When Andy Bellings became part of Clarke University 31 years ago, both staff members and students still relied on typewriters.
As chief technology officer, Bellings oversaw significant technological advancements at the small nonprofit private Catholic university. This included setting up the university’s first local area network and technology-equipped classroom in 1999. Throughout his tenure, Bellings has helped the educational institution with many technology firsts, ranging from networking to backup, storage, and disaster recovery capabilities.
Balancing Technology With Principles
By 2015, the Dubuque, Iowa-based university had a robust technology setup. But as its technology needs grew, so did the need to spend more and more money – a dynamic that clashed with the principles of the institution, which was founded 180 years ago by nuns who took vows of poverty.
For example, its backup technology, Unitrends, had become too expensive. Every three years, Bellings renewed the contract and received a new on-premises appliance, and the cost kept going up. To achieve security and disaster recovery, the IT team resorted to using tapes as an offline air-gapped backup solution.
The approach worked well, but due to the overall high costs, they eventually switched to Veeam. Veeam could transfer data to the university’s Dell VNxe3300 storage repository.
Veeam also enabled the expanding IT team to think more seriously about its disaster recovery strategy. Bellings’ determination to improve its capabilities stemmed from a disaster that had occurred in 1984 when a major fire destroyed part of the university. “Since then, we have been very thoughtful about what happens during a disaster,” he said.
Around the same time the university adopted Veeam, the city of Dubuque struck an agreement with a local cable TV company. The agreement involved the installation of fiber optic cable connecting all government and educational institutions, with access at no cost.
“All of a sudden, we had dark fiber [networks] between institutions available to us, so we decided to make use of it,” Bellings said.
Clarke University negotiated an agreement with nearby Loras College, another Catholic liberal arts university. Belling’s team set up a system where two locations at Clark each have a VMware host and storage, which is mirrored at Loras. If Clarke’s VMware hosts stop working, the VMware host at Loras can take over and run Clarke’s whole campus network.
The Cloud Becomes Key
With cybersecurity concerns becoming graver and the requirements of cyber insurance increasing, Bellings knew it was time to take further steps. He decided to integrate cloud technology into the university’s disaster recovery strategy.
“Before making changes, all of our data was within a one-mile radius, and we needed something above and beyond that to remain secure and in compliance,” Bellings said.
According to Greg Schulz, head of storage consultancy StorageIO, incorporating the cloud into a disaster recovery strategy is a smart move. “If – not if, but when – something happens at an on-premises location, without having copies and versions of data elsewhere, you’re at risk of not being able to resume, restore, or recover your applications, data, and business,” Schulz said. The cloud is an ideal choice for this purpose, he added.
When searching for a cloud-based offering, Clarke’s IT team had two main priorities: cost-effectiveness and immutability.
“Cyber insurance pretty much requires immutability these days, and we just didn’t have a method of ensuring immutability,” said Kyle Begle, a Clarke University network administrator. “The old method was tapes, which aren’t immediately available, and that wasn’t going to do it anymore.”
Immutability is critical for all types of storage and backup methods, whether they are on-premises or in the cloud, Schulz noted. “It’s an effective way to protect against unwanted, accidental, or intentional changes.” Additionally, that immutability enhances protection for associated metadata, catalogs, and settings, he said.
After considering several options, including the idea of hosting its cloud data in an AWS instance, the team ultimately chose Wasabi’s hot cloud object storage. Not only was the choice 90% less expensive than the AWS option, but it was also easily integrated with Veeam’s backup and recovery technology.
Today, Clarke University manages about 55 virtual machines and handles the storage and backup of around 25TB of data. The reason the data volume is relatively low, Begle explained, is because of the university’s widespread adoption of cloud-based applications, such as Microsoft 365, the Moodle learning management system, and its payment system.
The core of the system continues to be Veeam, responsible for backing up data from an on-site Dell EMC SC5020 storage array. The data is then replicated to the Loras data center onto a Dell VNXe 3300. From there, Veeam connects to Wasabi and copies the entire repository from the VNXe 3300 to the Wasabi Hot Cloud repository.
Begle noted that the VNXe 3300, which previously served as Clarke’s production SAN, is approaching end of life. The next project will be to replace it.
About the authorKaren D. Schwartz is a technology and business writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has written on a broad range of technology topics for publications including CIO, InformationWeek, GCN, FCW, FedTech, BizTech, eWeek and Government Executive.