Cummins powers up backup architecture: Capacity-on-demand model saves thousands

Electrical company Cummins got what it needed -- and not a megabyte more -- to light up its storage and reign in spending.

What if we lived in a world where companies could buy just the IT capacity they needed and bolt on additional functionality

as business requirements changed? No doubt Fantasyland is fun, but a few companies in the real world are finding as much satisfaction using a tape backup business model in which they provision what they need and buy more as needs change. Deferring capital investment has its pleasures.

Cummins Inc., a global manufacturer and distributor of electrical power generation systems based in Columbus, Ind., was deluged with increased storage needs that were coming at the company from two directions. First, Cummins, like other companies, witnessed data increases stemming from enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and electronic communications. Moreover, the company has been consolidating global data centers and quickly realized that its use of a SCSI interface for backup was untenable. "We continue to grow phenomenally in our data needs," says Art Bitts, enterprise storage manager at Cummins.

"When we approached the improvements in our backup architecture, one of the things we realized is [that by] sticking with a strictly SCSI locally-attached tape library and media servers, we simply weren't able to get the capacity we needed for tape backup without a lot of investment in robotics [tape libraries], and we weren't getting the backup throughputs," Bitts says. "Backup windows were getting longer and longer."

To combat the growing backup needs, Cummins invested in Advanced Digital Information Corp.'s 10K Scalar storage backup library system. Cummins bought 2,900 backup slots, each of which is 100G bytes in size. Cummins is using about 1,900 today. When it needs more slots, it sends a check to ADIC, which then provides a passkey to unlock the unused backup space. "With most of the other vendors we looked at, when you acquire their tape library you pay for every tape slot up-front," Bitts says.

Capacity-on-demand is neither a revolutionary concept nor a technological breakthrough, but ADIC is one of a few vendors giving users the opportunity to expand tape slots in small increments out of a large pool of available backup capacity. Storage represents 15 to 20 percent of Cummins' annual IT budget, and although there are no pure cost savings -- just cost avoidance -- perilous economic times such as these provide strong incentives for managing cash more wisely. Bitts declined to provide specifics about the capital outlay difference between a traditional tape backup provisioning scenario versus capacity-on-demand, yet cost savings were clearly part of the mix when the company made its choice.

"I don't have specific cost avoidance figures that I can share, but I'm allowed to say that it was significant enough to be an important part of the decision," Bitts says.

But Nancy Marrone, senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group, says ADIC charges approximately $10,000 for a 100-slot upgrade. Although just a back-of-the-napkin estimate, we can get an idea of the savings to Cummins: 1,000 additional slots available but not used. This translates into a cost deferment of roughly $100,000.

"The advantage we saw out of it is: it limited the amount we had to invest initially. So, we can buy the capacity we need today but easily expand that capacity as our needs expand," Bitts says.

While the move to enterprise-class tape backup was inevitable, it didn't hurt ADIC's chances that some of the cost could be deferred. Fact is, while Cummins did some storage forecasting, it could not determine with precision how much more backup capacity would be needed at any given point in time. A pay-as-you-go model reduces some of the risk in over-provisioning, a common response from companies lacking accurate visibility into future storage needs.

"Do companies over-provision? Absolutely!" Marrone said. "That's been the practice because companies didn't know not only how they were using capacity, but more importantly, what are their growth patterns going to be?" This is allegedly changing with the emergence of storage management forecasting tools.

With tape libraries, it is true that companies can more easily avoid excessive over-provisioning than they can with other backup architectures, such as network-attached storage (NAS) devices. This is due to the fact that users can buy tape products on a more incremental basis in the first place. Nevertheless, companies will generally map backup needs proportionately with storage needs. "If I am over-provisioning my storage and I need to back all that up, I will have the same amount of over-provisioning of backup for whatever I might store," Marrone said.

Capacity-on-demand doesn't necessarily eliminate over-provisioning of backup assets. Companies just aren't required to pay for all of it in the event that they do over-provision their resources.

For more information on ADIC check out the company's Web site.

Additional information on Cummins can be found here.

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This was first published in October 2002

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