megabytes," recalls Tom Urbanik, system software manager for NMDOT. "We were only backing up a few gigabytes of data but we needed a van to transport the tapes off site."

As NMDOT evolved to the client/server environment, backups also evolved to cartridge systems with 7-tape magazines and higher capacities. They were using both VMS Backup and Backup Exec application software to manage the backup operations.

"The backups still required a great deal of attention and frequent manual intervention," said Urbanik. "The restores were a nuisance. Typically a user requesting a file restore was told it would be done sometime tomorrow. Finding the right backup set and the right tape volume was tedious and frustrating."

Susie Vigil, system software specialist for NMDOT, also found restoring files to be an issue. "To restore a single file I had to find and load seven different tapes, in specific order," recalls Vigil. "Even then, you were not assured you could find what you needed."

By 2000 NMDOT had grown to about 30 servers and the data volume was approaching a terabyte. With a small IS department, and without an efficient storage solution, each department within NMDOT was responsible for their own backups to individual servers. Not only was this not a good use of resources, but issues also arose with the security and consistency of stored data.

"We simply could not keep up and had to find a better backup solution," said Urbanik.

NMDOT needed a solution that was reliable and scalable, would better leverage resources, provide greater security of data and make restores easier.

In October of 2000 NMDOT purchased a STORServer disk-to-disk backup appliance, integrated with an IBM 3494 library. The solution supports a variety of different platforms and databases including Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Windows NT, Microsoft Exchange, SQL, IBM AIX and Oracle. STORServer has also allowed them to consolidate backups into a single department and insure that data is more secure.

"The STORServer solution was chosen because it met all our requirements and actually exceeded our expectations in each of the critical areas," said Urbanik.

One critical area was implementation of the solution and things went well with STORServer right from the start.

"The STORServer staff took the time to get to know our site and our needs," said Urbanik. "They got us up to speed very quickly. The difference between this and other implementations was impressive and gratifying."

Once up and running the D2D appliance cut the time devoted to backup tasks by the NMDOT staff by 80%. This equates to a savings of at least 20 hours per week.

"I now backup 43 servers," says Vigil, "and the STORServer requires very little attention."

This value came into play not only with current staff, but also when budget cuts came around.

"Since implementing the D2D solution our work unit has lost one full time position," reports Urbanik. "We would not have been able to absorb this loss using our previous backup systems."

The time saved by NMDOT when doing a restore is even more dramatic. Restores that would require from 30 to 90 minutes or more of staff time now take 2 to 3 minutes.

"I can't stress enough the importance of the restore capability in the D2D appliance; it's amazing," reports Vigil. "I simply locate the file using the management interface, select restore, and it's back."

The restore capability not only saves time, but has also allowed the NMDOT backup administrators to provide better service to their customers.

"Users generally don't give much thought to backups until they need a restore" said Urbanik. "They are very appreciative of the efficient restores that now take minutes instead of hours."

Although Urbanik cannot measure the productive time and dollars saved by the quick and reliable restores now provided for the civil engineers and administrative users, he knows it has had a large impact.

"If an engineer loses a necessary document, construction will be suspended until that document is restored," reports Urbanik. "For the work we do at NMDOT this kind of issue not only has an impact on our organization, but on the residents of the state."

Future Growth:

Growth is another issue that must be addressed when implementing a storage solution. In 2003 NMDOT added a second library, allowing them to leverage current investments and positioning them for growth through 2006.

"We review our needs annually and expand as needed," reports Urbanik. "However, the new tape library addition gave us enough capacity for years of extended growth."

Tape media is another line item associated with data growth. However, due to the reclamation process in STORServer, NMDOT does not incur a high cost here.

This feature allows NMDOT to keep tapes full with data that is active, while deleting what they don't need. The D2D appliance accomplishes this by tracking all files on each tape. When it recognizes that many of the files on a tape are outdated, it writes the current files to a new tape, allowing the old tapes to be reused. Reclamation is done automatically, without administrator intervention.

"We always have everything online," said Urbanik. "We only buy tapes because our capacity increases."

The NMDOT staff is happy to be relieved of some of the drudge work of backups and restores and the management is pleased with the cost savings, reports Uranik.

"Most importantly," Urbanik continues, "is that our customers are very happy with the speed and certainty of the restores we are able to provide."

By implementing a D2D solution NMDOT has its immediate storage needs, in addition to providing a manageable solution for what's ahead. This is a relationship that travels well.

Tonya Bjurstrom is a free-lance writer in Monument, CO
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Title Annotation:Case Studies; Department of Transportation
Author:Bjurstrom, Tonya
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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