Tape SAN gets good rating from credit analytics company

Fair Isaac powers 25 billion mission-critical decisions each year for hundreds of clients, making it essential that its backup solution handle current and predicted data growth.

At a time when tape seems to be losing in popularity to its faster alternative disk -- open-systems director Simon Wiltshire of Fair Isaac Corp. discovers that using both a disk and tape storage area network (SAN) together helps cure backup headaches and eliminates backup windows.

As the preeminent provider of creative analytics, Fair Isaac uses predictive modeling, decision analysis, intelligence management, decision management systems and consulting services to help companies identify credit risks and fraud. It powers 25 billion mission-critical decisions each year for approximately 2,000 clients, including seven of the world's 10 largest banks, the top 50 U.S. credit card issuers and 90% of the top U.S. small business lenders. This makes for an ever-increasing amount of data growth.

"Our data growth rate is pretty extensive, we're generally adding about a terabyte or two a month. But we have lots of applications and lots of clients, so it's not like we have one application that generates two terabytes of data a month," Wiltshire said, explaining that many individual client projects and applications generate the majority of storage consumption.

He further breaks down the company's data growth to two primary drivers: One is that big data applications for its marketing services business were moved off the mainframe onto open systems, which has been a three-year process. This type of data includes customer lists, prospect lists and subscriber lists, which are merged and purged using multiple applications to develop clean lists and databases for marketing campaigns. The other is increased business, which led to opportunities to consolidate data and applications from other parts of the company to the main data center in St. Paul, Minn.

"We were putting more and more stuff on open systems and we were somewhat tactically adding DLT tape drives," Wiltshire said, noting that his team was spending a lot of time fixing backup failures in this environment. "We recognized that continually adding new libraries wasn't going to be enough at the rate that we were growing and migrating."

"We had to make a decision to make the big leap," Wiltshire said, explaining how his team made the decision to go down the path of a fully-fledged open systems environment.

In Nov. 2000, the company invested in an EMC Clariion disk SAN, which is connected to its big data servers. The next objective was to find a fabric-attached backup solution that was capable of handling current data and predicted growth.

After several consulting engagements, by the end of 2001, Wiltshire's team decided they needed to go down a tape SAN path. They chose the StorageTek solution 9940A fibre drives, which allows them to also have fabric-attached tape drives. The only problem was that his team didn't have the skills to work with the technology.

Turning to CNT for project management and technical help, Wiltshire's team was able to design a tape SAN with separate switches and fabric from the disk SAN so the largest servers -- which come together in the host server and the network -- are not involved in the backup process. The system was constructed according to three levels of backups.

In the first level, the biggest 10 or 12 enterprise servers are directly fabric-attached through an additional host bus adaptor (HBA) with a fibre route into the switch fabric that supports the tape drives. The second level is comprised of servers with reasonable amounts of data, but not enough to warrant the financial costs of HBAs and ports to put them directly on the tape fabric. These are backed up over a Gigabit Ethernet network to a pair of Veritas media servers, which are fabric connected. The third level is made up of all remaining servers that are backed up over 10/100 Ethernet, rather than the Gigabit Ethernet connection, according to Wiltshire.

The bulk of data being backed up in this environment is related to Fair Isaac's marketing services business, as well as production applications in the company, Wiltshire said, including data from the MyFico Web site (its online source for credit scoring), Exchange servers, file servers and even desktops.

The original configuration, which consisted of 20 DLT 8000 drives across four tape libraries, required "very heavy maintenance," Wiltshire said. Since the tape SAN implementation, he's seen a dramatic improvement in backup reliability, with an increase in first-time completion rate from 60% to 98%, and significant decrease in the amount of time spent by employees to run backups. "Now they can actually do what they get paid for," he said.

His team can also run full and incremental backups every night, staggered for a relatively even schedule, without concern for downtime. "We back up the same amount of data on Sunday as we do on Wednesday," Wiltshire said. "Backup windows are a thing of the past."

An unexpected benefit is the availability of StorageTek 9940B drives, "which have double capacity and double the speed" of 9940A drives, Wiltshire said.

"We made a decision a year and a half ago that we thought was strategic, and it's proven to be so," Wiltshire added.

For more information on Fair Isaac Corp., visit its Web site.

Information on CNT can be found here.

Or read about StorageTek here.

This was first published in June 2003

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