<p>COLUMBIA, S.C. – As sure as the sun sets in the west, credit unions back up their data. Faithfully, night after night, year after year, and always on tape. But that could be changing. Alternatives to tape are emerging. For reasons of scale, the big financial institutions are leading the way in adopting such technologies as storage-area networks (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) to create their data warehouses. SAN's typically are an array of disks at a separate site connected through secured cyber-channels to the main network storage site. NAS technology involves much the same thing, only it uses the main site's attached network resources to transfer the data, making it a bit slower. Core processing vendors in the credit union space also are studying alternatives to traditional DLT, QUIC and DAT tape backup, most of which involve accessing offsite storage through a variety of means. For instance, in addition to standard tape backup, Share One Inc. offers its Data Vault system to "manage copies of hourly and daily data at a secure offsite location" using compression technology to better use limited bandwidth, and a secure private connection, says Daryl Tanner, the Memphis, Tenn., company's president and CEO. Journaling to a secondary off-site host is a backup to tape storage now offered by Harland Financial Solutions in its jBASE platform. Journaling allows "hot-standby" (also known as "fail-over") access to machines anywhere within the United States, writing transaction updates to disk as a continuous backup, or to a host hot-standby system in real time, says Kathy Turk, HFS manager of field engineering. "In the event of a system failure, recovery can take place with minimum downtime," she says. Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group FCU has deployed jBASE in its UNIX environment. "The recovery and transaction journaling capabilities are what led us to jBASE," said Stan Carter, IT analyst at the $400 million CU."While testing our client trial balance for quarter-end, we discovered that this process has been reduced form 26 minutes to just one minute." Gains in speed and reliability in off-site storage also are being sought by EDS, the Texas-based technology provider to thousands of credit unions. "The majority of our EDS CUBE customers currently use tape backups and use DLT's. However, two customers are currently testing our two-tier disaster recovery solution utilizing the copying of transaction logs or, more recently, Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database replication, along with tape backups," says Anne Stauch, CUBE client executive at EDS. The ubiquitous open-system architecture philosophy is allowing vendors and credit unions to consider replacing tape storage with faster and less costly alternatives, but no one's completely pulling the plug on tape drives just yet. As Stauch says, "We are not at a point where we want to tell our customers to stop using tapes. But as long as you can replicate or copy the data to several other redundant servers at remote sites, the need for tape backups can be greatly reduced." Mark Roberson sees much the same interest, and limitations. "Clearly there are pressing needs to store more and more data," says the Liberty FiTECH systems senior vice president. "Our credit unions have increasing demand for data warehousing and the archiving of information." Atlanta-based Liberty FiTECH's 180 credit union clients typically use the standard industry practice of doing initial backups disk-to-disk then archiving that to DAT or a tape cartridge. While that process is often totally automated, remote data storage and its vastly larger storage potential would be very attractive if the data pipeline to move it offsite becomes affordable. Roberson says FiTECH also has investigated alternatives to tape storage, including optical platters and CD-ROM technology, but says, "So far we have not found media that would give us the speed and reliability of magnetic tape, at a reasonable cost." Of course, optical storage advocates have a different take. "The challenge credit unions face today is the integrity of the backup," says Bret Weekes, CEO of Reed Data Inc. in Midway, Utah, a leader in optical storage technology. "Tape backups often fail or fail partially, so what is actually backed up is always the question." Looking at the emergence of NAS and SAN networks, the RDI chief says, "Remote locations now can have access to information by creating redundant data repositories, which in the past have been cost-prohibitive. "Today, a credit union could run the RDI system with two or three redundant remote locations for less than the cost of a single data repository just five years ago." And regardless of how the data is stored offsite – on tape, on disk or in server farms – getting it there remains a big factor impacting the deployment of new storage technologies. "Eventually, credit unions may be able to send a direct copy of their transaction data to a remote data storage facility via fiber optic network, eliminating the need to backup to tape and physically take the tape off-site," says Anne Ballard, director of system services for USERS in Valley Forge, Pa. But there are "two key factors" making this unfeasible for most credit unions, she says: availability and cost of fiber-optic transmission networks. "As with any emerging technology, fiber optic will eventually become ubiquitous, and therefore much more cost effective," Ballard says. "When that happens, it's likely that the tape backup process will begin to shift to delivery over fiber-optic networks." Credit unions typically don't have the sheer scale needed to justify an investment in something like a SAN and instead probably will rely on the advancing technologies within the tape and disk world. "They're able to move offsite and recover very quickly, and while they're not as sexy or elegant as a SAN, they're functional and they work," says Brad Trusso, manager of network and hardware services for Symitar in San Diego. "When you're talking about terabytes like Citibank or Wells Fargo, then you're talking about SAN's. The Bank of Montreal has one, and something like 300 servers," Trusso says. "Most of our clients have a main server and one or two others, usually a file server and e-mail server. Those can be backed up on a single tape, or you can use a small tape array that you can plug in and is external," he says. Trusso says Symitar is "not currently considering anything outside the tape backup line." It's not federal regulators who are requiring the use of media tape. In fact, NCUA does not require backup of basic transaction data," says Molly Schar of the agency's Office of Public and Congressional Affairs. She says that Part 748 of the NCUA Rules and Regulations specifies the requirements for preserving vital records, but do not say how they have to be stored. "Preserved records may be in any format that can be used to reconstruct the credit union's records," Schar says. "That includes paper originals, machine copies, microfilm or fiche, magnetic tape or any electronic format that accurately reflects the information in the record, remains accessible to all person who are entitled to access, and is capable of being reproduced by transmission, printing or otherwise. "As long as the new technologies follow those requirements, NCUA doesn't have concerns about them." -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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