Case Study: Sony Storage Eases Manufacturer's Backup Load

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Most of us with lives outside work hate having to punch the clock on weekends -- much less the middle of the night on weekends. So when the network analyst at Knowles Electronics found himself doing just that to handle a temperamental backup drive he was more than willing to seek out an alternative solution.

Getting a good night's sleep wasn't the only issue. "We're expanding worldwide and we need to be up and running on a 24-hour cycle," says Mike Swank, network analyst at Knowles Electronics Holdings, a worldwide manufacturer of hearing aid, automotive and other mini-electronic components.

The problem began for Knowles early this year when the company brought in new Sun Servers and an Oracle ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. The backup systems that came with the Sun equipment were fine initially, but after a few months Knowles was running Oracle more than they anticipated and the data needing to be backed up, including large engineering files, was four times what had been anticipated. The result was that the Sun 120 DLT (Digital Linear Tape) system (four DLT 700 drives) was taking as long as 36 hours to do backup and often locked up, requiring service in the wee hours of the morning.

With more than 20 NT servers, two network servers, 12 Sun Solaris servers and some two terabytes of data to back up every Friday, it's not surprising the process would take long. But Knowles hoped it could do better, and improve on the system's reliability.

With the help of Chicago-based system integrator, Acunet, Knowles installed a storage solution on steroids, the Sony PetaSite B80L. The system includes a fibre channel, DTF 2 (Digital Tape Format) drive that can handle up to 200 gigabytes natively and more than 600 gigabytes in compressed form on a single tape.

Swank says the Sony system shaved a whopping 75% off the 36-hour backup time (down to under 10 hours) and has been running fine since it was installed in August of this year. The old DLT drives transferred data at up to 4 MB/second versus the Sony B80L, which exceeds 16 MB/seconds.

An interesting side benefit of the Petasite is that the expense of Knowles off-site backup with data protection company Iron Mountain was greatly reduced. Before the company provided six tapes per week to Iron Mountain of selective key data it had time to store. With the Petasite B80L, Knowles is able to back up everything on two tapes which is cheaper since off-site storage service charges per tape, and more comprehensive.

A Leap Of Faith

Sony, the legendary consumer electronics brand, is not nearly as well known in IT circles, though it has been selling storage solutions on an OEM basis for years. Richard Dase, director of technology for Knowles, says the decision to go with the Sony drive was "a leap of faith" because "the value and the speeds seemed unbelievable." And while the $120,000 price tag for the 16-terabyte system was a bit more than what some other vendors offer, Dase says Sony had a performance and storage capacity edge up to several times that of other vendors.

With the help of Sony and Acunet personnel, the installation took about a week which included Knowles running its old solution in parallel just in case anything went wrong. The Coke machine-sized PetaSite actually hooked up to the Sun servers and worked immediately, but fell short of the initial performance spec because the Veritas backup software Knowles uses needed to be tuned. Sony brought in a Veritas specialist and worked out the kinks over the course of five days.

"We told their (Veritas) technical support staff the performance we were expecting and they weren't used to hearing numbers that high," recalls Swank. "But eventually we got into their second level of support and received the tuning spec we needed to get the Sony performing correctly."

With the Sony PetaSite B80L humming along just fine, the IT staff at Knowles is taking advantage of vastly increased storage capability and back to enjoying their weekends.

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