A small piece of hardware named after a sea-going trout is making smooth sailing for high-volume backups and business continuity planning at a Twin Cities credit union.
The $277 million TopLine FCU in Maple Grove, Minn., is using the Steelhead appliance from Riverbed Technology to boost the connection between its data center and a disaster recovery site at one of the 29,000-member credit union’s five branches.
In technical terms, the appliances have provided an 86% reduction in bandwidth utilization that backing up the SQL database and Microsoft Exchange applications – including emails – was using across the MPLS routing and T1 pipe used to link the sites, while sharply reducing the latency a new VMware virtual replication system was experiencing on the credit union’s Citrix servers.
What it means to Colleen Jakes’ colleagues is that weekly backups of system-critical data – five terabytes’ worth – that used to take up to 40 hours now takes maybe three. “And when someone asks you really get us back up in five minutes if you have to, I can say, ‘Yes,’” said TopLine’s director of information services. “That’s worth their weight in gold.”
Jakes said the VMware system was installed to replace a tape-based system and support TopLine’s disaster recovery/business continuity plans, but that she and her staff of four quickly found they had to limit its bandwidth during the business day.
“Complete backups were taking 36 to 40 hours. We had to stop in the mornings,” she said. “Here we found we had put a significant amount of time into developing an environment to do this quickly but instead found that if we failed, say, on Wednesday, you’d have to go back to Monday” to get to the full recovery point.
In response, TopLine installed the Riverbed appliances at its main site – where three VMware servers are deployed – and the branch designated as a backup site, where there’s one server running the identical SAN.
“They just sit in the network and we don’t have to think about them,” except for monthly maintenance checks and occasional upgrades, with one staffer primarily in charge of the Steelhead appliances, Jakes said, and the others serving as backups.
She also said security has not been an issue. “It’s all inside our network. Our internal penetration audits can find them and they’ve always passed our tests just fine,” Jakes said. “There’s the normal Unix server issues with them, for instance making sure the SMTP is set correctly, but that’s about it.”
Transactional backups take place separately, through a Harland Financial Solutions core processing solution. Tape backups of the operational activity moving through the WAN also are done through that and kept on tape offsite simply for archiving purposes, not system recovery, the IS director added.
Buying enough bandwidth to accommodate the increased demands of the VMware system would have cost seven times what the credit union was paying, and the return on its investment in the Steelhead appliances came in three months’ time, Jakes said.
“The agents at the branch where it’s at also have seen increased Citrix performance, such as with file retrievals and other basic network items,” she added. “And it takes them half the time to complete loading their check images each night than it does at any of the other branches. That’s about 10 minutes.”
That’s faster, but not enough on its own to justify putting the devices on the network to every other branch. “We’re trying to find other items to make the ROI work for all of them,” Jakes said.
The Steelhead appliances’ maker, Riverbed Technology, is a San Francisco-based provider of WAN optimization solutions and said it has about 13,000 customers. At least one other credit union is among its customers, although the company has declined to say how many.