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back to case studies main menuCase Studies - Safe as houses
(Nov 1999)
Andy O’Brien investigates Swiss Life’s implementation of a central data management system

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Security is a requirement for any IT system. The bigger the set-up, the greater the volume of transactions and the higher the amount of stored information that needs to be protected. This is reason enough to ensure that a company’s security provision is as good as it can be. In the case of assurance and pensions company Swiss Life, there is also the Data Protection Act to consider which obliges the company to safeguard financial information and client data. Daily, secure backups are essential if Swiss Life has to recover any lost data and these back-ups have to take place at times of low network activity – short and rare in a large international organisation. Swiss Life’s UK head office in Sevenoaks is supported by a national Client Service Centre of over 275 staff in Liverpool. The Client Service Centre is the administrative hub for all of the client information relating to its employee benefit, personal finances and investment products. The company has implemented an automated, central data management solution using an ATL 7100 DLTtape library that provides total data back-up and restore functionality for the Service Centre, replacing the former platform dependent and ad-hoc manual process.

ATL’s 7100 DLT library was designed for storage intensive applications in mission-critical environments. It can store up to 3.5 terabytes and delivers data at speeds of up to 126 gigabytes per hour whilst providing continuous access to hundreds of networked users; these figures are doubled with 2:1 compression. The cartridge handling system, IntelliGrip, uses a gripper system to select DLT tape cartridges from top and bottom in a manner that reduces drive stress and minimises surface contact to increase overall library reliability.

IT set-up at Swiss Life, Liverpool:
  • HP Unix servers with on-board DAT drives and Compaq NT rackmounted servers of varying sizes.
  • 1 HP T6000 Series 800 corporate server with over 138 GB of usable storage
  • 1 HP 9000 K460 Series 800 Development server with over 80 GB of usable storage
  • 1 HP D350 server with approximately 100GB of usable storage, used for Y2K testing
  • 1 HP server which acts as the ATL backup server, connected via the LAN
  • Approximately 18 NT servers, including one server for DIP with its own HP Surestore Optical Storage Unit. Total possible storage here is over 600 GB
  • LAN over ATM backbone with 100 MB full duplex connections to servers and up to 100 MB half duplex to the desktop

Windows NT and 2000 explorer’s Andy O’Brien (Exp) spoke to Danny Hulligan (DH), Security Co-ordinator at Swiss Life, about the ATL 7100 library and the difference it has made to Swiss Life’s ability to ensure secure access to its systems.

: What does the ATL 7100 do for your company?

It provides on-line access to recent copies (back-ups) for up to ten working days worth of history as well as enabling us to carry out essential back-ups on a daily basis. It also lets us create copies of those backups which can then be stored off site. This work is carried out during normal working hours and is automated, therefore limiting the amount of ‘operator’ interaction. Before the ATL and Legato Networker software we had to have a huge number of drives per server, the HP DAT drives were reliable but numerous and caused an administrative nightmare for normal or disaster recovery. NT had used various equipment and software over the past five years but was ‘standardising’ on DLT. The problem was that first it was DLT2000, and then DLT4000 using standalone machines, or as the number of NT servers grew, dual drive machines. The tendency was to buy more drives as we bought more servers and this was getting out of hand.

Exp: How do you manage the ATL solution?

The ability to deal with just one device (although currently with three drives) is a major benefit. When we had numerous DAT and DLT drives creating many backup tapes it often took a full day to administer each previous day’s back-up and copies. Now one person can administer the lot in a couple of hours as everything can be automated, the pre-arranged jobs need tapes to be removed or added as required. This leaves people to get on with other work. The ATL is ‘driven’ by an HP Unix box – it’s the back-up software that deals with the fact that we run Unix and NT. The ATL simply writes the back-up data presented to it by the HP back-up server and doesn’t care whether it came from an NT or an HP box.

Exp: How will this implementation facilitate future projects?

It has given us the confidence that as we add more and more storage, our ability to back it up will be there. It’s true that in the short term we might reduce the number of days worth of on-line copies, but we can add up to four more drives to the ATL, thereby at least doubling our current backup capability. One example of new development is our DIP equipment. Before committing to Optical, the DIP server will at any one time have many gigabytes of cached images to back up every day. Our ATL can cope with this with its current configuration and if not, we simply add additional drives. When we were looking for a new solution, we did try to take growth into consideration and at the time, we felt that our figures were a little over the top. Experience has shown us that we had, in fact, underestimated what level of storage we might get to in the timescale originally envisaged. The solution has so far coped and we are confident that it will deal with further expansion for some time yet.

Exp: And so to sum up, what are your overall impressions of the ATL 7100 library?

We liked the ATL because it offered a cost effective unit which fitted our requirements – scalable as far as slots and drives go and also fast. It does have some mechanical problems, for example when tapes get stuck in the gripper, but as yet, these are not seen as dangerous to the efficiency of our back-up schedule. We may possibly have been wiser to use a different Unix host but preferred to keep our Unix systems under one version. My own personal belief is that Swiss Life must look at the storage concept and try to centralise it rather than have individual servers all handling their own number of disc drives etc. In this way we would be able to have duplicated storage centres – images of each other, with back-up solutions, like our ATL, taking full dumps of one at pre-determined times. I feel that at some time we must recognise requirements for archiving and HSM, particularly as storage will grow and grow.

In the pipeline

To date, the emphasis for Hulligan’s department has been to develop a solution for the Client Service Centre at Liverpool. That focus has now moved to the head office in Sevenoaks where an ATL P1000, with 3 DLT7000 drives and 16 slots has recently been installed. This is expected to bring the same benefits (admin, automatic cloning etc) as the Liverpool office. It is unlikely to be extended to the branch offices as they are too small. Other changes will be influenced by the Internet where e-commerce will undoubtedly create a need for secure all year round access to Swiss life’s systems. Resilience of the systems supporting e-commerce will be critical – and this will certainly include data backup.

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