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Volume 30, Issue 3

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Marquette Medical Systems Relies on Storage Management System To Protect Its Customers Through Lengthy Product Lifecycle

While storage management is critical for any business, when people's lives depend on a company's software and information resources, there simply can be no margin for backup or restore errors or delays. In short, if an information system needs to be rebuilt for any reason, at any time, and a person's life depends on that system, then only a storage management solution that can quickly, easily, and accurately access and restore the needed files with absolutely no delay, and without impacting other day-to-day operations, is acceptable.

At Marquette Medical Systems, we rely on just such a solution. The patient diagnostic and monitoring systems we manufacture are essential for the treatment and care of patients. As a result, the software code that drives these systems is the real essence of our business. If we lose this code, or any part of it, not only do we lose our business, but lives may be at stake as well.

To ensure complete protection of software resources, as well as the ability to reliably restore them in the event of a mishap, an upgrade of the company's entire storage management solution occurred. This upgrade was necessary because our business had expanded so rapidly that the existing architecture was no longer adequate to handle the backup throughput we required.

In fact, that early architecture was so overloaded that to complete a monthly full backup of 20G took three days during which time end-users had no access to the storage management software, and so could not do any file restores that may have been required. With our new system, by comparison, the time it takes to complete a full backup has been slashed 88 percent, to just eight hours.

The net benefit of this performance boost is that we can now complete two full backups each month without affecting end-users whatsoever. In addition, because the system is so fast, our incremental protection has been dramatically increased through the use of level eight type incremental backups that encompass all system changes since the last similar backup. By completing one of these backups every three days, we have significantly reduced the number of tapes required to rebuild the system. With level eight incrementals we can now rebuild a partition with one or two tapes rather than the five or six that would otherwise have been needed. As a result, restores can be done much faster and with a lower level of risk.

Our new storage management architecture is based on NetWorker 4.2.5 for UNIX from Legato Systems running on a SUN Enterprise 3000 UNIX server. To achieve the bandwidth we required without bogging down the network, we have outfitted this server with five 100 megabit/second Ethernet cards and linked it to an ATL 6176 (ATL Products, Inc. Anaheim, California) autoloader equipped with 176 tape slots and six DLT tape drives, each having its own SCSI bus. Together, these storage management system elements provide a significant performance gain over our previous architecture which relied on an earlier version of NetWorker running on a SUN Sparc 10 server and an 8mm tape autoloader equipped with only two tape drives and 60 tape slots.

Despite the fact that we had been completely satisfied with the NetWorker product in our earlier architecture, and recognized that the limitations of the system were primary hardware related, we still embarked on a comprehensive five-month in-depth evaluation process before selecting our current system. The reason is that, with such a large investment at stake, we simply wanted to consider all options to be absolutely certain that we were selecting the best solution.

We began our evaluation process by implementing three different storage management software solutions. We then benchmarked performance parameters, compared feature sets, and considered end-user usability issues.

There were several key areas that led us to our final decision. For one, the product we selected supports the largest number of servers and clients, an important concern as we look to the future and the possibility of continued expansion through acquisitions. Since we cannot be sure what platforms might be used in these environments, we wanted to have the flexibility of a storage management solution that can support whatever hardware we might encounter in the future. Also, we felt that with its history of supporting so many disparate platforms, the vendor would continue to do so in the future as new hardware comes to market.

With our rapid growth and need to keep our storage management system optimized at all times, we also viewed the system's support of remote tape devices to be a significant advantage. With this capability, we have the option of supporting remote storage devices, located at other Marquette facilities, from our central operational headquarters here in Milwaukee.

Another critical factor for us in our storage management software selection was its ease of use for both system administrators and end-users. We did not want a system that required extensive technical training to administer, nor did we want users to be beleagured with a complex process each time they wanted to restore files. With NetWorker's graphical user interface, our solution satisfies both these concerns. In fact, the system is so easy to use that end-users completed their own backups and restores with a process that was so intuitive they required no training at all.

People's lives depend on our systems, so we must always stand ready to assist our customers with their software issues. Our approach to storage management comes down to this: if Marquette devices are in use - even if more than a decade has elapsed since they were installed - then we must support them. Only by having reliable access to stored information resources through a storage management solution that can effectively back up our growing volumes of data- and restore them if needed - can we meet this objective.

Mr. Goodman is systems engineer for the Monitoring Engineering Division, Marquette Medical Systems, Inc. Milwaukee, Wisconsin.