The University of Missouri has established a sophisticated backup strategy that relies on multiple tiers of disks, says IT Associate Director Randy Wiemer.

Oct 24 2007

Backup in 90 Minutes

University of Missouri quadruples storage and slashes backup times.

University of Missouri quadruples storage and slashes backup times.

When the University of Missouri quadrupled storage capacity by upgrading its storage area network in the summer of 2006, IT Associate Director Randy Wiemer looked forward to the performance boost the seven-figure upgrade would bring the Columbia campus. But he worried about the drag the extra data he could store would have on his backups, especially Exchange.

Along with the new hardware, he needed a better way to do backups. So he re-engineered the backup of his Exchange environment, using snapshots that take a point-in-time image of the Exchange environment that can be used to quickly restore the environment while making the process more efficient and easier to manage. He also took advantage of using different tiers of storage disks, a strategy that storage vendors call information lifecycle management (ILM).

“What we were doing before was a streaming backup and it was taking four hours to back up,” Wiemer says. “We quadrupled the amount of data we’re holding, and I couldn’t quadruple the hours it took and do streaming for 16 hours. We had to step up and use snapshotting that builds a clone of all the changes from the last close. Now we can do that and back up in 90 minutes.”

In a streaming backup, each page of Exchange’s database is read in turn and the checksum integrity of the pages and transaction log files is checked before they are backed up. Wiemer switched to the Volume Shadow Copy Services in Windows Server, which lets other applications help back up and restore databases.

“Exchange is a database,” he says. “As soon as you turn it on, you have to back up the whole thing. With snapshots of clone data, we’re letting the SAN do most of the work.”

Send in the Clones

Missouri clones its backups between EMC Clariion CX700 SANs. It uses EMC SnapView software to capture point-in-time, full-copy clones of production Exchange data on Fibre Channel drives. The cloning lets the university back up data without disrupting users and provides disaster recovery. Once a night, EMC SAN Copy archives the clones on less expensive SATA disks for further data protection coverage.

Of about 200 terabytes of SAN capacity, Wiemer says he devotes about 8TB to Exchange.

“We have a fairly sophisticated backup and disaster recovery strategy that involves multiple tiers of disks,” Wiemer says. “We were doing DR before, but not quite as sophisticated. We were using MirrorView. When we’d write a backup, we’d mirror it to the SAN in the other building. Now we’re using snapshots, making clones, and doing SAN copies to get clones to the other side.”

Tape-Free Backups

Wiemer doesn’t use tape at all for Exchange backups.

“We use tape for 1,000-plus servers in the data center, but no tape in our e-mail environment,” he says. “We could never meet our recovery times if we had to restore from tape.”

More and more institutions are discovering that, especially as disk-based backup technologies such as snapshots, continuous data protection and data de-duplication catch on.

“Backup and recovery of data is more reliable with disk-based data protection architectures,” says Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. “Disk also speeds backup and recovery.”

Whitehouse says Exchange environments are inherently difficult to back up because most organizations that value e-mail as mission-critical need to have the capability to quickly recover both the entire environment as a whole as well as individual mailboxes and items within the mailboxes such as messages, contacts, journal entries or appointments. Ensuring this granular recovery capability traditionally has required a two-step backup cycle. This complex process ensures quick, reliable restores but requires more resources, budget dollars and hours in the day than most universities can devote.

At the University of Missouri, more than 50,000 students, faculty, researchers and administrators use Exchange to collaborate and communicate more effectively, putting strain on a heavily trafficked network. “It’s a mission-critical application that has to be running all the time,” Wiemer says of Exchange.

He says that since the upgrade, “We’ve been able to increase employee mailbox quotas by 500 percent and double student mailbox quotas. Our users are enjoying faster, more reliable access to their e-mail regardless of the time of day or night.”

He hasn’t had a major crash since the upgrade, but Wiemer says he has no doubt he could recover quickly.

“We’ve been running Exchange 10 years,” he says. “We’ve had to do recoveries and we know how painful it is. Before it was painful to do a rehearsal, but now it’s quite easy to do that training exercise.”

At a Glance

Location: Columbia, Mo. (main campus)

Founded: 1839 as the first public university west of the Mississippi River and the first state university in the Louisiana Purchase territory

Enrollment: 63,000 students in the university’s four- campus system

Size: 19,517 total acreage; 1,358-acre main campus is a designated botanic garden with more than 5,000 trees and 650 varieties of plants.

Consolidation Simplifies Management

University of Missouri IT Associate Director Randy Wiemer has found over the years that centralizing IT functions makes it easier to manage technology throughout larger campuses.

That lesson was reinforced when Missouri upgraded its storage last year to new EMC Clariion CX arrays.

“By consolidating servers and storage, there is less to manage, and best practices — like remote replication for disaster recovery, archiving and backups — can be more easily managed and deployed,” says Bob Madaio, senior marketing manager at EMC. “This is so important primarily to reduce TCO [total cost of ownership] of the environment and reduce chances for error.”

Missouri’s IT department took responsibility away from individual departments several years ago and centralized Exchange in the data center. Further consolidation by EMC reduces the amount of equipment that needs to be monitored and maintained.

Wiemer describes the level of centralization of IT functions at Missouri as “more so than most universities, less than most corporations. E-mail is one of those things we do one at a time in one place. Back in the ’90s, we had what most schools had, which is e-mail chaos with every department running its own thing. In the late ’90s, we deployed Exchange across the entire university.”

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