Corps of Engineers gets backup help from remote control apps

Doug Hemsley, left, and Ryan Newell are streamlining backup and remote-control tasks for the Omaha, Neb., district of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers

In the Army Corps of Engineers' largest land district, fixing a broken computer used to mean flying an IT staff member out to the affected field office.

Now the Omaha district is making the far-flung service calls history. It's installing backup and remote control software to do those jobs from Omaha, Neb., said Ryan D. Newell, a computer specialist for the district.

At the start of 2003, the district migrated from Novell NetWare network management software to Microsoft Windows 2000 Server. Newell's staff will soon roll out Microsoft Active Directory, too. About 1,000 workers in the Omaha district use Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server databases as well as mapping, computer-aided design and other applications.

Lots of room to grow

For primary storage, the Omaha district has two Dell PowerVault 775N network-attached storage devices, each with 2T capacity. They're nowhere near full and have plenty of room for growth, Newell said.

BrightStor ArcServe 9 from Computer Associates International Inc. performs daily, incremental backups of the storage boxes plus full tape backups on weekends. The district had used a previous version of the CA software to back up the NetWare file servers, and officials decided to continue using it for Windows 2000, but they also bought the BrightStor Microsoft Exchange client to fully back up Exchange e-mail nightly.

The Omaha district runs five Exchange servers, each with a capacity of about 12G, to handle 1,300 e-mail users spread across the eight states of the Omaha district.

The servers 'aren't too big, but they're one of our most important' hardware categories, Newell said.

Tape libraries from Qualstar Corp. of Simi Valley, Calif., are outfitted with four Sony Corp. Advanced Intelligent Tape-2 tape drives. A large investment in AIT-2 media made it logical to continue with that format, Newell said.

An administrator can access all the servers that have the backup software to check the progress of backup cycles and change tapes, even for the field servers.

Besides the servers and storage boxes at the Omaha office, the district also is responsible for backing up one Hewlett-Packard NetServer LH3 system at each of 11 field sites across the district at dams and other large facilities.

The remote servers perform file and print functions while the Omaha office handles all the e-mail, Newell said.

Each server has a standalone Sony external tape drive for full nightly backup. The IT staff can run BrightStor 9 on those servers remotely from Omaha.

Before the staff acquired the most recent version of BrightStor, a point of contact at each remote site had to back up the local drives. If there were problems, someone from the Omaha office would have to visit.

For remote control, the Omaha district is testing CA's Service Plus Service Desk. A user with a problem could call in to set up a request ticket, and the help staff could remote-control the user's computer instead of flying out to fix it or having it shipped to Omaha, Newell said.

'It's a lot harder to do some of that stuff because of the distances,' said Doug Hemsley, the Omaha district's branch chief of computer systems and communications.

In June the Omaha district started using CA's Unicenter platform for asset management, hardware and software inventory, software delivery and monitoring, and lifecycle management.

Unicenter also pushes out security software patches that the Army calls Information Assurance Vulnerability Alerts. 'That's a lifesaver,' Hemsley said.

Several network management products had undergone evaluation by a committee representing the engineer districts of Kansas City, Mo., Omaha, Portland, Ore., Seattle and Walla Walla, Wash. The committee chose Unicenter because it integrated software delivery, remote control, asset management and help functions, Hensley said.

The Kansas City district has gone along with the CA software acquisitions, but the other districts haven't yet rolled out Unicenter, Newell said.

The corps emphasizes regionalization, so that any district can share ideas and workloads with other districts or control another district's systems from afar, Hemsley said.

Contractor Jeff Goldberg of Management Solutions & Systems Inc. of Capitol Heights, Md., worked on Omaha's Unicenter project, Newell said.

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