Teach for America Adopts a Back-Up Plan
By Samuel Greengard
Improving teaching skills and boosting educational opportunities for children in poverty is at the center of Teach for America's mission. The organization, which operates 40 offices across the United States, has more than 10,000 corps members and reaches approximately 750,000 students. It partners with communities to develop teachers in 48 urban and rural regions nationwide.
"We aim to level the playing field," says Thomas Licciardello, vice president of technology operations. "We want to ensure that one day all children will have a chance for an excellent education."
IT is essential for the organization's success. Teach for America supports about 2,400 users—up from about 400 people seven years ago. During the same period, the number of IT support staff has swelled from about 15 to more than 100. Not surprisingly, data volumes also spiked. Teach for America has experienced an annual data growth rate of 50 percent.
About five years ago, Licciardello realized that a previous tape infrastructure wasn't keeping up. It didn't provide the level of protection required, and it was costly to operate. "It was failing," he says. "Appliances were breaking down, we had data integrity issues and we were missing backup windows."
Teach for America needed to revamp its storage infrastructure, install a storage area network (SAN), and adopt an integrated backup and recovery solution. "We needed a system that could handle the demands of a rapidly growing data environment," Licciardello says.
The organization evaluated products from a number of vendors before selecting a solution from EMC. It includes deduplication storage systems, software to manage storage, and a unified backup and recovery application. The environment integrates with a number of enterprise systems and critical database applications, including IBM, Informatica, Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange, and Oracle.
EMC's Avamar deduplication technology delivers daily full backups for remote offices across 180 virtual machines. Teach for America's IT team relies on VMware's Changed Block Tracking to accelerate both backup and recovery, and it uses EMC NetWorker software for centralized management and reporting.
The entire environment is replicated from the organization's New York City data center to a co-location recovery site located about 10 miles away. "We weren't interested in a one-and-done solution," Licciardello notes. "We wanted to take a comprehensive approach to storage and backup."
The results have been impressive. The organization has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it is now achieving data reduction rates ranging from 6.5:1 for Oracle databases to 11:1 and 12:1 for Exchange and SQL Server respectively. In addition, backups that often stretched across weekends and into Monday mornings are now completed in about 17 hours, which translates into fewer productivity disruptions.
Finally, Teach for America has eliminated approximately 45 tapes per month. "There have been financial and practical benefits to eliminating tape," Licciardello reports. "If we need to restore, the process takes minutes rather than a full business day."
The comprehensive approach to IT has taken Teach for America into the digital age. "We have reached a point where we cannot miss a beat," Licciardello says. "There is an expectation that data and services will be there. The difference in how we use IT and operate as an organization is like night and day."