Located in Torrejón, near Madrid in Spain, the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC) is an agency of the Council of the European Union’. Its primary function is to support EU decision-making relating to the EU’s "second pillar": the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

The EUSC is responsible for providing geographical information useful to the European Union in preventing conflicts, in contributing to peace keeping, and in delivering aid in cases of natural or human-caused disasters. It is dedicated to the production of geographical information derived primarily from analysis of images of Earth taken from space. It does other things too, of course, such as research and development projects, and carrying out training activities in the fields of Digital Geographic Information Systems and Imagery Analysis.

The EUSC was recently called upon in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster in December 2004, where it was required to support the European Union’s and Member States’ aid missions. The EU used information provided by the EUSC to determine the worst-hit areas and to plan how best to respond with aid. Archive and current imagery from the EUSC was critical in providing sufficient fast and accurate information to enable the EU’s emergency response. However such events are mercifully rare and, day-to-day, the primary function of the EUSC is to collect and interpret satellite images from around the world in preparation, for crisis management and to support on-going CFSP operations.

Satellite image growth
Juan Giner, head of the EUSC technical division, is responsible for the its IT systems. He explains that satellite imaging has changed in recent years. “In 1993, a Spot satellite image was something like 50MB in size, while today it’s anything from 700MB to 1GB or even more. That works out as a compounded average increase in file size of about 30 per cent per year per raw image.”

Many raw images may be used as input data to create a final, processed image, useful to humans, known within the Centre as a ‘final product’. Juan Giner said: “From 1993 to 2001 we saw our storage requirement just for final products grow by 300 per cent due to the increase in image size. On top of that, between 1993 and 2002 there has been an additional average annual increase of about 10 per cent for our final product data, for operational reasons. So storage is a huge issue for us.”

Most organisations would usually agree that it’s current data that’s most critical. Not so for the EUSC, for which all data is critical. The reason for this is that much of the EUSC’s work involves determining changes in images over significant periods of time, often several years.

As a result, protecting its data is one of the highest priorities in the EUSC’s data centre. Juan Giner says: “It’s hard to think of many things more important than protecting our operational data set. Without it we would be unable to perform the only functions that we’re authorised and funded to do. It is genuinely mission-critical.”

Bye bye Legato
Since its creation, the EUSC had used Solstice Backup, the Sun-branded version of Legato NetWorker, to provide its backup and restore capability. However by the end of 2001 it was increasingly experiencing problems in the form of maintenance for the drivers and for its Exabyte tape library. These problems were compounded by a perceived lack of support in Spain from Legato, which meant that the problems were difficult and inconvenient to resolve. So, in 2002 the EUSC resolved to rectify the situation, and looked for a new product.

Key criteria for it included good integration with the Exabyte tape library, provision of full and advanced backup, restore and archive functions, ease of use and good support from the vendor in Spain to prevent any problems from piling up. Several potential products met these criteria, but there were two additional factors that swung the decision in favour of Atempo’s Time Navigator.

Going backwards
First, there was a requirement to be able to navigate backwards through generations of backups, a key feature of Time Navigator, for which it was named. And, second, an EUSC staff member reported positive feedback from previous experience of Time Navigator.

“The personal recommendation of one of the IT staff was important, yes,” says Juan Giner. “Because we collect and analyse a tremendous number of images, we have to have faith in our solution, and experience counts. We’ve chosen Time Navigator for its high performance, ease of use and best-in-class support, and for the fact that these attributes were proven to us.”

The EUSC collects an average of four terabytes of backup data every quarter,and uses a significant volume of geographical, satellite and aerial image data on a daily basis. Time Navigator is used to conduct a full backup every two weeks, and several incremental backups are executed daily.

Keeping options open
Time Navigator is compatible with an enormous variety of hardware products from an array of different manufacturers. This is essential at the EUSC because its infrastructure comprises a variety of manufacturers and platforms. Its equipment includes a Sun NFS server, running Solaris and home to an Oracle database, plus plenty of high-end Sun workstations. Additionally there are many PCs, running Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP. Data is backed up to a StorageTek L180 LT02 tape library with four drives.

“We can still choose whatever equipment we want to expand or update our infrastructure,” said Juan Giner. “Using Time Navigator does not constrain our future choices; in fact, if anything, it has the opposite result and we know we can attach anything we like to the network and its data will still be protected.”

If remote imaging technology continues to improve at the same rate as it has done in the last decade, then the EUSC’s storage requirements will continue to grow at a dramatic rate. It's a graphic example of the scenario to that that looks likely to be played out in most businesses in the coming years. An ability to protect current, old and historical data across a multitude of storage resources is likely to prove very important both for the EUSC and for many other businesses besides.