"Disaster recovery has always been like a spare part for a car you never use," said Bob Padgett, director of data center operations for the state of Michigan. "You hope after it's been sitting there for a year that it works."

With improved software that issue is disappearing.

EMC recently signed a five-year multibillion-dollar strategic agreement with Dell, which will resell the EMC CLARiiON line of storage solutions to federal, state and local government, as well as other markets. Already, more than 35 percent of Dell's EMC sales have been to the government sector, according to EMC.

Other players in the storage field include Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Network Appliance, Fujitsu, StorageTek and Veritas.

Exponential Data Growth

Like the private sector, state and local governments are seeing exponential growth in data-storage demands. Web and e-government activity has accelerated the need for storage, which was already under pressure because of the growing demand for client/server in the mid-1990s. The trend mushroomed with the advent of enterprise applications such as ERP, and customer-driven solutions such as customer-relationship management (CRM).

Last year, New Jersey implemented a centralized SAN that handles data storage for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Environmental Protection Agency. Eventually, SAN will manage storage for the entire state. The system uses technology from Hitachi Data Systems and McDATA Corp. It's the state's first venture into SANs, and when funding becomes available, New Jersey will use SAN technology to back up data at a remote disaster-recovery site.

Michigan centralized its data center two years ago and built a remote backup site using EMC technology, specifically its Symmetrix Enterprise Storage systems and Connectrix Fibre Channel switches. The two sites are linked by a dedicated fiber line known as a dense wave division multiplexer (DWDM). The entire infrastructure provides 75 terabytes of storage for a range of computing platforms, including Oracle, Compaq, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Unisys and Bull, and supports applications for child support, treasury, corrections, state police and others.

The reason for such a robust storage environment stemmed from the growing needs of the state's agencies, according to Padgett.

"As more client/server was used in mission-critical applications, the agencies and their tech support people realized the traditional practices of storage and configuration management applied to client/server, including disaster recovery," he said.

It wasn't long before agencies were knocking on the data-center doors asking for help with backup and recovery strategies, he added. Over a 10-month period, the data center's storage grew by a factor of 10, according to Padgett. Improvements in technology made managing that much storage less of a burden. As a result, Michigan has only doubled its storage-management staff, from two to four, in the same period.

Meanwhile, with hard-disk storage becoming so economical, the state is rethinking its use of tape for backup purposes.

"We can begin to reduce our use of tape as a disaster-recovery strategy, because with SRDF software [and the SAN], we don't need to also create a tape for backup," Padgett said. "We're going to look more closely at when we use disk and when to use tape. The price-performance dynamics of disk storage have forced us to rethink the whole model for storage. What used to be cost-prohibitive is no longer such a big issue."

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor