Bicycle Seller Rolls with Electronic Vaulting Backup and DR from UCG
July 21, 2009 Robert Gast
Dealing with daily tape backups is an IT department ritual. Despite the labor-intensive, processes, the risk of media and drive breakdowns, and the archiving and retrieval jumbles, most companies persist with this tradition. Jenson USA, an IBM iSeries user, wanted an option and got it with electronic vaulting. Disaster recovery, security, and concerns about transferred data clogging the network pipeline were each resolved. And, switching the company database to the vault was made in one day.
Jenson USA is a marketer of bicycles, parts, accessories and apparel, headquartered in Ontario, California. It has a brick and mortar presence there and also does business via the Internet. According to the Bicycle Manufacturers Association, 18.5 million bicycles were sold through bike dealers and mass merchant channels in the United States during 2008, which equated to $6 billion in sales, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Jenson has topped its previous year revenue figures each year since its opening in 1994–an outstanding record in a growing market.
The business hums along on an IBM iSeries model 810 running CommercialWare’s (now Micros Retail) retail management and BI software. Orders are processed by the iSeries-based order management and ERP systems and when planned downtime makes the iSeries inaccessible, orders that are streaming in 24 hours-a-day from around the world are queued but not processed. Nearly 90 percent of Jenson’s business is transacted through its Web store that runs on a Microsoft .NET system.
Until January of 2009, Jenson saved its daily, weekly, and monthly backups to tape, and later used an in-house disk-to-disk system for backup and recovery purposes. According to Jeff Bolkovatz, director of IT at Jenson USA, these were labor intensive and somewhat fallible methods. “The backup media had to be stored in a safe place, so we were always shuffling from one place to another. We spent a lot of time and effort storing and retrieving tapes and drives. Media and drive failures were also a problem and we didn’t like the fact that if we needed to recover a small snippet of data, we’d sometimes have to go through seven or nine tapes to find it.”
Tired of tapes and drives, Bolkovatz sought an alternative. He briefly considered high availability, but reasoned that if a catastrophic event occurred he would have other things to worry about besides the presence of a cursor. “We have inventory and logistics to consider,” he says. “If an earthquake hits and we don’t have a product to send out why would we be taking orders for it?”
For Jenson USA, HA would have been a very costly option. “We looked at our return on investment and realized that we could be down for a couple of days and still get by.” Bolkovatz admits there are instances where HA is a good fit–banks, casinos, and hospitals for example–but in his case, taking everything into consideration, it didn’t make sense.
Bolkovatz started looking around for other options in January 2009. He knew that Windows-based systems had lots of online backup options. When he began to uncover similar solutions for his iSeries, the first solution he came across was VAULT400 from the system i reseller United Computer Group.
Electronically vaulting data over the Internet is less expensive than HA because it doesn’t require the acquisition of additional hardware, software licenses, and in some cases a remote data center. Still, Bolkovatz had some reservations. “I was concerned with the amount of data that gets transferred. When I looked at my backup tapes I could see they were pretty large. I soon learned that VAULT400 only sends net changes. It also uses a data compression method that reduces data volume by up to eight to one. In our case, only 300 to 500 MB would be sent to the vault per day, which isn’t much.”
Another consideration was security. Jenson USA processes its own credit card transactions, which introduces security concerns. “I found out that VAULT400 uses AES 128-bit block size encryption. No one has a key for our account except us, and the data is useless without the key. The data is first encrypted in our database and gets encrypted again before it’s sent to the vault, so I’m not really concerned that it can be compromised.”
According to Bolkovatz, VAULT400’s tiered disaster recovery capabilities were a big selling point. “UCG and VAULT400 give us several options for recovery. We can restore our data on their server in case of a catastrophic event and send it back to us electronically once our system is restored. They can get us a new system sent out in a day or two. And, one option allows us to be up and running in a couple of hours if we need to recover quickly,” he says.
A Big Decision?
After spending about three weeks weighing his options, Bolkovatz decided to subscribe to UCG’s VAULT400 electronic vaulting service. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, he says. “When we used an internal disk-to-disk system we didn’t have an ongoing subscription fee, but it was also very limited and wouldn’t scale well. As our data grew, we’d have to acquire more disk. With VAULT400, there’s no limit to how much of our data they can store.”
One of Jenson USA’s technicians spent only an hour installing VAULT400 and then configuring the tool to accommodate the company’s existing backup schedule. It then took one day to electronically transfer Jenson USA’s entire existing database to the vault. “We did this over the weekend so there wasn’t much of a burden placed on our Internet connection,” says Bolkovatz.
Every morning an e-mail message regarding the status of the vault is sent to Jenson USA, and, so far, not one instance where files have been out of synch between Jenson’s production machine and the vault has occurred.
Drafting in Vaulting’s Slipstream
Now, when a technician at Jenson USA needs to restore specific files, he selects an option on VAULT400’s iSeries menu, defines the needed files and the library to which they should be restored, and VAULT400 handles the rest.
If Jenson’s recovery time objective (RTO) changes, UCG offers options that can accommodate more rapid recovery, including high availability coupled with a managed remote backup server. “If we move to one of the faster recovery options the fee will increase,” Bolkovatz says, “but we won’t have to look for a different vendor and start all over again,”
“I have peace of mind knowing that our data will be there when we need it. Current copies of our data are now stored in three locations. We don’t have to move disks around and we won’t have a bad disk or bad tape take us by surprise,” Bolkovatz says.
Robert Gast has reported on technology and business tangential to the IBM’s mid-tier systems for more than 20 years. He can be reached at email@example.com