On May 15, 2012, the Wikibon community held a Peer Incite to discuss the merits and potential risks of creating a single data repository for backup and archive in a shared-services IT environment. We were joined by John Meyers, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of Technology for the Department of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, a leader in medical education and research.
For most organizations, the path to a shared-services IT environment is both long and incomplete. However, when Dr. Meyers was asked to assume his current role as director of technology for the department, he accepted, with one pre-condition: that he be allowed to replace the entire existing IT infrastructure.
When the department agreed, Dr. Meyers was afforded the unusual opportunity to abandon a seemingly random collection of servers, storage, and data protection solutions, consolidate infrastructure, and serve up compute, networking, and storage requirements from a more limited number of solutions that fit well in a shared-services model. These included Cisco UCS for servers, VMware for server virtualization, HP 3PAR Utility Storage to support storage requirements for virtualized servers, and EMC’s Isilon scale-out NAS for file storage and automated migration and sharing of scientific data and images from research studies. As a result of his clean-slate approach, Dr. Meyers was able to create his shared-services environment in record time.
The consolidation of infrastructure also created the opportunity for Dr. Meyers to change the way the institution approached data backup and archiving. He needed technology that would enable the department to survive everything short of a region-wide physical disaster and would provide affordable and ready access to data in archives. While he evaluated consolidated, automated tape solutions from leading tape-automation suppliers and storage-controller-based snapshot and remote-replication technologies from his primary storage suppliers, HP 3PAR and EMC Isilon, he was concerned about the feasibility and time requirements for backing up and restoring 300TBs of file data. He was equally concerned over the data growth and storage costs that would result from using controller-based snapshot and replication technology.
On the recommendation of a consultant, Dr. Meyers evaluated and chose a new approach, leveraging technology from Actifio, a young but well-funded technology company based in Waltham, Massachusetts, that is focused on reducing the number of copies of primary data.
By applying the Actifio deduplication algorithms across the full complement of data, the department achieved an 85% reduction in storage requirements between the primary storage from HP and EMC and the Actifio-enabled shared repository for backup and archive. Dr. Meyers reported that this has saved his organization more than $1 million. Through Actifio’s application integration, the Department of Medicine can now rapidly restore volumes and files that have been corrupted or lost and can use the same data store to provide access to archives for multiple users.
Action Item: As data volumes continue to grow and as data analytics and data re-use becomes more pervasive, organizations should re-evaluate and reconsider the merits of using data and file copies, as copy-proliferation may crush budgets and impede efficient operation. As an alternative, companies should evaluate single-repository approaches to managing copy data. There are risks inherent with keeping data in a single, multi-purpose repository, so it is logical to want to replicate the repository. And while that runs counter to the copy-elimination thesis, when fully deduplicated the costs of then replicating the repository may be trivial compared to keeping a growing number of raw copies. Ultimately, given budget and time constraints and the continued growth in file data, the only real alternative for some companies may be no backup and no archive, which would be substantially less palatable and decidedly riskier.
Footnotes: Disclosure: After selecting and implementing the Actifio solution, Dr. Meyers was retained as an external advisor to the company and has a financial interest in Actifio.