Apr 20 2020
Data Center

Data Backup and Recovery Require Speed and Service

Higher education environments play host to uniquely valuable and regulated data that needs to be recoverable and protected at all times.

At Chippewa Valley Technical College, the four-person IT team was spending too much time and attention on its legacy data-backup system. The complex setup had many moving parts, granular settings and features that weren’t being used.

“We had the classic server and the application running on it,” says Nicholas Gifford, a system administrator at the Eau Claire, Wis.-based college. “It was just too much for a team our size to manage. We needed something more turnkey and self-sufficient.”

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The ragtag approach left many at CVTC uncertain about the organization’s ability to ensure true business continuity for the college in the face of a data breach or disaster. 

“We never felt comfortable that we could reliably recover from a disaster,” says Nate Runge, network and infrastructure manager at CVTC.


Percentage of VMs the Southern California Institute of Architecture can back up in one hour with its next-gen backup and recovery solution

Source: DellEMC, “Modern data protection built for architectural innovation,” January 2020

Higher Education's Most Wanted Data

Universities are a hotbed of target-rich, personally identifiable information. The initial concern might be with student records, but given that most universities are a home away from home for their adult students, there’s more than just academic information on the line.

Chris Schrader, CVTC’s user services system administrator, says his team is already focused on keeping ­student records in compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. “But then we also have a clinic that operates out of one of our campuses,” he says. “So, we have medical records and other data that we have to keep safe.”

Colleges with technology programs have an additionally unique challenge that most organizations don’t have to deal with: encouraging hacking or tinkering in the name of education. 

“Students and teachers frequently need to do things for educational purposes that you wouldn’t see done in a highly secure corporate environment,” Schrader notes, such as using virtual machines to download and study malware.

Letting Go of  Legacy Data Solutions

Trusting data storage and backup functions to new solutions — and shifting away from familiar enterprise systems — may seem like a daunting, time-consuming and expensive undertaking.

But with legacy technology, there’s a point of diminishing returns, says Nick Psaki, the principal system engineer for Pure Storage. One way to shake up the backup arrangement is to switch to third-party administration. This frees up time spent on upkeep, updates and patches and allows IT staff to focus on other pressing tasks and projects. 

“When you buy a car, you don’t buy it so that you can work on it. You buy it so you can drive it. The time spent doing oil changes and rotating your tires and all the rest of that stuff does not actually add value to owning the car,” he says.

And with legacy systems, data too often goes into storage, never to be seen or heard from again. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Superconvergence is the next iteration of data center technology.

The whole reason we create digital systems is to extend our ability to access knowledge.

Nick Psaki Principal System Engineer, Pure Storage

“The reality is, the most valuable thing in a data center is, in fact, the data,” Psaki says. “It is the intellectual property of every company under the sun. It is the research of academics, it’s the term papers of the students. The whole reason we create digital systems is to extend our ability to access knowledge. It revolves around ‘What are you ­focusing on?’”

MORE ON EDTECH: How the Remote Learning Pivot Could Shape Higher Education

At Chippewa Valley Technical College, backup and storage using the legacy system was a three-person effort. Now, Schrader manages it himself. This reduction in resources allocated to backup and recovery allows the team to focus time and resources on its current priorities, including information security, web applications, firewalling, a multi­factor authentication rollout, phishing awareness training and plans to acquire cloud email filtering.

Another critical component to consider when shopping for a backup solution is selecting one that offers integration with other IT solutions the organization has already invested in. CVTC made its move to onsite data storage using software from Rubrik, solid-state drive–based solutions integrated with several partner solutions, including VMware, Nutanix, Microsoft Azure and Pure Storage, which CVTC uses to store active workloads and structured data. This integration combined with simplicity of use and management made the college’s choice clear.

“Rubrik has backup software and storage in one appliance,” Schrader says. “The ability to just set it up has ease and is scalable and is very simple.”


Percentage of organizations that plan to deploy new backup and recovery solutions in the next 12 months

Source: CIO, “The 2019 numbers are in — IDC’s ‘State of IT Resilience Report,’” June 25, 2019

Weighing Your Data Storage Technology Options

When it comes to data storage and backup, there are several possible configurations, which can complicate the decision-making process. Do you store your data onsite, offsite, in the cloud or in some combination? Do you use technologies such as flash storage that, thanks to Moore’s Law, have advanced enough to go from consumer devices to commercial applications? 

It’s all about striking the right balance. Psaki recommends controlling access to high-value data or data that you need every day. “You want to have direct ownership, maintenance and control over those compute and data resources. But if it’s not supercritical, the cloud is perfect for that,” he adds.

Other benefits of modernization are more concrete: Delegating data storage and backup to a third-party vendor can save money on budget line items like electricity and the costs of maintaining a physical space.

And compared with magnetic disks, solid-state drives that use nonvolatile NAND flash technology not only have high throughput, low latency and shock resistance, but the lack of moving mechanical parts means lower power consumption too.

MORE FROM EDTECH: How Universities can Create a Data-Guided Campus Culture

Choosing a Backup Vendor for Your Data Storage

Once you’ve settled on a configuration, there’s still a lot of work to do before choosing a vendor and signing a contract. “Finding something that fits your needs and that’s sustainable for your organization is the key,” Schrader says. Selection also depends on the applications and systems you’re backing up, Gifford adds.

Another thing to consider is staff resources and skill sets. If you don’t have enough of them in-house, you might opt for more of a managed backup and recovery solution.

“Colleges and universities have to find the staff and have to pay them well to retain them because the job market is very competitive. That’s one of the big struggles,” says James Mottola, vice president of data privacy, investigations and security for Porzio Compliance Services in Morristown, N.J.

Another key question: Is the vendor’s downtime your downtime? 

IT leaders are “transitioning from doers to coordinators of internal and external assets and internal and external solutions like third party,” he says. 

“Time is money, and recovery time and recovery point objectives are important because you’ll have people sitting around doing nothing if they don’t have access to that information, which I’ve seen before in some ransomware situations — and it’s pretty crippling,” Mottola says.

Colleges and universities have to find the staff and have to pay them well to retain them because the job market is very competitive.

James Mottola Vice President of Data Privacy, Investigations and Security for Porzio Compliance Services

Illustration by David Vogin

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