With 1,700 full time staff spread across 49 fire stations, and SAP, HR, financial and administration files and related applications, the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority needed a business continuity and disaster recovery plan. Everything was concentrated in its head quarters and that was not a good idea.

Spreading the risk

Its back office applications need to be continuously available and not subject to downtime through reduced data access. Of course, emergency 999 responses, with their own network, are not affected by reduced data access. But it is still vital that the all employees can use the data network in order to see information about their community liaison work and station management,­ such as dates for school and housing association visits as well fire safety certificates and results of building inspections.

On top of that, it is important for all the SAP, HR, financial and administration files and related applications to be accessible and, if the worst should happen, be recoverable.

Darren Stone, the authority's IT Manager, explains: "We originally housed all our storage and disaster recovery applications, together with our main wide area network hub, on a central server at our headquarters. However, after carrying out a disaster recovery and data availability audit, we took the strategic decision to decentralise the hardware and associated applications to nodal sites across the region. This would ensure that, in the event of a disaster, the entire network would not go down and that communications could be maintained."

Therefore the authority went through a procurement exercise.

Simple and not so simple

It looked at a number of storage products from top vendors including IBM, Network Appliance, Overland and HP as well as Adaptec. Stone said: "Each company that we invited in for a demonstration took two to three days and several engineers to set up their kit and get it running properly. It wasn't right: We just don't have that time or those resources available on an ongoing basis.­ We needed something we could literally plug in and forget about."

He was delighted when Adaptec's Snap Server arrived unescorted and he and his team were able to simply switch it on, follow the onscreen prompts and begin testing its capabilities. He said: "We just didn¹t think the Snap Server could be that simple and yet as effective as its reputation suggested. However within half an hour we knew that it was the ideal solution for our organisation. We had access to 1.2TB of storage from a single unit and it showed impressive performance,­ all at an extremely competitive price point."

The authority selected six of Adaptec¹s Snap Server 550s and a S50 SAS (serial-attached SCSI) JBOD expansion array to form the basis of its new distributed storage and recovery network.

The network's shape

Five hub sites were created in Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax and Wakefield,­ ensuring an even distribution across the region and removing the risks associated with damage to a single server or, in a worst-case scenario, building. Each hub was equipped with a Snap Server 550 that acted as an intermediary device to send, store and receive data from the organisation¹s headquarters and a group of pre-designated fire stations. This ensured constant access to the Internet and email as well as the set of critical back office applications.

An additional sixth Snap Server 550 together with the SAS JBOD expansion array provided a combined capacity of 5TB, plus potential to scale to 10.2TB, were installed at the organisation's headquarters, where they were used to back-up data from the five distributed servers.

Stone said: "By purchasing six Snap Servers from Adaptec, we have taken steps to ensure that our data is backed-up and consistently available,­ making it less likely that we¹ll ever need to implement a disaster recovery plan. However, in the unlikely event that we have to, the Snap Server 550's amazingly fast data throughput and integrated suite of data protection software will ensure restoration is completed quickly and with the minimum of disruption."

Looking ahead

As the Authority's data storage and protection needs change over time, it plans to take advantage of the Snap Server 550's scaleability and availability functions. The Snap Server allows users to add capacity while it is switched on and running.

Stone said: "Snap Servers feature hot-swappable drives, so they can be upgraded without any disruption to the network or applications running on them.­ The alternative would be to take the server off line and limit application access. With other availability features including hot-swappable power supplies and dual gigabit Ethernet ports, Adaptec has covered all bases to ensure users have constant network and application access."

As a result of the installation, the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority has a reliable distributed business continuity and disaster recovery architecture in place. Staff are confident that the files and applications necessary for the day-to-day management of each fire station across the county are accessible at all times. It also reduces the risk of the entire back office network failing in the event of a disaster and, should the worst happen, provides a fast and efficient recovery process that minimises disturbance to normal operations.

Stone sums up: "The biggest complement I can give our Snap Servers is that now they are installed they're almost invisible and I never give them a second thought. If we do have to make any adjustments, it's usually because of a new process or application we're bringing on board.­ Even then, it's a simple and straight-forward task. However, don't let that simplicity fool you. Inside those black boxes, there's some seriously fast and impressive processing power and software applications that will change the way you implement back-up, archiving and recovery in your organisation."