Approximately 80 percent of the information technology infrastructure at Northwestern University is virtualized. Nearly 1,000 virtual machines (VMs) run a variety of applications and workloads, including Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server,
Exchange, web servers and Blackboard, an online course management system.In the early days of Northwestern’s virtualization initiative, the university’s IT Cyberinfrastructure team performed traditional file-based backups on VMs with the same product used for backing up physical servers. The critical drawback was that backups were not completing within the allotted backup window.
“Our backup process was simply taking too long and preventing us from completing a full, daily backup on every VM,” said John Walsh, Manager of Processing and Information Platform Services, Information Technology for Northwestern University Information Technology, Cyberinfrastructure. “Restoring VMs was a challenge too, requiring us to provision and manually restore the data back to each VM. From a risk management perspective, if we had ever found ourselves in a disaster situation, it could have been days before getting our mission-critical apps fully operational.”
Northwestern University Information Technology considered several virtualizationspecific data protection solutions before choosing Veeam Backup & Replication™.
“Veeam was the only product on the market at that time to offer file-level recovery for Linux and other file systems,” Walsh said. “It also met our immediate need to increase backup speed and reduce disk space requirements.”
Since implementing Veeam Backup & Replication, Northwestern’s virtual environment is running more efficiently in overall backup time, resources and space. A synthetic full backup technique enables the IT team to have one full recovery point each week and perform incremental backups on the other days.
Veeam also takes advantage of vSphere changed block tracking for faster incremental backups. “That means we can back up every VM every day – something we certainly couldn’t do before when we had to stagger incremental backups throughout the week,” Walsh explained.
Veeam Backup & Replication was able to help save on backup storage space too. “Before Veeam, we used 225 tapes each month. Our tape drives were running 20 hours a day, seven days a week,” Walsh said. “With Veeam, we back up to disk, and our backups take about 48 TB of space. We still copy backups to tape each week and send them offsite, but we only use about 25 tapes each month.”
The VM restoration process has also improved at Northwestern with Veeam. “Before Veeam, we were deploying a new VM from a template, customizing the VM, reinstalling the agent to the VM server and then restoring data files from tape, assuming the tape was on site and not in use. With Veeam, we’ve been able to decrease that manual process from a full day down to just a few hours to complete,” he said.
Northwestern was so pleased with Veeam Backup & Replication that it implemented another Veeam solution to gain better visibility of its virtual environment. Veeam ONE™ is a virtualization management solution that provides real-time monitoring, capacity planning, change tracking and documentation and management reporting for VMware.
“We were interested in implementing a virtualization management tool that would allow us to monitor and run reports for our VMware environment, and the Veeam One product has proven to be a good solution,” said Walsh. “It provides us with really valuable information and analysis on network, disk, memory and CPU usage, so capacity planning has become easier and much more effective than before.”
Northwestern also uses Veeam ONE to document utilization for different schools and departments within the university. “Veeam lets us monitor the number of VMs, CPUs, memory and storage used by each department at the university. It helps us prioritize resource allocation and control VM sprawl,” Walsh said.
Northwestern’s IT Cyberinfrastructure team is looking to deploy private cloud services to meet department interest in agile, cost-effective alternatives to traditional hardware acquisition for local applications. “We’ve already tested Veeam Backup & Replication with VMware vCloud Director, and it does everything we need it to do, including replicating VMs between colocations,” Walsh said.
Faster and more frequent backups with reduced backup storage needs
Before Northwestern’s IT Cyberinfrastructure team deployed Veeam Backup & Replication, it relied on a traditional file-based backup process of VMs to tape, which prevented daily backups on every VM. With Veeam’s changed block tracking and synthetic full backup capabilities, backups are much faster than before, so every VM is backed up every day. And with Veeam’s built-in deduplication and compression capabilities, backup storage needs have decreased significantly.
Enhanced capacity planning
VMware reporting and planning is more streamlined and efficient for Northwestern’s IT team because it uses Veeam ONE to document and analyze the virtual environment. Veeam ONE also trends performance and forecasts utilization.
Efficient problem resolution Veeam ONE improves VMware monitoring, alerting and troubleshooting. It provides a comprehensive, performance-oriented view of the entire virtual infrastructure and maintains a complete history of all objects, settings and changes – key capabilities for speeding up troubleshooting. “We had an issue with our centralized course management system as the academic year was approaching last fall,” Walsh recalled. “Veeam provided us with a year of historical data and enabled us to pinpoint and successfully resolve the problem before the students began classes.”