Backup System Gives Hospital Reliable 24/7 Access

By Eileen McCooey Print this article Print
Backup and recovery system

A major health care center adopts a backup and replication system that's built for a virtual infrastructure to enhance its disaster recovery system.

Around-the-clock availability of data is essential for many businesses, none more so than health care organizations responsible for the lives of their patients. A bullet-proof backup, restore and replication system has given the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) confidence in its IT recovery plan, whether it's dealing with day-to-day issues or a potential disaster.

As Canada's largest mental health and addiction hospital, CAMH has 3,000 employees across Ontario and treats some 30,000 patients a year. Services depend heavily on the IT infrastructure, which must handle huge amounts of data, as well as critical apps.

"In order to deliver on our promise of patient-centered care, our physicians and staff need 24/7 access to applications and data," stresses Alan Tang, team lead of the Web and Portal Information Management Group.

However, concerns emerged several years ago when CAMH ran regular government-mandated disaster recovery tests. "We found that we couldn't guarantee recovery or rollback," he recalls. "The products we were using—we tried three separate ones—gave us disappointing results. They were great at backups but didn't restore very well."

The slow, unreliable recovery of the group's Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines "wasn't crippling, and we didn't experience any failures," Tang adds, noting that there were many other levels of redundancy and operational procedures to prevent serious problems. Still, the possibility that CAMH could be vulnerable to downtime and data loss was unsettling.

Critical business processes were also affected, including upgrades of Microsoft SharePoint, which supports workgroup solutions that are essential given CAMH's multisite presence and its many cross-organizational initiatives. Among other things, SharePoint is used to document staff training, scheduling and procedures.

In Search of Guaranteed Availability

To eliminate any vulnerabilities, CAMH set out to find a solution that would guarantee 24/7 availability 365 days a year, while also offering scalability to accommodate growth. Tang and his team considered various options and chose Veeam Backup & Replication, part of the Veeam Availability Suite. "Veeam has a great trial program, and we were able to use the system without making a commitment," he says.

The trial demonstrated the product's advantage over some competitors. "Veeam is specifically designed for a virtual infrastructure like ours, unlike others that are designed for physical machines and adapted to VMs," Tang explains. "With those systems, if you have 50 VMs, the host has to deal with 50 instances of the backup software running, which is inefficient. With Veeam, you have only one instance of the backup software running through the host."

CAMH signed a licensing agreement with Veeam and was quickly up and running. Once the license was in place, Tang's team set up automated backups, a huge convenience. Another plus: "The reporting functionality is pretty robust and easy to set up," he adds. "We get a summary every day that indicates what we should look at in the system."

CAMH now uses Veeam for onsite backup of more than 10TB on about 110 Microsoft Hyper-V VMs and offsite replication to two Nimble CS-Series arrays. Nimble snapshots replicated between data centers give CAMH redundant recovery. Thanks to Veeam's built in deduplication and Nimble's compression, replicas require one-tenth as much storage as before.

The results have been very satisfying. "The ease with which we can handle an industry audit, a system upgrade, software patch or web change helps us serve the organization better," Tang reports. Overall, the group is much faster in terms of projects and deliverables, he adds.

It's now easy to demonstrate compliance during government audits of the recovery system. "We pull up backups and replicas and restore from them in minutes," Tang says.

Virtual Lab, a component of the Veeam suite, allows the group to migrate VMs from old hardware to new hardware by restoring a backup to a new target. That eliminates the need to manually copy and bring over data, which can be a huge time-saver when dealing with large VMs. The organization is also using Virtual Lab to test software patches and upgrades, as well as automation code and SSL patches for the websites.

"When we're making a change or updating code, there's less anxiety, because we know we have a fallback that works," Tang concludes. "We're fully confident in our recovery plan."

This article was originally published on 2017-01-27
Eileen McCooey, a New York-based consultant and Baseline contributor, has extensive experience covering a wide range of business and consumer topics, including digital technologies and consumer electronics of all kinds.
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