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Case Study: Prêt-a-Manger's tasty backup sandwich

No tape backup for 125 stores

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What do you do when you have 125 sandwich shops generating customer data every working day, which data you need to protect? Installing tape backup to the shop point-of-sale tills is a nonsense. Expecting shop staff to run tape backups of their back-of-store server is a nonsense too. Batching it up daily and sending it to head office for it to back it up to tape is feasible.

That's also the default method. But tape backup has well-known problems: backups fail to complete; backups aren't run for one reason or another; backups take a l-o-n-g time; restores take a very long time.

The UK's Prêt a Manger chain serves tasty fresh sandwiches fast to customers who want good and fresh food to go. It also has outlets in New York and Hong Kong by the way.

The backup data burden includes the daily shop-generated data, sent in over a 100MBit network, and half a terabyte of data held on 25 Windows servers at its London HQ. The company has been running tape backups at London and 'enjoying' backup windows, etc. But data is growing, and growth isn't slowing.

Prêt is installing more sophisticated touch screen POS devices in the stores which will generate even more local data. Each Prêt store has a dedicated point-to-point line connecting it to this central server site.

As the company and its number of stores has grown the amount of data has also increased, prompting the company to re-examine its data management and protection processes. Prêt's significant data growth created three primary IT objectives related to backup and recovery:-

- Nightly backup required improvement as backup windows were being encroached by the growing data volumes leading to some data not being backed up each night
- Non-sales data stored remotely at individual stores needed to be stored and backed-up centrally to prevent this data being lost
- Implement disaster recovery processes by having backups electronically sent to a second co-location facility.

Prêt's IT boss, Mike Hicks, thinks replication software is often expensive and bandwidth-intensive, and wanted to explore other options.

His IT team was satisfied with how sales and ePOS data was being backed up. But HR information, email and some sales data held at each Prêt outlet was of concern. As part of a disaster recovery initiative, Prêt wanted to make sure that this information, including staff rotas, contact information and local documents would be backed-up. With this data residing locally, an in-store hardware failure could result in data loss and impact a store’s ability to function effectively.

“It’s not unusual to experience these types of failures since hardware often gets given something of a rough ride in a retail environment,” Hicks said: “We needed to ensure that local data was also backed up centrally so if remote hardware failure occurred, a store could quickly get back all the data important to the smooth running of the business.”

Hicks and his team looked at Tivoli Storage Manager and Bakbone’s NetVault, but Prêt selected EVault's InfoStage online backup software offered through TriSys, a UK VAR.

Ian Homer, area sales manager for TriSys, put his finger on a main attraction: “The great thing about EVault products is that you will not be left wondering if the tape drive failed." Another attraction was cost.

“InfoStage works very well with our current infrastructure where as the other solutions would require a LAN upgrade to work effectively, which was additional significant investment we felt wasn’t necessary at this time for Prêt’s IT requirements,” says Hicks.

With it, Hicks was able to go ahead with centralising the backup of Prêt’s stores as well as being able to easily backup to a second site to deliver disaster recovery without incurring additional complexity and cost.

Hicks said: “EVault InfoStage enabled us to leverage our existing infrastructure to get data offsite quickly to the co-location site without an elaborate staging process. Online backup is much faster and we have been able to eliminate the time spent previously on tape management and minimise the administrative errors inherent in this process.”

Servers in New York and Hong Kong - where the company has 10 and six stores respectively - are also backed up to the London HQ via a VPN (virtual private network) using InfoStage; so there is a single, global backup strategy which makes life simpler for Hicks.

Each night the InfoStage software enables backups from the Windows 2000 servers to storage arrays at Prêt’s headquarters and the co-location site simultaneously, so that both exactly reflect the other - desirable in the event of restore being required. The automated nature of online backup means that management of backup and restore only takes a few mouse-clicks. Particularly withy regard to restore, this was in stark contrast to Hicks’ previous experience of having to locate and mount tapes, then search for the data and hope the integrity of media was good enough to deliver the required data.

Hicks said: “InfoStage has significantly simplified our data management process. Backup of data from London, New York, Hong Kong and all our UK stores happens seamlessly to our London headquarters and our co-location facilities.”

The next stage of Hick's strategy - planned to roll out by the summer of 2005 - will see Prêt installing EVault software agents to back up any locally stored, back-office information held on desktops or laptops.


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