During the Wikibon community’s May 15, 2012 Peer Incite discussion, callers learned about the Boston University School of Medicine’s single data repository for backup and archive in a shared-services research IT environment. Our guest speaker was John Meyers, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of Technology for the Department of Medicine.
Dr. Meyers began his discussion by outlining a scenario that would be a dream for many CIOs — for all intents and purposes, he was able to begin his effort to transform the School’s research function through a greenfield deployment. He was able to fully replace older hardware, software, and services in favor of something brand new which, from the very beginning, would be sized to meet current research needs and easily scalable to encompass future needs as they arise.
Although not all organizations would be able to undertake an immediate massive infrastructure turnover such as the one described by Dr. Meyers, given the technology lifecycle, such infrastructure migrations can and do happen in a natural way through technological attrition. The end result for the School of Medicine has been the ability to significantly simplify the entire environment, from managing operational data to archiving data to maintaining data in a disaster recovery site. I’ve written previously about the need for a “Simplification Trend”. That is on its way and is necessary in order for IT departments of the future to meet business needs. The undertaking described by Dr. Meyers fits that trend perfectly.
In this spirit of an ongoing move toward simplicity, it becomes necessary to be open to making changes that are needed to make it happen. In the case of Dr. Meyers, that meant jettisoning a lot of older or newly-obsolete technology and create a new paradigm around the new technology. Dr. Meyers has the good fortune to be able to start from scratch and do it better.
For example, whereas the school previously used a mix of traditional backup and recovery mechanisms, with its new combination of EMC Isilon and HP 3PAR, that traditional data protection technology has been replaced with a single copy backup in a disaster recovery site. This has negated the need to offload to tape and keep multiple copies of data at various locations for resiliency. Dr. Meyers believes that the school saved hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result and, thanks to the solution’s inherent deduplication features and intelligent selection of data to protect, has reduced disaster recovery capacity needs by 85%.
In addition to Isilon and 3PAR, the school also partnered with Actifio, a company with a product that was well positioned as what the school considered to be the only one that could deal with its heterogeneous environment. Bear in mind that Dr. Meyers supports the university's research function, so there is no end to the possible needs.
Thanks to the product’s simplicity as delivered through its streamlined Adobe Air interface, Dr. Meyers’ staff was using the tool in a day. Actifio sits in-band on the storage fabric and captures changed blocks on the wire for physical machines. It also has vCenter plug-ins and can use changed block tracking, which makes it very simple to track changes in virtual machines.
The captured information is then used to create deltas of physical and virtual machines. These deltas are combined to create an application consistent backup. Now, when there is a need to restore either into production or for test/dev purposes, Actifio can simply present this series of deltas as a live LUN to a machine without having to fully restore it. It takes just a couple of seconds to set that up. From there, it’s just a matter of using Storage vMotion to place the system back into production.
While the cost and space savings are impressive, there is more to the story. Now, Dr. Meyers and his staff can focus on a single solution and do it well. No longer do they need to worry about multiple data protection mechanisms and hope that everything works. No longer do they worry about losing years of research because someone lost the external hard drive on which it was stored. Instead, they can focus on making things better and extending their new service to even more clients.
Further, the organization can eliminate a number of software licenses, eliminate slow and inefficient tape drives, and eliminate the stale and outdated processes that accompanied the legacy infrastructure.
Action Item: Any organization that wants to simplify IT needs to consider solutions such as Actifio. Dr. Meyers’ approach demonstrates the need for organizations to have a master plan for technology that outlines the eventual vision and the steps that it will take to get there. This plan should include the technologies that can then be eliminated in the name of simplicity and direct cost savings.