Alaska Telecom Ditches Tape for LaserVault UBD
March 4, 2014 Alex Woodie
Copper Valley Telecom, a small telephone company that serves the city of Valdez, Alaska, has left behind the hassles of tape and embraced the simplicity of disk-to-disk backups. Since adopting the LaserVault Universal Backup Device (UBD) to backup its production IBM i server, the company is enjoying significantly faster and more automated backups. And thanks to LaserVault UBD’s Web interface, IT staffers no longer fumble around with tapes when the company needs to build a test environment.
Prior to implementing the LaserVault UBD, Copper Valley used a 24-slot IBM tape library to back up the data stored on its IBM i system. The company runs an IBM i-based software package from Quintrex Data Systems, and used the IBM library to back up financials, service orders, customer data, plant data, and trouble tickets.
Nightly backups would run for six to eight hours with the old IBM tape library, says Copper Valley’s IT manager Eve Leonard. But the slowness was only part of the problem. “The tape library was so confusing and hard to configure,” she tells IT Jungle. “You had to introduce the tape to the tape library and then it was either completely automated or completely unautomated. You couldn’t say, ‘I want to do a tape backup to tape two and remove it and take it somewhere.’ It just didn’t work very well for us.”
And once a backup was done, it was tough getting any information about the backup and whether it was successful. “It was really difficult,” says Leonard, who manages Copper Valley’s IT department remotely from Maine. “It was a lot of extra busy work for not a lot of payoff.”
About three years ago, the company decided to move off tape and adopt a disk-to-disk (D2D) backup solution for its nightly backups. The company already had a relationship with Electronic Storage Corp. for the LaserVault Document Management System, which Copper Valley uses to store its paperless documents. So it was a natural move to give its LaserVault Backup, the precursor to LaserVault UBD, a shot. Eventually it upgraded to LaserVault UBD.
LaserVault UBD is a hardware appliance, or alternatively, a software solution that can be deployed on your choice of hardware. It emulates a tape drive, and uses standard IBM i tape backup commands. It connects to IBM i and Linux servers via Fibre Channel and can backup data at speeds up to 409 MB/second. The appliance can be directly attached to a production server, or used as a gateway device to store backups on a NAS, SAN, or any deduplication appliance that supports CIFS, NFS, or iSCSI connections.
Backups are now blazing fast. With the LaserVault UBD appliance sitting in Copper Valley’s Valdez data center, backups complete in an hour to an hour and a half, Leonard says. But perhaps more importantly, the restores are faster and easier to execute.
“We do a lot of testing,” Leonard explains. “We’re a phone company so this is our billing engine. Whenever we offer a new calling plan or some new feature or functionality, we build an entire testing environment and do our testing there.”
Instead of fumbling around with tapes to load data into a test environment, Leonard can now construct the test environment with a few clicks from LaserVault UBD’s Web-based interface. “We’re constantly having to rebuild our test environments with current data, and so having something fast and having something regularly updated is important,” she says. “I can say ‘I want yesterday’s tape’ and load it without having to physically go up to server room to grab the physical tape.”
There is still some management involved with LaserVault UBD. Once a week, Leonard goes into the product and cleans up the old virtual tape backups to make room for new ones, a process that takes just a few minutes on the Web interface. Each nightly backup takes up about 275 GB in space on the appliance, which is loaded with several TB of storage capacity.
It’s worth noting that Copper Valley does not rely on LaserVault UBD for true disaster recovery (DR) purposes. The company utilizes Venyu‘s cloud-based backup and storage service to get geographical separation that is critical to surviving a disaster. It also uses the iTera HA software from Vision Solutions to replicate IBM i data to a second data center about two hours away for high availability (HA purposes). The city of Valdez sits in an active earthquake zone–and has been known to suffer other types of disasters as well.
“It’s a great solution because it’s fast and there are no physical tapes moving in and out,” Leonard says. “This is great for us because we always have yesterday’s data. The bottom line is this is just more flexible for us.”