BT Ireland has invested millions of pounds in its state-of-the-art data centre located deep inside Telephone House in the heart of Belfast. A 25-strong team is responsible for keeping online 24/7 more than 500 servers that offer hosting and disaster recovery services to a wide range of global and local enterprise customers.
Every aspect of the data centre had been specifically designed to deliver high levels of resiliency and reliability to BT Ireland’s customers. Alan Dowdeswell, Service Acceptance Manager for BT Ireland, explains: “Our customers might need us to manage anything from a few hundred gigabytes to hundreds of terabytes, but regardless of data volumes, they all look to us for reassurance and dependability. The data centre was designed to be a world-class facility with world-class standards of security and reliability.”
Although the data centre enjoyed the best systems in terms of security, power supplies and reliability Dowdeswell had identified a potential improvement – in the time it took to recover a customer’s failed server.
The data centre was hosting hundreds of servers, many of which had been supplied by BT Ireland’s customers and were jointly managed. Although these servers were connected to resilient networks and highly reliable power supplies, there were so many servers being managed that, statistically, a server failure was always a potential customer issue.
In fact, in Dowdeswell’s experience at least one server might typically fail in any given month due to a variety of reasons and the process for recovering a failed server was often slow and complicated. It could easily take a couple of hours to manually re-install the operating system, applications, agents and other configurations specific to that server. As part of providing a quality service, BT would usually offer to support the customer in providing a fix to these issues as fast as possible.
For many customers using the data centre, unscheduled downtime due to IT failure, however brief, can have a direct and expensive impact on their business. The impact of a failed server on a customer’s business may not be relegated to the single server. If a customer had multiple servers that relied in any way on the failed server then the impact could spread wider, in some cases bringing their business to a complete stand-still. Dowdeswell explained: “The most reliable power supply, cooling systems and security cannot protect a customer system when it is affected in this way”.
Objective: Speed of Recovery
BT Ireland wanted a solution that would not just back up the server but, more importantly, would be capable of restoring it from the ground up as fast as possible. Speed of recovery would be the main business driver for the new purchase, and the BT Ireland team set about evaluating the backup and recovery options on the market.
Although they initially evaluated solutions from the traditional software vendors, including Computer Associates and Symantec, BT Ireland selected Acronis for two reasons. Acronis offered the most complete bare metal restore (BMR) functionality and also delivered the fastest server recovery times. BT Ireland purchased 500 licences of Acronis True Image Enterprise Server that were installed on all existing, and later any new, servers in the data centre.
As a first step, an image of each server would be saved to the Acronis Secure Zone (ASZ), a special, hidden partition on the servers’ hard drive that is inaccessible to normal applications as well as viruses or spyware. ASZ is used to store disk and partition images and lets the IT team restore images quickly and easily should the server become corrupted and fail to boot. To ensure that the protected server image is kept up to date BT Ireland configured Acronis True Image to run scheduled image backups to the hidden partition on a regular basis.
As a second step, another copy of the server image was then saved over the network to a central backup server. In this way, every server in the data centre was backed up twice.
If there is ever a problem with a server Dowdeswell’s team can immediately pull an up-to-date copy of the server’s operating system and applications from the ASZ and, in a couple of key strokes, restore the server in a matter of minutes.
Less frequently, a server might experience a catastrophic failure and the drive or entire server would then need to be replaced. In such an instance, the team simply conducts a BMR with the Acronis software to a new drive or server using the image originally saved to the central server. Again, this process can take just a few minutes for the server to be back online.
Protection against hardware failure
In addition to the rapid recovery time, using Acronis Universal Restore, a complementary piece of software that can run along side Acronis True Image, the IT team is able to perform a complete system restore to an entirely new system with different hardware, or to a virtual machine. This means that BT Ireland is not tied in to any server vendor and can simply recover failed servers to the most suitable and available spare hardware of their choice.
Prior to purchasing Acronis True Image and Acronis Universal Restore, the process rebuilding a server was complex and time-consuming. With Acronis the process has been whittled down to a few clicks of a mouse and can mostly be managed from a central workstation without the need to even go and check the failed server. Because everything is handled at the image level, member of the IT team no longer need to be experts on the type of server or application they’re recovering.
Dowdeswell concludes: “It’s fast, it’s reliable and it’s easy to use. The way we see it, Acronis has enabled us to deliver ‘restore on demand’ to our customers and make it easier and simpler for us to meet the service level agreements by which our customers judge us.”
Acronis is a global provider of affordable, scalable storage management and disaster recovery software that helps enterprises and SMBs safeguard their information and assures the availability, security, integrity and recoverability of their infrastructure. Acronis’ patented disk imaging and disk management technology have won broad industry acclaim for data protection, backup and recovery, system deployment, and migration for both physical and virtual servers. A global company, Acronis has offices in the United States, Europe and Asia and sells its products both direct and through enterprise distributors and resellers. For additional information, please http://www.acronis.eu
James Carter or Richard Wolfe,
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