Law firm dumps tape for cheaper, greener CDP

How Howard Rice got disk-to-disk backup, continuous data protection and near-real-time recovery for less than it paid for traditional tape backup

Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, a US law firm, knows what competing against the big guys is like. Although it has just 135 lawyers and 400 employees overall, its client list includes such heavyweights as Citigroup, Google, HP, the Oakland Raiders football team and Sony Online Entertainment.

Still, the firm didn't want to have to compete against the many far-larger companies in the earthquake-prone San Francisco Bay Area when it came to disaster recovery.

"We looked at outsourcing DR," says Matthew Reynolds, CIO at Howard Rice. "But . . . we can't compete against those with deeper pockets. I'd rather be the owner of my destiny."

At the time the firm began looking at disaster recovery, it also was struggling with a less-than-reliable tape backup system. Overall, Howard Rice needed to back up as much as 12TB of data every night, including its mission-critical Microsoft Exchange e-mail system. In addition, as the amount of data ratcheted up, so did backup time.

"Even though Exchange was well tuned, backups were extending well into the business day" and overall performance was degrading, Reynolds says. "We needed something better," he says.

Real-time replication

About a year and a half ago, Reynolds began scoping out ways to do more real-time disk-based backups. Among his choices were emerging continuous data protection (CDP) appliances that also would allow the firm to have almost real-time disaster-recovery capabilities. After a year of searching, he found InMage Systems' DR-Scout.

See related story: Four tips for optimizing continuous data protection

"We looked at everything, and there were shortcomings with every product," Reynolds says. "InMage was not a proven product and wasn't widely deployed. But it had the features we needed," he says.

For example, InMage can replicate any kind of data, be it unstructured files or Exchange, SQL Server and even SharePoint data. "That was a business requirement for us," Reynolds says. "When we implemented, the SharePoint part wasn't quite ready, but when I looked at how quickly it was able to get the Exchange-replication component to market, I was impressed. And now it has SharePoint and it's bulletproof."

Another deciding factor was InMage's ability to assign variable recovery-point objectives (RPO) depending on the application.

"We wanted to throttle up or down our overall RPO, based on the system," Reynolds says. "For Exchange, we wanted essentially near-real-time recovery, but some of our other business systems that are SQL Server-based don't require that. The RPO could be three hours. We wanted that flexibility."

Bidirectional replication was key, too. "Replication going in one direction -- a lot of vendors do that," Reynolds says. "But you really need bidirectional, so that once the host site is up and operational, you can replicate that information back from the DR site to the main site. That was the riddle we wanted to solve, and we wanted to do it as transparently as possible," he says.

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