A backup bind

After personnel cutbacks, Reliance Mutual Insurance needed a low-maintenance backup system.

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A backup bind
A company's new backup plan

After personnel cutbacks, Reliance Mutual Insurance was short on IT staff, leaving it in need of a backup system that didn't require too much on site attention.

By Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

With a limited staff and little experience with backing up data, Reliance Mutual Insurance needed a simple solution to keep its customer data safe. The problem was that the tight economic times had forced the company to scale back its operations, leaving technical support for a new network in the hands of a small number of system administrators.

Reliance Mutual Insurance's IT staff suffered a human resources crisis similar to a hemorrhage. Tight economic times forced the UK-based insurance company to streamline its operations, reducing its overall workforce. The systems administration team was slashed from 26 people to just six supporting the company's remaining 80 employees.

Along with the staff cuts came a revamp of Reliance Mutual's network infrastructure. The company needed to streamline its network to accommodate its new operations. Since the company would no longer be selling business to the general public and would be concentrating only on existing policies, its computing needs changed. There was also a need to move to newer, more efficient technology since its old network was showing its age. The systems admin team spent a year implementing a new system. It moved from a Sequent Computer Systems, Inc. mainframe and an old VMA machine backed up on open reel tape and an Exabyte Corp. autoloader to a new network consisting of four Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris 2.7 servers as a network, six Linux Red Hat, Inc. 6.2 Servers, 80 thin client Linux desktops and a Hewlett-Packard Co. SureStore DLT 7000 autoloader.

Glynn Head was facing a big headache for a small network. "I had no experience in backup systems," says Head. As technical program analyst, his senior managers gave him the responsibility of finding a backup solution for the new network -- and time was of the essence. Since the old mainframe had a backup process built into the system, Reliance Mutual had to find a new way to backup its data. Head had his hands full with other daily operations. Being saddled with the duty of evaluating and choosing a backup solution was a task he didn't need.

Reliance Mutual performs backups of about 20G bytes of data per day and about 40G bytes on the weekend. While the amounts of data might not be huge, the data itself is hugely important. Reliance Mutual has been providing life and pensions insurance since the early part of the last century.

In his search, Head evaluated Veritas Software Corp.'s NetBackup and Legato Systems, Inc.'s NetWorker products, but they were overkill for his new network. "Veritas' solution was the most expensive. Legato's was a bit cheaper, but required a five-day training course to learn how to operate it. We didn't have the resources to send someone away for that amount of time." Head added that the Veritas and Legato products included a lot of extra features that were not necessary for his small environment.

That's when BakBone Software Inc. stepped up to the plate. The San Diego, Calif.-based software startup was toting a backup product called NetVault. They gave Head their pitch, and he was sold.

After installing and testing NetVault's performance on a small Sun server, the Reliance Mutual team decided to upgrade to version 6.0.3 of the software. "We originally installed NetVault on a small Sun machine and when we upgraded we moved it to a Linux box," says Head. "It drastically increased our data rates."

In non-SAN networks, NetVault allows library sharing with systems directly attached to SCSI drives, bypassing the LAN and optimizing backup performance. The modular architecture features a 'pluggable' core, flexible device support, point and click application plug-in modules, and graphical user interface (GUI) standardization across platforms. NetVault also features consolidated backup and NDMP support.

Head says the overwhelming factor in his decision was that NetVault was simple to use. "Our main criterion was to find a particular product that would do its job efficiently, but without needing much attention. As we are a small department, resource time is critical. We don't have the manpower for someone to be dedicated to backing up data. So, ideally we needed something that didn't drain our time."

Head says that Reliance Mutual's backup process now takes three hours during the week and five hours on the weekend, which cut the old backup window time by a third. "We spend no time on it," he says.

For additional information about BakBone Software, visit their Web site.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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This was first published in June 2001

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