Keeping Pace With Data Growth

The Standard Insurance Company's data doubles every year. When your data increases that fast, your tape library system has to be flawless.

Who insures an insurance company? It's a good question, and from a data storage standpoint, the answer would have to be a tape library system. Ask The Standard Insurance Company. As a $1.23 billion company that had its initial public offering last April, The Standard will tell you that a company's data is its foundation.

With that premise in mind, Senior Systems Engineers Mark Bussell and Doug Stearns have helped the company navigate from rough seas in tape storage to much calmer waters. "We came from a UNIX platform with Legato storage management software and Exabyte tape drives. There was a massive amount of data that needed to be backed up, but that particular solution wasn't doing it for us anymore. We needed a library for all of our platforms – Sun Solaris and NT. We wanted to find a common environment."

The Library And The Odyssey
In September, 1996 The Standard's Bussell and Stearns began an Odyssean search for a new system. They arrived at Spectra Logic AIT Bullfrog (Spectra 10000) automated tape libraries, and Legato Networker. "We integrated Spectra Logic and Legato – Spectra Logic for the device side, and Legato software for the tape management, backup, and recovery side," says Bussell. "By designing the system in a networked environment and implementing these two pieces, we saw incredible throughput."

Many systems do not allow for frequent small-file data set recoveries, but The Standard requires this kind of retrieval every day. Most of the company's data on the NT side is in the form of a file system: Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets. Many companies are much more mainframe-, or database-oriented, and their recovery and backup strategies are different. Because of The Standard's particular needs, though, its implementation of Legato Networker and Spectra Logic's libraries was set up specifically to handle frequent recoveries of small-file data sets.

When you have that much information to store (policies, customer lists, investment data) restoration requests are inevitable. Imagine that an actuary deleted a data set from the previous quarter, but now needs it to produce a critical monthly report. With the new system, a desktop support person can use the Networker product to identify which data sets are needed, based on a particular date and time. From this information the support person can initiate a request, or even restore the data in real time. This is possible through the clone tapes in the libraries, which allow almost instant restoration.

Library Warfare
Without doubt the new system is more successful, but to what degree? "If I had to rate it on a scale of one to 10," says Stearns, "I would give it a 10+. Now, we can back up our data within a specified window, our overhead for training is relatively small, and the performance of the system has been invariably reliable." Although the company has made no formal calculations, Stearns also suggests the system has provided The Standard's customers a return on investment (ROI) by guaranteeing secure data. That translates into good customer service. "Upgrades will be an ongoing process," adds Bussell. "They're inevitable, and you can't just throw hardware and bandwidth at all your problems. You have to think about how you will architect your data, as well."

In the improvement arena, Bussell and Stearns aren't just spectators. Since the installation, The Standard's tape library has already undergone several upgrades: from NT 3.51 to 4.0, and from Networker 4.3 to 5.0. Currently, the company is in the process of upgrading its libraries from AIT1 to AIT2 technology.

Assessing The Results
These upgrades have helped The Standard keep pace with its explosive growth of data. When the system was first implemented, the company was backing up about 200 GBs each weekend; now the company is managing almost double that. Additionally, the data on the company's NT platform doubles every year.

"We are trying to keep our storage abilities far ahead of our data growth," comments Stearns. "If we accomplish this, the time frame for backup windows will remain under 24 hours. Because we have been so precise about the way we architected the library, we have already exceeded the maximum specifications of Spectra Logics, Sony, and Legato. We have achieved unmatched performance, and we plan on maintaining it."Doug Campbell