Local authority leads the way in digital backup technology

27 Jul 2010 View Comments
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Luton Borough Council offices
Luton Council is benefitting from early adoption of digital backup and storage solutions

Luton Borough Council (LBC) provides all local government functions and services for the 230,000 residents of the Bedfordshire town of Luton and its environs. The council administration is spread across half a dozen sites, with a datacentre facility split over two town centre locations.

The council manages highly confidential information, including comprehensive citizen records, ranging from details of individual benefits to road maintenance. Much of the data is personal and must be kept secure for long-term storage.

Further reading

LBC first deployed Sepaton VTL technology in 2005 to complement an EMC Storage Area Network (SAN) which it already had in place.

The decision to move to VTL was made when the sheer volume of data began making pure physical tape backups too lengthy and impractical. As data expanded, full backups started to exceed weekend windows, while incremental backups were running overnight and into the following day.

"VTL seemed like the best way to go, but straight backup to disc was not efficient in terms of disc space. Deduplication [making use of data compression technology] was the best way to do this," explained Geoff Evans, technical services manager at Luton Borough Council.

Once this decision had been made, the council had two options.

"In 2005 the technology was very new, and it was a choice between Diligent and Sepaton. Diligent was a software solution, whereas Sepaton was hardware. I liked the idea of having the solution in one box," said Evans.

Intially the deduplication wasn't as effective as hoped. Evans added: " However, it improved a lot over the first 18 months; [Sepaton] was able to iron out bugs and extend the type of data they could deduplicate."

Eventually the solution delivered exactly what was required, as Evans explained: “The VTL element effectively gave us the power of dozens of tape drives, because suddenly we could think about backing up 10 or 20 servers concurrently. This made an enormous impact on our backup windows.”

Following rapid backup, data deduplication also enabled Evans to keep backups online locally for much longer, facilitating the instant restore of recently deleted data if required. By contrast, data pertaining to social services, for example, could just as easily be securely stored away for a mandatory 99 years.

More recently, command line administration and manual script handling has been replaced by a single intuitive management console. Total backups that even at pre-2006 volumes were running all weekend and into Monday are now being completed in 24 hours. Nightly backups have been reduced to just four hours.

“Managing the timing of each consecutive backup job became critical. I had initially ruled out VTL because I thought the cost of disks would be prohibitive, but data de-duplication proved the perfect enabling technology, justified by the additional expense we would have incurred by adding still further tape hardware. Today we have about 200 servers. Can you imagine lining up those backup jobs without concurrency?” said Evans.

Of those 200 servers, about 90 are physical and the rest are virtual VMware machines. In 2005 the council used 120 physical servers. it now uses 200 operational servers.

"It's easier on a virtual server to install one application per server [this simplifies management of the infrastructure]. If you're buying new hardware, there is pressure to get as much from each server as you can," he said.

Apart from six Sun Solaris servers, the environment is predominantly Microsoft-based with a mixed Windows Server 2003/2008 back end. Backup data volume is split evenly between standard document file formats and SQL databases. LBC has also met the ISO9001 security standard, as well as compliance for the government’s secure extranet GCSX Code of Connection controls.

The council now operates a S2100-ES VTL with DeltaStor Data deduplication and Symantec NetBackup with 20 terabytes of total capacity. Local data copies are retained for up to a month for on-the-fly restores, while physical tapes are stored offsite by Iron Mountain as part of the council’s disaster recovery plan.

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