A long journey to network storage

Locksmith Yvonne Deubler points to her workgroup's File Saver backup appliance, which takes up less room than a cooler.

Orange County, Fla., maintenance supervisor Ron Gawlik says backup has to be as fast and easy as possible for users who aren't computer experts.

A facilities management department in Orange County, Fla., grew tired of inconvenient backup schemes and kept looking for something to completely automate the process.

A network appliance came at the tail end of a number of systems rejected by the county's electronic access workgroup.

The group manages passwords and electronic key codes for locks on all the county's 500 buildings and other property. Although there are only a few gigabytes of data, it is extremely valuable.

'We were doing hard-copy backups, and that was the start of my dilemma,' said Ron Gawlik, the former project coordinator and now East District maintenance supervisor.

The first backup schemes either slowed workers down or required frequent attention from administrators. Backups on floppy disks, and later on rewritable CDs and DVDs, were too time-consuming because the county mandates a backup whenever there is a database change. That hampered the employees working in the databases.

Gawlik then shifted to automated backup software, which ran each night. The software worked right only intermittently, however, failing to save when a disk ran out of space. On more than a few days, employees had to spend part of the morning backing up material that should have been captured the previous night.

Storage media also had vulnerabilities. Because of a scratched disk, one database was entirely lost, and the county had to pay temporary workers to re-enter it from hard copy.

'It took about two months to get that material back into the system,' Gawlik said.

He continued to try other solutions. The workgroup tested tape-drive backups from vendors such as IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., but they worked slowly and did not automate backup as much as Gawlik wanted.

Next he tried external hard drives, but they too became a nuisance to employees.
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Gawlik said he didn't even consider an Internet storage system such as those from EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass. Given the extremely sensitive nature of the data, he feared the potential for Internet or intranet break-ins.

In January 2004, Gawlik decided to try a network appliance, the Adaptec File Saver from Adaptec Inc. of Milpitas, Calif.

What Gawlik liked about the File Saver was its simplicity. The appliance could back up data as soon as it was entered, with very little lag time for the users.

Setup proved easy, he said. The workgroup installed a closed, local Ethernet to link its computers, each with an assigned IP address and 6M of client software. The thin Adaptec appliance was placed atop a file cabinet and hooked into the LAN.

'Within five minutes of setting it up, the machines were backing up their information,' Gawlik said.

To test the server's reliability, he deleted some material from one of the computers. The appliance quickly and fully restored the records.

County workers now can check whether their entries are backed up by consulting a directory tree similar to Microsoft Windows Explorer. Five backups are kept for each database.

Adaptec's backup unit works with most versions of the Windows operating system. When files have been fully backed up once, the File Saver stores only modifications, minimizing the network load.

Administration has also been quite low-key, Gawlik said. An administrator can check the File Saver's status from a browser.

The $6,299 appliance has a total capacity of about 700G. If a drive goes bad, it can be replaced without turning off and rebooting the system.

'It is so user-friendly,' Gawlik said. 'The people working here are locksmiths and technicians. They are not computer people, so they are looking for the simplest operation they can possibly have.'

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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