Data squeeze

Sheryl Glore, left, standards chief for the Air Force's 45th Space Communications Squadron, checks out an Exabyte X80 tape library with contractor Glenn Exline. The tape library helps the squadron duplicate crucial launch data.

Squadron uses SAN backup to relieve pressure

Just as rockets must blast off within their launch windows, the Air Force group that helps NASA get rockets off the ground was constrained by a different kind of window'the time needed for daily data backups.

The Air Force's 45th Space Communications Squadron installed a storage area network to speed up duplication of crucial data about military and NASA payloads.

Nightly backups that used to take 12 hours now last only two-and-a-half hours, and because the data copying runs over a network separate from routine operations, the crew can perform backups anytime.

The 45th Space Wing launches about 30 rockets per year for the Air Force, said Sheryl Glore, chief of implementations and standards for the squadron headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base on Florida's eastern shore.

The Space Wing, part of the Air Force Space Command, also provides telemetry, weather monitoring and other services for NASA's Cape Canaveral rocket launches. The communications squadron handles the Space Wing's voice, video and data communications.

Last September, the squadron installed a 3.5T SAN divided between Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base, said Glenn Exline, advanced technology manager for a squadron contractor. The base is a few miles south of the Canaveral launch pads, and the Space Wing operates at both sites.

Before the SAN, the IT staff had to limit data storage for about 3,500 users, Exline said. Daily backup requirements were nosing against the limits of a 12-hour time slot from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. And even if plenty of storage had been available, the squadron couldn't have backed it up.

To get more storage, the IT staff would normally 'throw another server on the network, which has complexities associated with maintaining service packs and security,' Exline said.

'We saw that the more storage we added, the longer it took to back everything up. So if we didn't have a good backup infrastructure as part of the SAN, we could easily find ourselves in the same boat again'having more storage than we could possibly back up,' he said.

The SAN incorporated an EMC Clariion storage system from EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass. It connected via Fibre Channel to the backup systems, two Exabyte X80 MammothTape libraries from Exabyte Corp. of Boulder, Colo.

Each tape has 60G of native capacity and can hold up to 150G of compressed data, Exline said. Each library has four Exabyte Mammoth 2 drives, expandable to eight drives.

There is a dedicated Fibre Channel attachment per drive, Exline said, so expanding to eight drives wouldn't compromise bandwidth.

To manage both the front-end IP network and the back-end Fibre Channel SAN, the squadron administrators needed something that would work on one console. They already had Computer Associates International Inc.'s Unicenter network management platform for the IP network, so they chose CA's BrightStor SAN Manager.

'It gives us a nice overall picture of the health of our enterprise from one end to the other,' Exline said.

Faster transfers

With BrightStor Enterprise Backup's serverless backup option, Exline said, he routinely sees data transfers at 800M to 1G per minute per tape drive. Backup over the IP network had moved 40M to 100M per minute per tape drive.

Backups can now take place even at midday because the data goes over the SAN and not the IP network. 'I can back up the servers as quickly during the day as at night, and the users don't see an impact,' Exline said.

One day the IT staff backed up the Space Wing's largest Microsoft Exchange Server platform in 10 minutes, starting at 8:30 a.m., 'and that's prime time for users logging in and checking
e-mail,' he said.

The IT staff found a few weaknesses in the beta version they installed before BrightStor SAN Manager officially launched in January. There was a hiccup in loading the proxy agent that was fixed in the final release.

'SANs and IP networks are kind of hard for folks to get their heads around,' Exline said. The software presented a graphical view of the separate Fibre Channel and IP networks for explanations to senior officials.

'Glenn and his group did some serious homework before we ever purchased this,' Glore said.
The SAN installation went well, she said, and the network arrangement is 'a big step toward giving users the storage space they need.'

Exline quipped, 'Our user base reaches from admin folks to people who really are rocket scientists.'

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