Server safety at VicRoads means fewer crashes

250 servers across 45 offices including 40 blades

VicRoads server infrastructure officer, Bernie Bosma, willingly admits the state's roads corporation has a few crashes of its own each year, the difference is they involve servers not motor vehicles.

But these server crashes, Bosma explains, are no longer a catastrophic problem because VicRoads can guarantee quick recovery.

"We use Lotus Notes for much of our day-to-day business and we have five Notes mail servers, each holding 600 mail databases," he said.

"That means just one server crash can affect the productivity and services delivered by 600 people."

Bosma said this is just one reason why VicRoads, which manages the state's 22,230 kilometre road network as well as vehicle registration and licensing services, required serious backup.

"Our 45 licensing offices host 250 servers including four BladeCenters and 40 blade servers. Of the blade servers, half are single disk Storage Area Network (SAN) connected servers," he said.

Windows 2003 is the main operating system with a small number of Windows 2000 and NT platforms, which are currently being upgraded.

However, Bosma said there was no remote imaging process in place for backup of these servers.

"Servers crash, and single disk blade servers are particularly vulnerable," he said.

"Before we had backup in place, crashes required a complete rebuild of the operating system and applications, requiring lengthy downtime.

"We tested restoration from normal backup, but that didn't quite do it. What we needed was a solution that would place a boot partition image onto a bare-metal server, then get it booted up and running successfully - preferably without putting too much extra strain on staff."

VicRoads evaluated a range of solutions before selecting Acronis because it could image a server while it is still alive, plus its scheduling capability and its ability to resize partitions.

Bosma said the organization began with 50 licenses for Acronis True Image 8.0 Server for Windows which was distributed to servers at regional offices, with the remainder committed to other machines.

He said each one took an hour to install and schedule, and no staff training was necessary.

VicRoads then purchased 55 licenses for Acronis True Image 9.1 Server for Windows for the single disk blade servers and more vulnerable mission-critical servers. The Universal Restore Server has also been purchased for disaster recovery.

In a recent incident, Bosma said one e-mail server crashed with a dead disk.

"It was a weekly imaged, single disk Blade server with the data on a SAN. Thanks to Acronis, the server was back up in less than one hour. All that required was the installation of a new disk, replacement of the image, then a reboot," he said.

"Without the image, the team would first have to rebuild the server then call in Lotus Notes staff to reconfigure that application."

Apart from its obvious use for recovery, Bosma has found the re-parrtitioning capabilities useful.

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