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A Lesson Learned

How Boston University is making the most of its IBM zSeries and TotalStorage environment

Declaring a Major
Because its data is vital to everyday operations, Boston University has put great effort into making sure the data is available around the clock. To that end, it backs up its data, whether from the mainframe, the mainframe's virtual Linux partitions or the distributed servers, to the F20 for quicker data access and to the tape for archival and disaster-recovery purposes. The key, however, was to find a way to move all of its disparate data, whether from server DASD or the F20, to tape for backup and recovery.


The mainframe backups are handled by Innovation's FDR product, which, as Shockley explains, "does the mainframe key data-volume backup." However, different methods were needed to back up the distributed systems, including the AIX and Windows servers and the virtual Linux on zSeries servers on the z890. In those cases, the organization uses Innovation's FDR/UPSTREAM product, which "does Linux on zSeries backups and restores, as well as the distributed file backup and restores for the distributed data," Shockley says.

The mainframe acts as the central administration point for these distributed backups, which include full-volume mainframe backups using FDR and incremental backups using FDR/UPSTREAM. (Full Linux on zSeries backups are also accomplished using FDR/UPSTREAM.) According to Dave Palermo, a project leader with the university's storage-management group, "FDR/UPSTREAM is a dual-component system. There's a piece that resides on the mainframe under VTAM as a started task with multiple sub-tasks, and then theres a piece that resides on the clients, on the Windows and AIX file servers. The way it's set up here is that MVS batch jobs are initiated and use TCP/IP to connect to the client and, based on file specifications that are in the batch jobs, execute, connecting with the client system and then performing the specified type of backup. It then goes across the network to transmit the backup data from the servers to our mainframe storage."

The university is also using an FDR/Upstream feature called full-merge backup. This allows the organization to perform a full backup and then run a series of incremental backups, which can be stored to tape. Those changes are then consolidated or merged with the full backup of that server. Christine Ciocca, storage-management technician with Boston University, explains, "This feature will look at the server, send a directory listing up from the client, compare it against the mainframe database to see what's been backed up, and then, if a file has been changed or added, request that that file be sent up. Then, on the mainframe, those incremental changes will be merged with the full, giving you an exact image of the server at that point in time without having to deal with all of the unchanged files. This saves a great deal of time because you don't have to perform multiple full backups."

The decision of whether to perform full or incremental backups is made by the individual server administrators, depending, for example, on the criticality of the server function, server recovery requirements and the amount of data they expect to change. The more critical the data is, the more likely it is to undergo a daily incremental with a weekly full-merge backup. If the data isn't as critical, a weekly full backup will serve the purpose.

The university has used other products in the past to attempt to achieve the same results, but it found them wanting, both in features and in terms of the amount of manual labor involved. For example, prior distributed-system backup systems required someone to mount and dismount tapes, not only a time- and resource-wasting effort, but also impractical in an unattended computing environment. Currently, with its automated IBM tape libraries and FDR/UPSTREAM, this and other manual chores have essentially been eliminated. "Now," Shockley says, "I have two people, and they never have to leave their chairs to initiate a backup or restore."

This shift in backup paradigm has allowed storage administrators to become "engineers," as Shockley puts it. Automation of the backup processes means they can now contribute more fully to the organization, being repurposed to other, more interesting, more meaningful tasks. "We've actually created a different shop here, with IT staff members now becoming much more productive," Shockley points out. "For example, they can now construct rules of new data using storage-management utilities, design, implement and verify disaster recovery and business resumption, and review performance and capacity planning of storage across all platforms. Were now much more proactive than reactive."

Learning from the Best
Back when I was in college, many of the computing capabilities mentioned here hadn't even been considered. Or, if they had, the execution wasn't nearly as seamless as it is today. As the case of Boston University shows, more data doesn't necessarily mean more work. In fact, its automated IT environment, with its IBM zSeries server, IBM TotalStorage technology and software from the likes of Innovation, stands as a lesson to other organizations about how best to handle large computing and data volumes, whether in the private or public sector.


Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at



2019 Solutions Edition

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A Lesson Learned

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