The biggest problem we needed to solve was finding a more efficient way to manage X-ray film. To meet this need, healthcare systems are turning to picture archiving and communication systems (PACS). Turning film images into "soft copies" requires significant space. Federal and state laws require some films to be stored between seven and 20 years. Add even a terabyte's worth of image data to our application data, and our standard backup routine starts to look woefully inadequate. The idea of restoring a terabyte's worth of information in the event of a disaster from a tape-based backup solution was intimidating.
Add to that the fact that ARA was looking at becoming a service provider. Because the company would be responsible for providing specific services to healthcare partners, IT would have to factor in uptime guarantees, 99.999 percent reliability, and quick recovery times.
SANs to the rescue
When the industry started to talk about storage area networks (SANs) a few years ago, I guessed I had the solution to my problem. The idea of a central data repository that you could back up to tape at leisure without affecting production sounded ideal. Though the idea of long backup times still bothered me, I could see the potential of SANs.
I began a year-long sales cycle in 1999, with the largest storage vendor in the country. While I looked at other SAN offerings, this company had the hardware reliability and the software to make the idea of tape backups obsolete. Using a combination of this company's hardware, software, and professional services, we deployed our SAN with full backup capabilities to disk in six months.
We now back up our entire server farm in 45 minutes. You read that right--45 minutes. Though this does not account for the Oracle deployment or any image data at this time, we certainly have room to grow. Restore operations take a few minutes, and recently, we did a complete Windows 2000 install to a server in less than 10 seconds.
- Robust storage software
- Storage hardware reliability
- Vendor market strength
- Business objectives
- Backup and restore times
- Available storage pool management
- More complex to use
- Staff time and training
Ask yourself other questions when considering a SAN in terms of the OS and applications installed, backup frequency, and data type you're storing:
- Will you run your applications directly from the SAN or continue to run them from host-based storage?
- Will your servers boot off the SAN or internal disk?
- Is there application functionality such as database replication that could benefit from a storage network?
- How often are backups needed and how long does each one take?
- What length of time for backups would be convenient?
- How big and how many are the individual files?
- Would the offload of the file format onto the network benefit from a high-speed storage network?
- How quickly do you need to restore data in the event of data loss?
The quick results we experienced with our SAN have helped our company realize the value of its purchase. We initially invested in a SAN to decrease backup time. But we discovered that this solution means much more. It may have a tremendous positive impact on business development because it has given the company the ability to become a vertical service provider. What started as the solution to an IT problem became an important investment in the future of the business.