null Case study: University of Jyväskylä and Funet Backup

In the project, backup copies of all material kept by the University of Jyväskylä will be produced for CSC. After that, the university will no longer have to maintain an in-house backup infrastructure.

Case study: University of Jyväskylä and Funet Backup

According to Hannes Juutilainen, a systems designer at University of Jyväskylä IT Services, the backup pilot project jointly carried out by the University of Jyväskylä and CSC is making rapid progress. Juutilainen was speaking at the IT seminar of the Finnish higher education institutions, which was held in Jyväskylä in November. In the project, which involves the introduction of the Funet Backup service, backup copies of all material kept by the University of Jyväskylä will be produced for CSC. After that, the university will no longer have to maintain an in-house backup infrastructure. The project has been quite extensive and there is still a great deal of work to do. However, the lessons learned during the pilot project will augur well for the future.

The starting point

The University of Jyväskylä used to have two commercially operated backup systems: EMC NetWorker and EMC Avamar. The first of these functions as a single server, while the second one is a rackful of customized servers in which datanodes can be built into a system of desired size. Costs factors were the main reason why the University of Jyväskylä had two separate systems.

The university's storage environment is mostly a virtual one and the backup copying mostly involved the copying of virtual disks as well as home and group directories containing the directories of staff members and students that had been stored in the network-attached storage (NAS).

The university had less than 100 physical servers. At the same time, there were about 500 virtual servers in the VMware environment of the network-attached storage though in most cases, the amount of data was quite small. In NAS, there were roughly one hundred different protocol-distributed file systems and about 120 terabytes of real data, half of which was active while the remainder was passive. Backup copies were taken as required at file system level and as disk images.

Large data amounts, including the read data in NAS, were copied into EMC NetWorker, while everything else was stored in EMC Avamar. In Avamar, two backup copies were taken of each file so that individual files could be recovered and the university would be able to recover data kept in hundreds of computers if the VMware cluster was permanently damaged (which would be a catastrophic situation). In NetWorker, only one backup copy of each file was taken.


Winds of change

Increases in the amounts of data made it necessary for the University of Jyväskylä to upgrade its backup process. The university needed additional storage capacity and it also wanted to update its existing environments. 

The University of Jyväskylä had a clear picture of what was required: Such definitions of basic-level system settings as increasing and reducing the number of client computers (clients) as well as data recovery should be done in-house. Transfer speeds should be adequate and backup copies should only have to be taken on a daily basis. The university wanted to be able to recover files from home and group directories in the network-attached storage. In virtual machines, backup based on disk images would work best if the users could recover the files from dumps of disk images (snapshots).

In other words, the University of Jyväskylä knew what it wanted. Now it only needed to decide whether the backup copies would be produced in-house or whether the service should also be outsourced in the future. The new Funet Backup service provided by CSC was the solution and it was put into test in Jyväskylä. The service offered by CSC met the requirements and it meant that the university's resources that had been allocated for the maintenance of the backup systems could now be used for other purposes. The offsite backup that would take place outside the university was also a clear advantage.


The process starts

The first stage in the process was the transfer of NAS into the Commvault environment of CSC where an agent program checks data changes and transfers the changed data to the backup vault. An agent-based solution ensures that the taking of backup copies and the recovery of files can be done quickly.

Varmuuskopiointipalvelu Funet Backup. Kuva: CSC.


For this purpose, a separate network was created, allowing the CSC's environment and the computers of the University of Jyväskylä to communicate with each other. The backup network was extended so that it now also covered Jyväskylä. In other words, a media agent server with an IP address in CSC's backup network and the network of the University of Jyväskylä was set up. Changes were also made in the university's system so that it would communicate with CSC.

The introduction of the new system did not require any major changes: After the preparations were completed, the production of backup copies continued as before. The only visible change was the location to which the copied files were transferred: They were now stored in CSC's Commvault server. Unlike in the old system, the backup copying was now made over the data network, which slowed down the process slightly, compared with the local network. However, this was not a problem because for the University of Jyväskylä, the speed was adequate.

A somewhat different process was applied to the VMware environment, because editing 500 virtual machines would have required too much effort. It was decided to set up a physical proxy server in the network of the University of Jyväskylä. The server, which is also connected with CSC's system, allows both CSC and the university to access the Commvault systems. 

The proxy server can see the disks of the VMware environment over the fibre in the read-only mode, while at the same time, the server is able to produce snapshot backup copies in the VMware environment and send them over the network to CSC for storing. 

This feature is still under development because disk image backup copies are now taken from all those computers from which they were previously produced using Avamar. Further development work is also required in backup copying on physical servers.


Towards the future

The NAS backup and all virtual servers have now been transferred to CSC but close cooperation between the University of Jyväskylä and CSC in the piloting is continuing. The hardware and software updating of the technical platform of Funet Backup is under way.

The University of Jyväskylä has been satisfied with the piloting. The recovery functions well and the client additions that can be made using an in-house maintenance server have proved particularly successful. At the same time, the project which has made a good start, has served as an incentive to develop the service still further.

Backup on physical servers and the introduction of the Exchange 2016 migration are two of the future challenges. It would be great if the two could be put into use simultaneously. 

– Introduction has been easy after the required technology has been set up. In normal situations, the system works in a reliable manner and as a client, we are able to take the necessary measures through the management interface. It is clear that compared with an in-house solution, such backup copying across administrative boundaries means an addition level of actors. In problem situations, the network and server infrastructure groups of two organizations are involved, explains Juutilainen.

CSC hopes that in spring 2018 it would also be able to offer the service to other customers. The aim is to provide Funet customers with a centralized backup service, which is standardized and easily scalable to customers' needs.



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Published originally 31.01.2018.

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Pinja Ahola