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The Challenge: Enable Quick Recovery of Business Operations During Downtime Events
“When you’re managing other people’s money, you’re highly accountable for everything that goes on, and the liability can be pretty extreme,” said John Etheridge, IT Director, Niemann Capital Management. “In our business, if the servers went offline or we had downtime at the wrong time in the day, that hinders our ability to trade, distribute funds, liquidate and so forth, so it’s critical for us to be able to recover our data and maintain operations. In the past, if I were to lose a site, the best I could hope for was to get back online in two days. It would then take another 12 days to get everything running at full capacity, and that just wasn’t acceptable. My goal was to find a solution with the recovery capabilities we needed, within the parameters we had to work with.”
The Solution: Application-Consistent Recovery with InMage
“I call it the 100-mile limit,” said Etheridge. “Even if we have a fault tolerant scenario with two sites running real-time data, any time you get past that 100-mile limit, you have a significant problem to deal with because of the distance the data has to travel. Fault tolerant sites are very expensive and require a lot of maintenance, work and personnel. The ROI just wasn’t there so we decided to look for other solutions that focused on bringing our primary site back online.”
“There wasn’t a single solution out there that we didn’t evaluate,” continued Etheridge. “We looked at the very mature products, yet they still had limitations and the cost factor was enormous. Other products were fully automated, but still required a tremendous amount of maintenance to make sure they worked properly, and that wasn’t a task we wanted to take on. Customer support was often lacking as well. When Hitachi Data Systems introduced us to InMage, we found what we were looking for.”
NCM implemented InMage Scout, a disaster recovery and business continuity software solution from Santa Clara-based InMage Systems. InMage’s unique hybrid recovery technology enables granular recovery capabilities that can meet the most stringent recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO) while completely eliminating backups as a discrete operation. InMage cornerstone technologies include continuous data protection (CDP), asynchronous replication, application failover/failback, and WAN optimization.
“The strategy was to replicate data from our primary site in California to our secondary site in Nevada, and be able to perform a manual recovery that met our RTO of two hours and our RPO of 30 minutes,” says Etheridge. “Most manual recovery solutions are extremely onerous – a lot of things have to happen at the same time in order for them to work properly. With InMage, we could do point-in-time recovery with application-consistent recovery points. This was a huge benefit since we work with multi-tier applications. Whether we go back 10 minutes, or to the exact same second, we know that our data and applications will come up properly.”
Other advantageous features for NCM included InMage’s replication processes, bandwidth utilization and bandwidth optimization. Etheridge had previously looked at several bandwidth optimization products, but found the learning curve and constant changing of compression ratios to be troublesome.
“The compression we get from InMage is phenomenal,” says Etheridge. “We didn’t need to spend weeks or months learning how to use it. The throttling works well, so we’ve always been able to use only a fraction of the bandwidth we thought we’d need. Instead of over 200Mbit, 50 Mbit ended up working just fine for us.”
Another particularly useful feature for NCM was InMage’s sparse retention, especially when it came to compliance mandates. Sparse retention retains long-term CDP information on the disk while minimizing target storage utilization. As time progresses, the application consistency bookmarks are maintained at less frequent intervals. For example, a sparse retention policy could be specified as: retain all changes for the last three days, one recovery point per hour for four days beyond that, and one recovery point per day for older data. Users then have the ability to recover to application-consistent points further back in time without consuming significantly more target storage beyond the first week.
“Sarbanes-Oxley is a major mandate in our industry,” says Etheridge. “We use InMage’s sparse retention as part of our backup strategy and our primary methodology for recovering a file. Since the SEC requires seven-year retention and proof that files have not been amended during that timeframe, the simplest and easiest way to accomplish that is sparse retention. We can go back to a designated point in time, and our compliance department can quickly satisfy any requests that arise. Sparse retention is incredibly important in meeting many of our needs, and has proved especially beneficial for SOX guidelines.”
Putting it to the Test: InMage Meets RPO/RTO Benchmarks
“The product speaks for itself, but the cooperation we’ve received from InMage has also been second to none,” concludes Etheridge. “We need to know we have a partner that takes our needs seriously and makes sure trained people are available in the event of a disaster. I personally test relationships, and the one we’ve had with InMage is the best support relationship I’ve ever had. It does a lot for our confidence level. If our entire IT department was unavailable, I’m certain InMage could perform a full site recovery. The bottom line is that we have a system for a fraction of the price we would have had to pay for a more conventional method.”
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