Space Agency gives storage the test flight treatment

The Canadian Space Agency is testing software this week that will allow it to back up heterogeneous data on disks of its network attached storage devices.

A server has been set up to see the impact of EMC’s Legato Networker on the

Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) firewalls, which has a number of backup ports, according to the organization’s Unix and storage system manager, Robert Dominique. Deployment should follow a few days after that security check has been completed, he said.

The CSA has been working to improve its storage management capabilities since 1998, when it began consolidating the various pieces of infrastructure from many government departments that formed the agency in 1985. “Everybody came with their own systems,” he said. “Of course, each system had their own back-up system. We had all kinds of tape backup.”

The latest version of Networker, which was announced earlier this week, includes the ability to multiplex, clone, or stage data streams based on Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP), a standard co-developed by EMC. Rob Emsley, EMC’s director of software product marketing, said the enhancements came from seeing customers struggling to consolidate file server environments on NAS servers.

“Many backup solutions required customers to subdivide their environments between general application server support and NAS support,” he said. Networker 7.2, he added, “allows them to mix and match and make use of a common set of resources,” such as virtual tape libraries.

Dominique said the CSA has been using NDMP streams since last year. “The new feature of being able to do a better backup is something that we’re looking forward to,” he said. “A big part of our common information system — all the users’ common drives — are based on NAS systems.”

Storage policies at the CSA dictate that mission critical data is backed up for three months, Dominique said. This includes information from finance, administration and operational data. There are some exceptions, however. The agency conducts regular simulations of how it may use the Canadarm, for example, and configurations for each simulation are stored for up to a year so that researchers can compare and contrast them. Longer-term data is archived by removing it and putting it in a secondary place, he said.

Emsley said many firms make the mistake of using backup as the poor man’s archive.

“If you think about the process, a lot of customers don’t really delineate enough between the concept of archive and backup,” he said. “If you assume an archive should really be a single instance that you wish to keep for an extended period of time, once you’ve recreated that archive, there’s no reason for that data to remain in the primary data set.”

Although storage vendors have been pushing disk-based backup for several years, Emsley admitted there were many firms clinging to tape.

“A lot of the largest customers have such significant investments in tape technology that they’re just scratching the surface in disk protection,” he said. Mid-range commercial enterprises, however, are proving more willing to try disk out.

The CSA has turned to EMC for its storage needs before, Dominique said, including the purchase last year of one of its Clariion line of storage systems.

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