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NBA Spurs Slash Backup

Posted by inet - 2006-03-12

The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs recently overhauled their backup infrastructure, deploying a disk-to-disk system to slash backup times from two days to just three hours.
Tod Caflisch, the Spurs' IT director, tells Byte and Switch that the seeds of the storage revamp were sown back in 2002, when the team moved into its new home, the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The organization, he says, took on a 25-year lease for the arena, which hosts a number of concerts each year, not to mention the Rampage hockey franchise and the Silver Stars womens' basketball team.

"Our volume of data exploded overnight," explains Caflisch, and the Spurs' previous system of backing up from disk to tape started to creak. "I can't say that it was starting to affect our business, but it was starting to make things harder," he says.

The franchise, which clinched the NBA title against the Detroit Pistons last year, needed a new backup system capable of handling its ticketing and payroll data, not to mention the arena's event management system and swipe-card database.

Previously, the Spurs used Veritas BackupExec software to send data from around 40 Dell 1650 servers to a Dell PowerVault tape library. Although Caflisch had no issues with BackupExec, he says the process proved too time-consuming when the Spurs began handling up to 3 Tbytes a day. "It was taking us a whole weekend to do a single full backup."

The answer came in the shape of StoneFly Backup Advantage (SBA), which combines a disk-based backup device and Galaxy software from CommVault for tape backup via an IP-SAN. (See StoneFly, CommVault Hook Up.) Caflisch says that by deploying disks, he has added a much needed element of speed to his infrastructure. "Now we're doing full backups daily. It's so much faster, we're able to pack everything in at night."

Caflisch also looked at products from Dell, EMC, and HP before opting for the startup. In fairness, the final decision was largely thanks to cost more than any technology differentiator. "What really made the difference was that they aggressively priced their solution and chased us," he says. "They made us a very good offer. That probably put them over the top."

The Spurs, who spent around $55,000 with StoneFly, are already close to achieving ROI, according to Caflisch, and the system proved its worth within a matter of weeks, when a key server crashed on the eve of payroll deadline.

"We were able to completely restore our payroll server in just a few hours. The organization wasn't affected at all," explains the IT director. Under the previous system, however, it would have taken a full day or more to perform the backup. "That was worth what we paid for [the product] right there, just in terms of staff morale and the extra hours that [our finance] people would have had to work."

Caflisch and his team are now planning to deploy SBA at the Spurs' San Antonio training facility, where a video editing system contains additional terabytes of data. "It's for the coaches. They will videotape, for example, our game in Phoenix last night, and break that down, player by player, so that they can go over the pros and cons...

"There's tons of data. We have players overseas that are under contract that we're still watching, and there's players in the NBA draft that we're watching."

The exec is also planning to replace his current DLT PowerVault tape library with AIT tape technology, possibly sometime during the summer. "I am working on doing that right now," he says. "It's faster, higher volume, it reduces the number of tapes, and it will continue to cut our backup windows down."

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