Intrawest centralizes mountains of data

With sites in over 30 locations, Intrawest trims IT costs by managing storage from a central location.

Intrawest centralizes mountains of data: Headquarters manages storage

With sites in over 30 locations, Intrawest trims IT costs by managing storage from a central location.

By Rick Cook

Intrawest Corp., a Vancouver, BC-based company that runs village-style ski resorts, found managing its storage needs to be an uphill battle. The organization is spread throughout 30 locations in North America, but it didn't want to hire separate administrators for each site. Instead, Intrawest wanted to centralize as much of its data and storage operations as possible at its headquarters.

Most of the company's databases are now centrally located in the facility where the storage resources containing them can be backed up and managed by onsite administrators. In addition, most applications and databases are run in the Vancouver data center, connecting to the resorts using Citrix technology. The company is even experimenting with backing up the systems at three of the resorts remotely over the VPN. If it works, Intrawest may expand the remote backup program.

Why this approach? The primary reasons, says Dr. Matthew Dunn, senior vice-president and CIO for Intrawest, were cutting down on the number of employees needed at each location and keeping the operations flexible.

"Most of our businesses are high touch -- hospitality, leisure and facilities management," Dunn says. "That's a nice way of saying we don't always have the technology expertise at the resorts. Nor is it easy to find trained people willing to work at remote locations, even ski resorts," he says. "If you can hire an Oracle database administrator and someone who understands Veritas to work at some resort at the end of a road in Virginia, my hat is off to you," Dunn adds.

It is also a business that is changing information technology rapidly. In the last two years, besides installing the VPN and centralizing storage and applications as much as possible, Intrawest has rolled out a host of new applications to help the company manage business more efficiently. The business sell everything from lift tickets to real estate, which means the IT infrastructure is constantly changing as new systems are added.

Despite the resource challenges Intrawest was facing, outsourcing storage management wasn't a consideration for the resort operator. A third-party contractor might have the people to manage Intrawest's storage and other needs, but outsourcing adds another layer of bureaucracy. "If I've got my key machines in an AT&T bunker somewhere, every time I need to have a box talk to these machines, it's a lot harder," Dunn explains. He also notes there were security concerns about having third parties hold sensitive corporate data.

Instead Intrawest handles storage management internally, using Veritas Software Corp.'s Netbackup 3.4 to back up its databases. The administrator who handles Microsoft Exchange uses Veritas Backup Exec. The data center uses six IBM Corp. Magstar tape units, which are attached to its Unix servers. It also has three robotic tape libraries, including two IBM Magstars and a Hewlett-Packard Co. Surestore. One of the Magstars has dual drives, and the system is capable of backing up five servers simultaneously.

"Basically anything that's a database gets backed up to disk and then backed up from there using Netbackup to tape," says Iggy Ruibal, manager of Intrawest's data center. Not only does using intermediate disks for backup reduce the time it takes to back up a database, but most of the time a restore can be done from the disk, which is faster than using the tapes.

According to Ruibal, the major storage management challenge doesn't relate to the centralized nature of the operation. The challenge is deciding what to back up. "Our major challenge is that our server environment is growing at a mile a minute, spread over all our different business units and our business units aren't always sure what needs backup," says Ruibal. "Streamlining backup is our biggest challenge," he adds.

"Streamlining" is an especially important concept for backups in Intrawest's situation. Even though most of the data is held centrally and doesn't have to be backed up remotely, no one wants to back up nearly three terabytes of data every night. The question is what has to be backed up and how often.

While Intrawest is pleased with the results of its centralization so far, Dunn says it is very much a work in progress. "We continue to expand it [the data center]," Dunn says. "Most of our significant new projects in the last year have gone into the data center architecture instead of into local products." Part of the reason the concept has worked, he says, is that Intrawest's business is pretty much the same over all its operations.

For additional information about Veritas, visit its Web site.

For more information about Intrawest, visit its Web site.


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This was first published in August 2001

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