Like most midsize companies with dozens of branch offices, business information provider Factiva had a growing backup problem: tape backups often failed, forcing system administrators to spend days visiting remote sites instead of maintaining storage at the main data center.

Factiva, formally known as Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC, chose to move away from tape-based backups and begin using wide-area file-sharing (WAFS) technology from Tacit Networks Inc. in Princeton, N.J. The WAFS allows central storage of data with instant access by remote offices, each of which has between 20 and 25 workers.

The WAFS rollout began last summer, and it is now being used in four remote offices. Prior to that, Factiva used non-technical personnel to load and change out tapes in direct-attached tape drives. And because the South Brunswick, N.J.-based company didn’t have technicians at each of its 42 offices worldwide - there are 16 in the U.S. alone - it was often forced to send out data centre technicians to restart tape backups that had become hung up, swap out tapes and tape drives, and perform other “janitorial-like” functions.

“We had to send people out of the office for an entire day to do that - not a particularly good use of our people and resources,” said Dan Weiss, systems architecture and administration director at Factiva.

Karin Borchert, Factiva’s chief operations officer, said WAFS is popular today because many businesses like to have staff distributed around the world and don’t want to be locked into a particular infrastructure or office.

“They may be working from a home office or variety of remote locations,” she said. “We want to be in a position where our infrastructure supports that.”

With its WAFS architecture, Factiva provides access to files from its main New Jersey data center over a WAN to four of its remote offices. Any changes to files are recorded back at the main data center, where backups and restores can be managed centrally.

Weiss said that the WAFS technology was almost “black box” in nature and simple to set up. “It was a gradual rollout to one office at a time and with small groups of users over four to five months, with one person deploying it,” he said. “It was really quite seamless. I’m surprised no one thought of this until now.”