Banking on better backup

Managing backup for a growing volume of data, particularly with a complex regulatory landscape, required National Bank of Abu Dhabi to look to the latest storage systems for a fast and reliable solution

Tags: Banking and financeEMC CorporationNational Bank of Abu DhabiStorageUnited Arab Emirates
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Banking on better backup Hossam El Kobrosy, Head of IT Infrastructure, National Bank of Abu Dhabi. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 9, 2014

While backup and recovery may not be the most exciting part of any IT infrastructure, being able to reliably recover files in a timely fashion is an essential part of most operations. In some organisations, backup has often been overlooked, or pushed down the priority list in busy IT departments that have to manage with limited resources, leaving patchy records and missing data if IT staff fail to backup all the required data within the window available.

In the financial sector however, the need for robust backup solutions has always been present, and with data volumes increasing, and growing compliance requirements, financial institutions require backup solutions that they know they can rely on. However, the technology, particularly tape backup, has not always been up to the task.

This was the situation facing the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD). One of the largest banks in the UAE, with 125 branches and cash offices, NBAD has a considerable base at home, and it also has a large presence overseas, with operations in 17 countries across the US, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and the Far East. With an extensive international presence, the bank is subject to a number of international regulations and compliance requirements, along with standards such as PCI, so accurate backup is an important part of meeting those regulatory needs.

As the bank has expanded its operations, so has its data grown, with the extensive branch network contributing to an estimated 30-40% growth in data per year. Backing up such large volumes of data was becoming a major burden on the IT department, according to Hossam El Kobrosy, Head of IT Infrastructure at NBAD, particularly being able to fit all of the backup into the available time window.

“You have a window of backup. If you lose it, then you have to run it during the working day, and during the working day the system is much busier, and you impact your production system,” he said. “So it is challenging to be able to catch up, and there is a risk of not doing backup.”

The bank also faced some issues with the reliability of tapes, El Kobrosy explained, and also with the integrity of backed up data, which led to delays and poor quality restores, which with a growing compliance requirement was unacceptable to the bank.

Another issue with a tape-based backup solution was the cost. In order to meet the growing data requirements, the bank kept having to buy new tapes, which was cutting into operating budgets. The cost of managing the whole system, despite the relative cheapness of the media, was also a burden on the IT department.

“The cost of managing tapes is higher, because you have different versions of tape tier, different type of tape media, labelling — each part is less expensive, but when you combine all the operational costs and managing the tape cost, it is more optimal to backup to disk,” he said.

NBAD decided to switch to disk-based backup solutions, and began evaluating the options available from a range of vendors. While the bank’s existing backup solution was provided by another vendor, NBAD used EMC storage solutions for other data requirements. While the bank had not used data de-duplication before, it was a major requirement of any new solution, in order to reduce the volumes of data that had to be stored.

“At the time, EMC had acquired Data Domain, Data Domain is very well known for its capabilities for data de-duplication and backup to disk, so this is where we started to look for [EMC] solutions,” El Kobrosy said.

The bank evaluated EMC’s Data Domain solution, and was impressed with the flexibility and scalability of the solution, and also the ease with which it could be deployed.

“We found other solutions that could be quite complicated, Data Domain was straightforward. We did a POC and found it fit well in our environment and we have their storage anyway, so we thought it would be a good partnership to continue,” he added.

The bank selected the EMC Data Domain solution, and along with support from the vendor and a systems integrator, NBAD was able to deploy the solution in three months, with minimal involvement of its own IT staff. The bank took the opportunity to enhance its backup policies at the same time.

With the EMC solution in place, the bank has leveraged a number of benefits. The amount of physical storage required by the bank has been reduced by around 40-50%, due to the de-duplication of data. The solution has also greatly reduced the window for backup, and increased the speed with which it can restore files, with small file restores taking under five minutes. The reduced time spent on backup procedures has also freed up staff time to enable them to work on other projects.

Through improved policies and greater automation of the backup process, NBAD is also able to better meet compliance regulations and also to respond to requests from regulators to demonstrate compliance.

The bank is still using tape for second tier backup, but through the deployment of dual systems, it has eliminated the need for physical movement of tape between the main site and replication site, which was both inefficient and created the added risk of tapes getting lost or damaged.

“We have built two identical systems in two data centres, and we de-dupe, we do replication, and we backup to tape from the other site. We have stopped totally the risk of transferring tape between the two sites. It is a big advantage,” El Kobrosy explained.

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