Jun 01 2010

Wisconsin Looks to the Cloud

A nonprofit cooperative builds an online data backup service to bolster disaster recovery planning.

Wisconsin's schools, local governments and other public-service organizations can now look to the cloud for their data backup storage needs.

The Wisconsin Research and Education Network (WiscNet) has created an online data backup service that lets its members copy their most critical data over the network to an offsite location.

The nonprofit cooperative, made up of education, research and public-service organizations, spent the past year testing the service, called MasStore, and will launch it this summer.

MasStore, built with NetApp storage technology, will offer the state's school districts, colleges and universities, local governments, libraries and hospitals an affordable way to protect their important data against disasters, says Doug Baker, systems administrator at the Oregon Area School District (OASD) in Oregon, Wis.

“This saves us a bunch of money. It would have been too expensive if we tried to do this on our own,” Baker says. “School districts are small here in Wisconsin, and now we can afford to have reliable, retrievable and secure data backup.”

WiscNet, which provides its 428 members with network access, web hosting, e-mail, web content and filtering services, as well as network security services, started with a pilot project in February 2009. After considering several vendors, WiscNet purchased the NetApp FAS3140 Storage System from CDW•G.

The storage device, installed on the University of Wisconsin−Milwaukee campus, features 70 terabytes of total storage and was built with high availability and security in mind, says Craig Stephenson, WiscNet's enterprise services architect.

For high availability, WiscNet deployed two controllers that run simultaneously. If one goes down, the other keeps storage operations running. WiscNet also configured its SATA drives into a RAID-6 array with dual-parity protection.

While the RAID array provides greater protection against data loss, it does so at a cost, lowering the available disk storage to 30TB. But the increased reliability is worth it, Stephenson says, adding that the organization will bump up disk storage as demand grows. 

On the security front, WiscNet used NetApp's MultiStore software to segment the storage system into separate, private virtual disk partitions for each customer. Each virtual partition, called a vFiler, can be accessed only by authorized users, Stephenson says.

For further protection, WiscNet deployed virtual local area networks between the WiscNet router and the NetApp 3140 storage system and limits access through an access control list. When users log in to MasStore, the router grants access only to specific IP addresses belonging to MasStore's customers, Stephenson says.

Faster Backups

Six organizations tested MasStore during the pilot and gave the technology rave reviews. The University of Wisconsin−Green Bay, for example, now uses the service to store its most critical data offsite, reducing its reliance on tape, says David Kieper, the university's manager of network and infrastructure services.

The university, which stores 20TB of data on a SAN and direct-attached storage, replicates its data at a backup data center on campus. For disaster recovery, IT staff back up all the data to tape, a process that takes nearly four days.

The university will continue to back up all of its data to tape, but will now store its most important data – about 500 gigabytes of information – on MasStore. The critical data includes student information system data backups and logs; e-mail logs; and the domain controller and Active Directory backup data, Kieper says.

Because MasStore is located 120 miles south of campus, the university's critical data will be protected from tornadoes, fires or other disasters that could bring down both on-campus data centers, he says.

Initially, it took more than two hours to move 500GB of data across the network and into MasStore. Kieper encrypted all the data before the transfer and sent it to MasStore through FTP. He is now automating the university's backup to MasStore with Symantec Backup Exec and command scripts.

Currently, OASD copies its data – altogether, about 10TB – to the district's onsite backup servers and then to tape, which it stores off campus. Going forward, the district will use MasStore for offsite storage instead.

During a six-month pilot, OASD's Baker encrypted 900GB of critical data, including student records and administrator and teacher files, and transferred it weekly to MasStore using FTP. The backup process, which took more than 24 hours with tape, is now completed in 10 to 12 hours.

420 terabytes

The maximum raw capacity of the NetApp FAS3140

Source: NetApp

Baker was also able to transfer data by mounting the NetApp vFiler as a disk on Symantec's Backup Exec software. “To Backup Exec, MasStore looks like a local folder, and you just send it out to the Internet and it's a path directly to the MasStore device,” he says.

Baker will soon test NetApp's Open Systems SnapVault (OSSV) software, which allows users with storage hardware from different manufacturers to save data incrementally into MasStore. Baker uses VMware's server virtualization software in his data center; OSSV will let Baker save copies and incremental changes of his virtual servers onto MasStore.

While using OSSV, the district also plans to take advantage of NetApp's deduplication capabilities to save disk space. If a disaster strikes, having copies of the virtual servers and important data will make it possible to get services up and running fast, he says.

Moving forward, Baker says the district plans to use MasStore in two ways: to provide offsite storage of encrypted critical data files via FTP and to remotely back up incremental changes of virtual servers via OSSV.

CDW•G's Role

WiscNet paid $192,000 for the NetApp system, which includes three years of maintenance and a four-hour replacement guarantee if components break down. Without CDW•G and NetApp's help, Stephenson says, WiscNet could not have completed this project.

During the installation and pilot, CDW•G's data storage and backup engineer and NetApp's post-sales engineer were available to WiscNet administrators and members when they had questions. In fact, CDW•G's engineer spent a week with WiscNet's staff setting up and configuring the system and providing training. NetApp also offers telephone tech support.

“CDW•G and NetApp were very helpful in making resources available if questions came up,” UW−Milwaukee's Stephenson says.

WiscNet is ready for business and will allow members to subscribe to MasStore in 100GB increments. WiscNet is also letting prospective customers pilot MasStore if they have a potential usage that hasn't been tested yet.

Overall, the organizations that piloted the technology are happy with the service.

“Obviously, during the pilot there were glitches, but now we've gotten through them. It's now reliable enough and fast enough, which is huge for us,” OASD's Baker says. “From a disaster recovery perspective, MasStore gives us the opportunity to get up and running quickly.”