With information systems managing just about everything, it's hard to picture the volume of data a government organization generates. Even harder to picture is how a government would cope if some of that data -- perhaps payroll, health department or facilities maintenance records -- simply disappeared.

That's why backup and storage are serious business; but they can also become burdensome business as governments rely more and more on information systems.

Wichita, Kan., discovered how burdensome in the 1990s. When the city established its IT department in 1988, it did all computing on a single mainframe. It backed up data to a nine-track tape drive and used paper to record the locations of stored files.

Demands on the system grew quickly. "By 1990, we had four nine-track tape drives and three mainframes," recalled Kevin Norman, Wichita's IT operations manager. That year, the city replaced its paper logs with TAPESYS software to automatically track backups and tapes. But as the enterprise grew, and as it started relying more heavily on PC servers, the number of backup devices and the strategies for managing them mushroomed.

By 1995, Wichita was using three storage devices based on three different tape-drive technologies, Norman said. When the city first started using servers, "for a while, we were backing those up on their own backup systems using their native backup software."

Later, the IT department retrofitted the TAPESYS mainframe software with a third-party solution designed to manage backups from the PCs and servers.

Today, along with the mainframes, Wichita's agencies store about 3 terabytes of data using about 70 servers, 1,000 workstations and 90 thin clients. If Wichita had not pursued a new strategy for backup and storage in 1995, the city could not perform nightly backups on its current information systems, Norman said.

Out of Tapes

Before Wichita made the change, an operator started the backup process at 4:30 p.m. daily and supervised until about 11 p.m., Norman said. After that, the backup system ran independently. Sometimes the operator who checked the system early the next morning found that an autostacker -- the mechanism that moves each tape cartridge into place when the previous one is full -- ran out of tapes before the backup completed. He or she filled the stacker with new cartridges and resumed the backup, hoping it finished before most workers arrived.

As the city added more PCs and servers, completing backups overnight with the hybrid mainframe/PC tape management system became more problematic.

"We were starting to get behind," Norman said. "It was pretty obvious we needed an enterprise-wide backup system that could handle all of our systems."

Wichita sought a Windows NT-based solution to back up both its PC-based servers and its VAX mainframes, to interface directly with a new robotic tape library and fast enough to complete all backups overnight. The only product to meet all these criteria came from SSSI, now called STORServer Inc., in Colorado Springs, Colo.

With STORSever's current line of backup appliances, users can purchase an entire solution from one source and turn to one vendor for service and support, said STORServer's President John Pearring, adding that past users bought storage solutions in pieces from different vendors; when something went wrong, each vendor blamed the others' products.

Today, with one service contract on the entire solution, "We actually solve the problem for the customer after we diagnose it," Pearring said.

Wichita bought its system and service contract from value-added reseller Dataedge Solutions. At the time, STORServer did not offer its solution as a preconfigured appliance, Norman said.

"They'd come in, look at what you were doing and configure you a system," he said.

The city's configuration included a backup server running on Pentium II 500 MHz dual processors, a 40-slot robotic

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer