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Friday, 27 June 2014 17:03

CommVault helps DAFWA declutter

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CommVault's Simpana data and information management software played a key part in the infrastructure refresh needed to allow the Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) to meet the state government's goal of becoming a major player in the food sector.

Back in 2011, DAFWA realised that "serious investment was required" to transform its highly distributed IT systems into a platform capable of supporting the department's mission.

The department was using 278 core applications, and funding was granted for multiple consolidation projects to reduce that number by more than 90%. This also required a major infrastructure refresh, and late 2011 saw the start to the installation of new equipment across servers, storage and networks - "pretty much everything from the ground up," observed DAFWA's information systems infrastructure manager Rolf Ulrich.

DAFWA acquired its storage from Hitachi Data Systems, and although the Simpana software was bundled with the arrays it was not initially put to work. But that changed after a market survey showed it met the department's requirements for archiving and other functionality.

The the technology refresh and consolidation was not completed until early 2014. "We had some serious challenges," said Mr Ulrich.

One concerned Exchange, and the "massively large mailboxes" used by staff, some in excess of 10GB. Email is one of the most important applications at DAFWA, but managing the service was problematic.

So one of the first uses for Simpana was to archive older emails to keep mailboxes more compact. Initially, messages were archived once they were a year old, but that did not have sufficient effect and so the department settled on keeping just the last three months of messages in Exchange.

Other associated policy changes included limits on the size of attachments

Mr Ulrich said it was "a big challenge to achieve acceptance [of the policy] by users, but we have got there."

Another and more general issue concerned data retention. Various policies, procedures and legislation (including Freedom of Information) means that the department's data must be retained for up to ten years with easy recovery and adequate controls over its integrity.

To achieve this, DAFWA uses a disk-to-disk-to-disk-to-tape strategy, which keeps data accessible from disk for up to a year - a significant improvement on the three weeks with the old systems.

"We have to restore data on an almost daily basis," explained Mr Ulrich, so reducing the need to recover from tape was an important consideration.

The quality of backup has improved with the changes. DAFWA has nearly 30 office around the state, and now all backup is done automatically and over the network. Deduplication minimises the amount of data that has to be transferred, the human element has been eliminated (the system no longer relies on a person at each office remembering to change the tapes), and the backups are stored in a different location to the original data.

Image: Orderinchaos (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikipedia 

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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