IT Managers Put Data Recovery to the Test

Newcomer Compellent's codebase is designed for storage efficiency and scalability.

MINNEAPOLIS-Bill Snow and Ed Eades are a couple of IT managers with very different businesses and data center setups. But they are totally in sync on at least one thing: Their data recovery systems are of supreme importance, and nothing is left to chance.

Both men took part in an hour-long panel discussion before a full house of storage engineers and IT managers here at the Compellent C-Drive partner summit and conference at the Hyatt Regency.

Snow, IT manager at Moss & Associates building contractors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has a hub-and-spoke kind of system, in which each construction site becomes a remote location for the main data center. He has two data center locations in the Southeast and can switch them on and off at will using a single Web-based control console.
Most of the transactions of his 350 or so users take place during daylight hours, as is common in the construction industry. So there's rarely any 24/7 pressure on him and his seven staff people.
Eades, a storage and data recovery engineer for Munder Capital Management, in Birmingham, Mich., has a different scenario. His 180 users-mostly securities brokers-tend to work at all hours. Thus, 24/7 availability is mandatory; downtime is not in the plan.
"The key thing here is test, test and test again," Snow said. "You can't ever take anything for granted. You never know when a disaster can strike, like a hurricane, earthquake or some other travesty. We've been fortunate so far in our region. We were in the process of moving our data center from one location to another when a hurricane hit Florida. It could have been a pretty bad situation, but luckily it didn't affect us much."
Snow said his disaster recovery setup-which is powered by a diesel UPS (uninterruptable power supply) and uses Compellent's Storage Center as the key software-is tested on a monthly basis, with metrics that resemble a full power blackout as closely as possible. Compellent's Storage Center and data recovery work in the background, and a system never needs to be taken down in order to test the software.
"We've never had such a blackout, but I know we're ready if one happens," Snow said.
Eades, who also has two data center locations and is in the process of building a third one, doesn't have to worry about hurricanes. But power outages due to other conditions, such as heavy thunderstorms, frigid temperatures and overflowing rivers in the upper Midwest, are always a possibility.
"We, too, have been fortunate to never have had a full breakdown or blackout," Eades said. "The key for us, also, is to test constantly. We all have parts of our systems down for various reasons, that's fairly common. But ever since we started using Storage Center and DR, we've never had a problem, never lost any data.
"And if I do lose any data, it could mean millions of dollars for our company, being in the securities business."
Eades said his system takes snapshots every 15 minutes, so that if there is a blackout or other problem with the system, no more than 14 minutes of data would be lost. "When we're fully backed up, it takes about 14 terabytes of capacity for the snapshots, but that's what our customers require, so we do it," he said.
Snow, in a much less pressurized business, nonetheless takes snapshots of all the data in his system once an hour.
Both managers have medium-sized, multiterabyte data centers stocked with a variety of hardware from different vendors. But they each decided in the last few years to stock their systems with storage and DR software from Compellent, a company that has relied largely on word of mouth as it starts growing into a larger presence in the market.
At the moment, the disk storage market is led by longtime stalwarts EMC, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, NetApp, Dell, Hitachi Data Systems and Sun Microsystems. But research houses such as IDC and Gartner consider the company a legitimate rising star.
Compellent, a 6-year-old, second-generation storage provider, has about 830 customers (up from about 500 a year ago) and is projecting to make between $82 and $84 million in 2008, the company's CEO and founder, Phil Soran, told an audience of about 500 attendees at the conference.
The company's "secret sauce" involves an all-new code base that "looks at what others have done over the years and takes it all to the next level," Soran said.
Compellent touts its patented Data Progression feature as "the industry's only SAN [storage area network] with automated tiered storage," Soran said.
Data Progression automatically classifies and moves data at the block level between tiers of storage based on frequency of access. This complete automated tiered storage feature does not require time-consuming data classification and the repetitive manual transfer of data between tiers, Soran said.
Compellent has found a way to put a company's most frequently accessed data-which usually amounts to about 20 percent of all its data-on the outside part of the storage disk. The outside of a disk does not have to spin as fast as the inside for data to be accessed, and thus it does not require as much power to access as data stored on the interior of a disk.
Spread over hundreds or thousands of disks and servers, this better aggregates data control. Furthermore, placement on the disks themselves can save on a substantial amount of electricity draw for powering and cooling the data center, Soran said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...