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Online backup for education sector

Databarracks : 16 March, 2009  (Application Story)
Sensitive student files at Gateshead College secured without tying up large amounts of local storage resource
The education sector always had to follow strict rules regarding the management and storage of student's sensitive data. The Data Protection Act outlines principles for processing sensitive data which includes collecting, using, storing and ultimately destroying students' data from the moment of their initial application all the way through to the classification of their final awards.

Basically, the Data Protection Act (1998) states that no more data than is needed should be collected, data should be kept safe and for no longer than necessary. Student's university and college records are usually kept for 6 years after the year of graduation, so all the avenues for complaints are exhausted in case the record needs to be retrieved. However, information such as the student's grade and award granted are kept forever as universities often receive reference requests for as long as 50 years after student's graduation.

But how to qualify this data in order to have it destroyed only at the right time and by using a valid method? And better yet, how to keep such a large amount of data safe and that will only ever increase, without having a huge hole in the institution's IT budget?

Gateshead College has 150.000 student records to manage as well as 1TB of student and staff work files and 'not enough hours in a day' to run traditional tape backups, says Robert Cooper, ICT manager for Gateshead College.

Gateshead is considered to be in the top 4 colleges in the country, offering 6th form courses, further and higher education courses and vocational training to students that study in the North East of England and across the country.

The college is well known for investing in its facilities and resources having just completed a multi million pound accommodation strategy which saw the development of four new campuses over four years. They are also committed to providing reliable technology to their students; hence their care with their own technology systems is no different.

'We have always used technology to facilitate our work and to optimise our services; that's why we have looked for a new backup solution that would reduce backup windows and give us more time to work on other areas that needed the attention of the IT team' says Robert Cooper.

The IT team not only had the challenge of backing up 150.000 students profiles, but also of managing all the data that had to be kept from previous years with different levels of retention to follow. With tape technology all of this needs to be done manually, which makes a full backup an impossible task.

'We used to backup almost 3 TB of data onto disk during the night and then offline backups onto tape during the day. However, the full backup of our data would take more than a day to complete, when more data had been created, replicated and changed, so we were often not able to run a full backup, which could create several problems while trying to retrieve the data; not to mention that it was not achieving the level of security and data availability that we were aiming for.'

With an enterprise level based online backup solution provided by Databarracks, Gateshead College backs up all their data which gets compressed to a third of its size before it is stored offsite in an ex-military data centre. The backups are incremental, so daily backups run in no time without causing any disruption to business activities. The college can now retrieve data using a faster recovery time objective.

The solution is future proof because, although the college's records are always increasing, the online backup solution provided by Databarracks, which is powered by the award winning Asigra software, features retention regulations that will automatically move the backed up data from a live, higher cost storage vault to a lower cost archive vault after a certain period of time established by the University (after the student graduates, for example). The technology is called Hierarchical Storage Management (H.S.M) and not only allows for the different types of data to be categorised but also removes data that is not unique to control data footprint.

H.S.M is completed when a certificate for all the data that has been destroyed whilst in the archival servers is generated, offering a complete information lifecycle management tool to the University.

'Our backups now run automatically in the background and I don't need to worry about the amount of data we're backing up or the time which I need to wait to retrieve and destroy any of the student's files for compliance purposes, so my data is truly secure and always available', says Robert Cooper.

'The backups are encrypted with the best encryption available and the data is now stored offsite, replicated to different locations in one of the most secure Data Centres in the world which not only assures that students files are always safe, but also gives Gateshead College the peace of mind they need to have their systems up and running in little time in case a disaster strikes' says Milad Ali, Databarracks Business Sales.

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