Mother Nature chases Mass. town into the cloud

After tornadoes ripped through nearby Springfield, the technology director of Dedham, Mass., decided it was time to move data backup and recovery to the cloud.

“Mother Nature was happening all around me,” said Veronica Barnes, the town’s technology director. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, was a wake-up call to many IT managers, Barnes said. Then, in June 2011, Vermont experienced heavy flooding and tornadoes ripped through Springfield, Mass., which is about 88 miles west of Dedham, a town with a population of 23,000 people.

“Once that tornado hit, I said, ‘Wait, we have to do something now. It is too close,’” Barnes said. Tapes were located in one central location, and Barnes worried about recouping data if the tape systems or computer room were underwater or devastated by a tornado.

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To ease her mind, Barnes turned to Zettanet, a provider of cloud-based data backup and recovery. Barnes had been reading up on cloud services such as Google Apps. In fact, the town’s school department used Google but had problems. “So I didn’t want to go in that direction. I didn’t want to be a little fish in the sea,” she said, adding that her two-person IT shop was looking for a company that could fulfill all its needs.

At the same time, the town’s data processing capabilities are expanding, and like many state and local governments, Dedham is dealing with terabytes of data. “You can’t just put everything on tape,” Barnes said, adding that backing up content on tape in the big data era is becoming cumbersome.

Currently much of the data is structured, but it will become more unstructured in the future as more data comes off of video feeds. Data comes from disparate systems that are not standardized, such as those from the fire and police departments and other public service agencies. The town has a combination of Microsoft, Oracle, ICobol and Cobol systems.

Barnes said she just wanted to try Zettanet out but saw how easy it was to install during a sales conversation with the company. Barnes picked one server as a trial to back up data for a week and started to add more data. Using Zettanet, an administrator can log onto a website from a laptop or desktop and download files onto systems and even to PCs, Barnes said.

Before this, Dedham used Symantec Backup, which required an administrator to find the current tape in a tape drive, go into Symantec software to pull the tape, load and protect the tape, and then let it stream to find the file. However, an administrator couldn’t load files directly onto a person’s desktop. The files had to be loaded into a directory, scanned and then given to the user.

Now, Barnes can just log into a portal, drill down to the file she wants, and upload it.

Moving to the new environment required the IT team to take snapshots of the systems. Extremely large files were downloaded onto a big terabyte drive and sent to Zettanet. “We are mirrored now," Barnes said.

Users install ZettaMirror, a lightweight software agent, on computers and file servers, which gives them off-site protection. The software replicates local files to a Zetta Virtual Volume. A second copy the ZettaMirror is in the company’s cloud data center. Zetta has redundant SAS70 data centers in New Jersey and California. Dedham is currently paying for the cloud-based services on a monthly basis but will switch to a yearly subscription next year because it will be cheaper, Barnes said.

During an emergency, as long as you have a laptop you can log into the service, Barnes said, adding that before Zettanet they had to wait for tapes to load and then check files.

“I always think about worse-case scenarios,” Barnes said. “I try to keep 99.9 percent uptime. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but for the most part it is 99.9 percent uptime.” Moving backup and recovery to the cloud now gives the IT department one less thing to worry about, she said.  

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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