Medical school gives backup software an 'A'

UC Davis' medical center looks to a backup software application to increase tape utilization.

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A 40% test score means failure for students at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, a 528-bed teaching hospital. Likewise, a storage system with a 40% utilization rate got an "F" from Tony Pinillos, the center's assistant director of technical support services. Pinillos also flunked the system for the extra effort required to handle an eight-hour batch processing rate.

Rather than expelling the system, however, he decided to bring in a virtual "tutor."

Indeed, scrapping the whole system was out of the question. The medical center's data center holds some hefty hardware, including two IBM 9672 servers, IBM 3590E hardware and an EMC Direct Access Storage Device (DASD) with 800 slots. "We wanted to maximize what we had," said Pinillos.

What he had wasn't working that well. An average 40% of each of the existing 8000 storage tapes was utilized. Daily batch processing started at midnight and took at least eight hours to finish. The system's lack of speed caused the 250-person IT team to miss deadlines during high traffic times. That meant that critical patient medical records were not always available at the start of the hospital's morning rounds.

The hardware-centric system's disaster recovery limitations and poor price performance also bothered Pinillos. He wanted a solution that was portable and not dependent on hardware replication. "If you have a hardware solution, you have to contract with your disaster recovery vendor for that hardware," he said. "That can be very expensive."

Once Pinillos put all his needs on paper, he came up with his top criterion for a new solution: no new hardware. "I didn't want to bring in another piece of equipment, which eventually I'm going to have to upgrade or throw away or God knows what," he said.

Scouting for hardware-free storage solutions, the medical center's IT team evaluated veteran virtual tape products from IBM Corp., StorageTek Corp. and EMC Corp. These vendors could not meet Pinillos' primary requirement; each required a purchase of expensive hardware.

Dissatisfied with the senior virtual tape solutions, the IT team decided to give a freshman a chance. They joined the beta testers of BrightStor CA-Vtape Virtual Tape System 2.0 from Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc. BrightStor Vtape is a software-based virtual tape system that works with existing tape and server hardware and existing applications. Vtape redirects tape mounts to DASD virtual volumes, enabling instantaneous mounts and instant recalls from DASD. Administrators can stack virtual volumes on a physical tape when needed.

After six months of tests, Pinillos' team gave BrightStor an A. BrightStor proved that the goal of 100% tape utilization was possible. Batch processing times dropped from eight hours to five.

The testing period allowed the IT team to exterminate a few bugs, most of which were caused by problems with Windows 95. So when rollout time came, the Vtape VTS meshed perfectly with all hardware and applications.

BrightStor CA-Vtape VTS provides flexibility "in that you can mix and match any hardware, tape drives and vendors' tapes you want," Pinillos said. "It allows you to use some of the older technologies, which have nothing wrong with them, so you can really maximize the ROI of what you have on the floor."

In conjunction with the installation of the Vtape system, Pinillos migrated from IBM 3495 Tape Library Dataserver and 3490E Automated Tape Library (ATL) to the higher capacity 3494 Tape Library Dataserver and 3590E ATL. The upgrade, combined with the tape stacking allowed by the Vtape VTS, cut the medical center's tape requirements by 94%. It offered a substantial savings in media, in addition to savings in transportation and storage.

In fact, Pinillos calculated that the BrightStor CA-Vtape VTS paid for itself, in cost savings, in eight months.

BrightStor has also increased IT staff productivity. With the elimination of tape mounting and physical tape management, coupled with increased batch speed times, Pinillos calculated that his team has gained the equivalent of 1.5 bodies in manpower for all shifts.

Initially, Pinillos worried that his IT staff would feel threatened by the new solution's labor savings. "It's been just the opposite. They really love it," he said. Rather than eliminating jobs, it has given the staff "the time to do more of the technical things they always wanted to do, like diagnostics," he added. "It really enhances our talent."

BrightStor is a star pupil, Pinillos said. He'd choose the same solution in a heartbeat. "There's nothing we would change if we were to do it over again," he said.

For more information on UC Davis Medical Center visit its Web site.

Additional information on CA's BrightStor can be found here.

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This was first published in November 2002

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