Case Study: Corporate Express Boasts Improved Data-Backup System

In the middle of 2002, as its tape drives started to fail when recording and restoring data, and with its three-year lease on tape libraries set to expire, Broomfield, Colo.-based Corporate Express, one of the world's largest suppliers of office equipment and products, began looking at alternative tape technologies. The company quickly narrowed down the selection to a choice between LTO-1 and LTO-2 drives, said Andy Miller, vice president of technical architecture at Corporate Express.

The LTO architecture appealed to Miller because its specifications are governed by a committee of three vendors,Certance, Hewlett-Packard and IBM,rather than being under the control of a single vendor. LTO-2 drives were already available, but they had just been introduced and certifications were incomplete. Therefore, Corporate Express decided to go with LTO-1.


W. Curtis Preston says Veritas' enhanced authentication is a 'fringe feature' designed for a few large customers but not widely implemented, making technical help difficult to obtain.

To help assess its needs and find the best solution, Corporate Express brought in Oceanside, Calif.-based The Storage Group, which combines a traditional solution provider consultant operation with an analyst arm that assists vendors in improving their products.

Using scalability as a key deciding factor, Corporate Express chose a Scalar 10K library from ADIC, a Redmond, Wash.-based tape library vendor, Miller said. The company also decided to upgrade its backup and restore software to version 4.5 of Veritas' NetBackup from version 3.2. In addition, the company wanted to add event-reporting software to its Solaris and Linux systems, and based on the Storage Group's recommendations, went with a solution from Tavata Software, Englewood, Colo.

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Corporate Express then contacted ADIC, which referred the company to Littleton, Colo.-based solution provider NetSource for procurement. Installation of the tape library was handled directly by the vendor. Following setup, NetSource, which offers a full range of storage-related services from assessment to deployment to training, connected the ADIC library into the customer's EMC-based SAN.

SAN customers of ADIC's tape libraries can choose between using native Fibre Channel on the tape drives, or using SCSI-based drives connected via the vendor's Pathlight storage network controller, also called a SAN gateway, said Paul Markel, senior account executive at NetSource. Because of its higher performance, NetSource chose the Pathlight option, Markel said.


Meanwhile, the Storage Group implemented the software upgrade and connected the various components. Then, unexpected problems appeared. Specifically, Fibre Channel interoperability issues cost a lot of time and money during the installations, W. Curtis Preston, president of the Storage Group.

"When we plugged in the ADIC library, we couldn't see all the tape drives," Preston said. "The library, host bus adapters and switches all worked fine. The problem was that particular combination."

Another unforeseen difficulty came when the customer wanted to implement an enhanced authentication feature in the Veritas software, Preston said. He called it a "fringe feature," as it was designed at the request of a few large customers but not widely implemented, leading to difficulties in getting technical help from the vendor.

"This is not a Veritas problem," Preston said. "It's an industry problem. Big companies demand a feature, the vendor designs the feature, but there are only a few users [of the feature], so not many people can support it."

Because of the complexity of the implementation and the number of changes required by Corporate Express, the solution was tested on a parallel system before going into full production, Preston said.

The final testing of advanced system features such as Recovery Manager for Oracle and vaulting, which is the management of off-site tape cartridges, was completed in mid-2003. However, the final touches of the job are taking place in the next two months, as NetSource replaces Corporate Express' 20 LTO-1 drives with 20 new LTO-2 drives.