Educating the educators

In the post-Sept. 11 world, the need for secure systems and data backup policies is even more apparent. However, long before those events increased security awareness, the University of Ottawa had recognized the need to protect itself from the worst.

With about 40 million files and just under three terabytes of data, obviously storage is a necessity. In the early 1990’s, the university began using IBM Corp.’s ADSM product, which eventually evolved into the Tivoli Storage Manager four years ago. The primary function of the software is protecting and managing information in SAN and traditional network environments.

At the university, employees contact the computing centre and ask for an account on the system, where a user name and password are issued; only employees are given this option for doing backup.

“Students will have an account when they are authorized to use a lab. The employee who runs the server at the lab will apply an account to back up the lab server machine,” said Mike Hull, systems and automation analyst for the University of Ottawa.

He added that the university is using IBM’s 3494 tape library. Copies of the data are made immediately, and sent to an off-site location. The server is running on an RS6000, a Unix machine that then backs up to the robotic tape library. In addition, the university has also implemented Tivoli’s SANergy product that allows multiple computers to share a single disk on the SAN-storage. This is useful for example, for students in multimedia classes to share data from a number of students while editing a file, while eliminating the need to keep several copies of the same information.

Aside from tape backup, the university has taken additional security measures to protect its data.

“In order to reduce the network load, the client on the user’s machine is instructed to compress the data before sending it across the network,” Hull said. This has several advantage as it reduces the amount of space on the network itself and also because if an outsider attacks the system, in order to read the file, they would first need to decompress the data back into plain text, he added.

On the whole, Hull said the university has been satisfied with the service Tivoli has provided.

From the company’s perspective, there are multiple benefits to the university using its products. “Students become familiar with it (the products) while they’re attending the university so when they come out into the business world, they are already familiar with the products,” said Steve Kenny sales specialist for Tivoli in Ottawa. In terms of how much data the University has on its files and the network, the sheer numbers indicate a substantial amount of information is being backed up, he added.

And while their relationship has evolved significantly over the years, a new project is under way dedicated to bettering IT practices, Kenny said.

“We’re working on a project where they consider backup and recovery right from the very beginning.”