For its time, the Library of Alexandria was the greatest repository of knowledge in the Western world. Over 500,000 scrolls containing an unimaginable wealth of mathematics, astronomy, geometry and literature reportedly lay in the three buildings that composed the library, located in the city founded by Alexander the Great in the delta of the Nile. Ships entering the Alexandrian harbors were searched for books to be copied and added to the library's shelves, for the value of that knowledge to others was recognized far and wide.
Alexandria's library has long since been demolished, burned to ashes either during an attack on the city by Julius Caesar or by Theophilus in an attempt to leave the Bible as the only source of knowledge. The truth behind the destruction remains unclear, but not the lesson for all subsequent librarians and storage experts: Invest well in your storage systems, create efficient ways to search for items, and maintain copies of everything, for you never know when disaster will strike.
Today's modern Alexandria - the city in Louisiana located just a few hours from the Mississippi delta - may not be as grand as the one of old, but that doesn't change the need for it and countless other municipalities to store today's data safely, retrieve it with ease, and ensure room for future growth.
Over the past few years, the amount of data traveling over Alexandria's wide area network, which stretches across nine government campuses, had nearly doubled thanks to an increase in the number of Oracle users and regular growth in Internet and e-mail use. Everything from data files and server applications to Internet access and e-mail ran across the same system, often overwhelming the capacity of the city's storage devices. Because the city relied on disjointed storage devices - one for each of the nine campuses - each database had to be backed up individually, a process that required an information services employee to drive from campus to campus each day.
What's worse, the entire backup process took up to nine hours to complete. "Often the backup was still going the next day when we were trying to get applications running," said Jimmy Koonce, Alexandria's manager of information systems. "The applications were slow enough even without the backup bumping into it, so it was very painful."
Still, it was a process that had to be done. "The question we asked was, 'What is the true cost of data backup,'" said Koonce. "The answer is, 'How much does it cost if you don't [back up your data]?' Good backup costs far less than lost data."
Cutting Out Duplication
To ensure his information services department could continue to serve Alexandria, Koonce needed to eliminate the lengthy backup times and the labor required to keep each campus up to speed.
To start, the IS department brought in a new storage/backup tape drive platform from Exabyte that reduced backup time from an average of eight hours to an hour and a half. "That greatly reduced the stress we had," said Koonce.
The next purchase was an IBM RS/6000 workstation that ran applications faster and further reduced demands on available processing power.
Finally, Koonce got the municipality to purchase a new storage infrastructure that uses backup and restore software called NetVault. Taking full advantage of the speed of the IBM workstation, NetVault lets data move from disk drive to tape storage media without being processed by the backup servers at each campus. By centralizing data storage, backup can now be handled from one location, thereby eliminating the daily trip to each campus.
Koonce said the NetVault software is more user-friendly than his old storage system. "We couldn't put anything on hold," he said. "If we had something scheduled at 5:30, we either had to let it go at that time or