When the time came for Jeff Machols to find a way to trim and better control CitiStreet LLC's data center costs while simultaneously improving the performance and speed of backup operations, he decided that the solution was to cut the use of physical tape.

And the plan worked, he said. By removing CitiStreet's cumbersome physical tape backup system in favor of two Sepaton Inc. S2100-ES2 virtual tape library (VTL) appliances, the cycle of backing up the company's 700GB of data was drastically shortened from 24 to 30 hours to just four hours.

"We're trying to view storage as strategic component as opposed to just a cost center," said Machols, vice president of global infrastructure at Quincy, Mass.-based CitiStreet, which manages employee benefits plans. "We've basically eliminated tape from our environment, which is a very good thing,"

Under pressure two years ago to more effectively manage growth and increase data availability, while at the same time complying with stringent data-retention requirements of the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Machols was called on to find a solution. After a study, he decided that simply upgrading CitiStreet's Quantum Corp. tape libraries -- which were used with Symantec Veritas NetBackup software -- couldn't provide the performance required.

Instead, Machols chose to abandon the company's reliance on tape only by deploying a pair of Sepaton S2100-ES2 VTL appliances with the vendor's DeltaStor replication and de-duplication software. CitiStreet selected Sepaton over VTL offerings from storage vendors Quantum and EMC Corp.

"[We removed] not just the cost and administration of having to deal with tapes, but we don't have to ship tapes off-site anymore, which is great for us -- especially with the problems everyone has been having the last couple of years. It's horrible, and we don't want our name on the front page of The Wall Street Journal," remarked Machols"

CitiStreet, a wholly owned subsidiary of State Street Corp. and Citigroup Inc., stores approximately 220TB of information, including participant and administrative retirement plan data, as well as file server, e-mail and home directory data. The data is housed in two data center facilities in Jacksonville, Fla., and Quincy, Mass., with each operating as a disaster recovery fail-over site for the other by replicating information daily.

According to Machols, CitiStreet currently runs 50TB on each Sepaton S2100-ES2, which is used for online backups, data recovery purposes and replication of critical applications.

CitiStreet does continue to use tape drives for long-term archiving functions, he noted. As part of the project, the company bought four Quantum DLT 7000 tape drives to replace its two older Quantum tape libraries.

Backup operations by CitiStreet encompass the company's Microsoft Windows file servers, e-mail and all data from the company's primary application servers, Machols said. The company uses Hewlett-Packard Co. StorageWorks 5000 and 8000 Enterprise Virtual Arrays, as well as HP's XP512 and XP12000 storage arrays for backup operations, he added.

The financial services firm's data center runs mostly Linux-based systems, with some Windows servers and a few flavors of Unix servers also in tow.

Machols did note that VTL technology can have drawbacks for IT operations, such as providing less storage capacity than tape along with increased power costs, data center floor requirements and heating demands. However, de-duplication has so far helped CitiStreet to avoid many of those pitfalls, he noted.

"If our [de-duplication] ratios stick [56-to-1 compression ratios], we're looking at pretty long term before we have to make another capacity [purchase] on the Sepaton units, even with aggressive forecasting on data growth," he added.