Finally, they gave in -- and say it was one of the best decisions they've ever made.
"We always suspected a lot of that data we were backing up constantly was no longer active," Ditchfield, a senior systems operator, told Information Week.
"But when we finally got round to archiving it, even I was surprised at how old some of this was and how long it had been since anyone had touched it. There's a real hidden data mountain here; I think having this archived is going to make a big difference for our backup capacity."
Ditchfield and Cappi, who is a senior systems administrator, both work in systems and operations, the central IT function of the U.K.'s University of Bristol, a major higher education institution which has more than 5,300 employees and around 20,000 students. All of whom generate a lot of data; Ditchfield estimates the team backs up around 125 TB a week from 450 to 500 servers. "The ability to move infrequently accessed data off primary storage and into an archive is an essential part of our future strategy," he stressed.
[ It may be time to say goodbye to some of that data you're sitting on. Are You A Data Hoarder? ]
Ditchfield said the team spent about a decade working up to the decision to get help on managing all this mountain of information. Last March that finally changed, when it tested technology from backup and archive specialist Spectra Logic, a trial so successful it's led to Bristol now going into production with a new tape-based platform, the T680.
While we all talk about cloud, said Ditchfield, tape still has a very large part to play. "We like the idea of having the data still easily at hand; we feel tape gives us that bit more control, too," he said.
In practical terms, the T680 is a 2-petabyte box where Cappi and Ditchfield can offload less-frequently accessed data from their primary disk storage to an active tape archive. StorHouse software from supplier FileTek is starting to be used to move the data from primary disk storage to the active tape archive, he added. That is expected to save some money, but the focus is less on immediate cash savings, said Ditchfield, than boosting overall storage and backup capacity across the university.
Ditchfield looked at other archive offerings, but says he really likes working with Spectra Logic, which he describes as a real "engineer's company." He also lauds its quality approach, citing how impressed he was by the fact that all physical media get swept by a special carbide cleaner before shipping to maximize its cleanliness, or how each tape is linked to a radio ID tag so managers always know each step of its journey through a system. The system's BlueScale encryption provides 256-bit AES security for stored data, and the built-in management system records more than 40 data points every time a tape is loaded.
"I also like the fact that this company wants to break into new markets like ours, so I feel it's 'hungry' and really wants to support us and do a good job," he added.
The next step will be to look at archiving not just the university's day-to-day data, but the swelling store of research the institution's academics and postgrads build up. To do so, he said, there is serious talk of buying a second library -- which sounds like pretty rapid progress for Bristol's data managers after so much initial hemming and hawing.
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