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The Great Vendor Bake-off: A Disaster Recovery Story



Bake off.pngLife is full of unpredictable and catastrophic events. When one occurs in the data center, it can result in property damage and data loss. With potential threats to data lurking around every corner, many businesses have disaster recovery strategies even if the strategy is something as dated as tape. For Danny Yeo, computer systems administrator at Brigham Young University (BYU) College of Life Sciences, recovering from tape-based backups that could take hours or days was no longer a possibility.

The BYU College of Life Sciences, originally the College of Biology and Agriculture, was founded in 1954 in Provo, Utah. The college has approximately 350 students and faculty, including the four full-time and 20 part-time development and engineering team members that provide IT services to the rest of the college. Yeo knew he needed to put a strong disaster recovery and backup policy in place because, in the event of a disaster, he could not risk the hours (or even days) it could take to recover from tape-based backups.

At the time, Yeo’s team was leveraging a traditional infrastructure that was approaching end-of-life and causing a number of issues for the team. With a small full-time team, managing the infrastructure was a time-consuming task. The system engineer, for instance, spent long evenings in the data center, patching, upgrading, or troubleshooting problems in the system or completing backups – sometimes staying well past midnight. To add to their frustrations, the BYU College of Life Sciences team could not rely on the vendors’ support teams for help as it usually ended with Yeo and his team being blamed for the issues.

Choosing Hyperconverged

When researching an affordable solution from a single vendor that would minimize recovery downtime and operational expenditures, Yeo was introduced to hyperconverged technology. At a VMware user conference in 2014, a leading hyperconverged vendor invited him into their booth. After watching a recovery demo and chatting with their on-site team, the BYU system administrator was blown away and decided that they had to have the product.

Danny Yeo requested a proof of concept (POC) from the vendor to show his team how they could fail over in under a minute, run a backup in mere minutes, and have the system monitor the equipment and scheduled maintenances perfectly from a single product. They were sold and by the beginning of 2015, three systems were installed and were performing as promised.

The Bake-off Battle of the Vendors

After deploying their hyperconverged solution, the BYU team was presented with a unique opportunity. A second leading hyperconverged vendor approached the team offering a POC with its product, testing its solution against their existing hyperconverged solution. If BYU determined the competitive product was superior, the vendor offered to swap out the already purchased solution at no additional charge.

With nothing to lose, the team took them up on the offer. The College of Life Sciences team decided to simulate several drive failures to see how the two industry-leading solutions would react in a recovery situation, without a replicated recovery site. Things were running smoothly until they pulled the sixth drive and the competiting solution failed and couldn’t recover the data. When the competitor’s support team was called, Yeo was faced with that old blame game and was told he has to time such a shutdown to avoid data loss. But how can a shutdown be timed when disaster could strike at any moment, Yeo wondered?

While this was happening, BYU’s existing hyperconverged solution continued to operate effectively after the sixth drive was removed without any data loss. The solution also automatically recorded and flagged each failure to the support team to prepare a method to resolve the issues. This winning solution was HPE SimpliVity.

After the bake-off, BYU felt confident in their purchase of HPE SimpliVity powered by Intel®. They even purchased a fourth unit to replicate all production workloads off-site. Should disaster strike, BYU would be able to fail over and operate as usual. Yeo even invited teams from other BYU colleges to check out their solution which led to three other colleges investing in HPE SimpliVity solutions. And with a growing portfolio of tools and solutions that are compatible with HPE SimpliVity, there are more possibilities for future development and advancement for the BYU colleges and the many other HPE SimpliVity customers.

It is hard to say what the future will hold for the BYU team, but recovery failure won’t be a concern. No one can predict the unpredictable, but all of us can rest a little easier by being more prepared.

Learn more about BYU’s success in SiliconANGLE interview and in this Upshot blog.

And read more about hyperconvergence in this free e-book: Hyperconverged Infrastructure for Dummies.


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