Grant County PUD Employs Hands-off Data Replication Solution

In Grant County, located in central Washington, the local electric company is the Grant County Public Utility District (PUD). The utility operates two large dams on the Columbia River for generating hydroelectric power, which it sells to the county’s residents and businesses, as well as to other utility companies in seven western states.

Grant County currently runs a host of applications on 10 servers, some located within a central facility and others at remote locations up to 40 miles away. Applications at headquarters include a materials management system from Peoplesoft that keeps track of all supplies and materials. A separate application called P-Card manages all employee credit card activity. Still another system is used to track repair and maintenance records for the utility’s fleet of line trucks, cars and other vehicles.

Other applications are installed at remote locations. One of these is Maximo, which is installed at one of the hydroelectric plants and is used for managing preventive maintenance activity. This application includes schematics, photos and data files.

With many servers located far from one another, Grant County needed a data backup solution that tied remote data replication into one centrally controlled location. They wanted an answer that eliminated the need for on-site administrators. In addition, since Grant County utilizes a host of different applications, each with its own set of needs and requirements, the utility needed a system that would be compatible with existing applications.

“We’re growing every year. In addition to requiring a backup solution that would meet our existing requirements, we needed a solution that would be able to grow as we expanded and added remote locations, servers and applications,” said John Stiles, Grant County’s system support specialist.

Having already experienced a server crash, Stiles knows that the threat of disaster is very real. “The installed solution needed to give me the hands-on ability to reinstate all data from both central and remote locations quickly and easily.”

The answer Grant County was looking for came in the form of LiveVault from the LiveVault Corp. With little adjustment and easy installation, LiveVault provided the unattended, centrally controlled backup protection for the wide variety of applications Grant County desired.

“LiveVault basically runs itself, with very little intervention required,” said Stiles. “Every morning I simply review the logs and check to see if the autochanger needs another tape. The process takes about five minutes for all eight servers.

“Without our current setup, we would probably need a backup solution at each site,” Stiles added. “We don’t have on-site administrators, which means I would probably have to drive to the other facilities at least once a week to deal with a tape problem or some other issue requiring human intervention.” Since the server containing the remote Maximo application is over 40 miles away, Stiles estimates the ability to back up remote files saves him at least four hours a week.

When LiveVault is first initialized, all files are copied in a process that resembles a full backup. Thereafter, however, only changed bytes are sent to the LiveVault server. This arrangement eliminates the need for backup equipment and associated procedures at remote sites.

The LiveVault server does not have to be a dedicated system and is designed to backup itself as well as any other application files located on its hardware. For unattended remote office backup, LiveVault uses a tape library system that can be locked and requires no tape handling. Managed from the central office via a WAN connection, it maintains a repository of current files and recent history on site. This saves time for system administrators while eliminating the risk associated with incorrect or non-existent backup procedures.

Because the backup files are local, restores can be accomplished at high speed. To supplement the local storage with a long-term archive, replication can also be scheduled on a weekly basis to a central archive.

Data is first cached to disk, then written to the ADIC FastStor autoloader, which creates tape libraries for historic data and off-site disaster recovery. If a server crashes, the data can be restored immediately from the LiveVault cache. Historic data can be quickly accessed from the on-site archive. If the building goes up in flames, Grant County’s dam maintenance records and other vital information is safe, archived in the central LiveVault Server.

In addition to the traditional need for disaster recovery, Stiles was also attracted to LiveVault’s ability to restore files for any given time and to any NT server. Using the Time/Slice Restore feature has helped programming staff correct errors discovered several days after an initial problem occurred, such as when reviewing monthly reports. “We can correct database problems on a test server without interrupting the production environment,” Stile noted. Furthermore, file versions can be quickly recovered from any point in time, even extending back weeks or months. “We had an issue with end-of-month processing, and some people wanted to examine the Peoplesoft database for a certain date and time. I was able to get it for them within ten minutes. Needless to say, they were quite pleased.”

In addition, Stiles credits the LiveVault Management Console for making operation highly intuitive. “I can view reports of tape inventory or examine error logs with the click of an icon. If I have a question, I click on ‘Help’ and it tells me what to do. “Installation was equally straightforward, it simply required loading the CD and following the on-screen instructions for server or agent. Backup policies are easily defined as part of the installation procedure, and can range from backing up an entire server to a subset of critical data files.

Using traditional backup techniques, restoring files can be tedious and complex, requiring knowledge of where files are backed up and what tape actually contains the files. The installed intelligent storage vault ensures that all data can be quickly and easily restored, without hunting for tapes. Because LiveVault’s disk storage contains the most recent and active files on-line, the latest data for a whole server or volume can be restored without touching a tape.

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