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Savanna Energy: Why digital is the only viable backup plan

The drilling and oil well servicing company’s global IT infrastructure manager talks about what they learned from the Calgary flood, the limits of tape and more


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Savanna Energy Services offers a range of oilfield services to the oil and gas industry. Although our main office is in Calgary, we also have locations across Canada and into the U.S., Australia and Indonesia. Despite this global presence, when I first joined the company about seven years ago, all of our connections, applications, development servers, user acceptance testing groups, production servers and infrastructure applications were housed out of one location.

To safeguard our data, we did offsite backups via tape. One of my team members was actually responsible for physically taking those tapes to a local bank every Wednesday. When I came onboard, though, it was immediately obvious that tape was not an ideal solution. To restore from tape, we would have needed the infrastructure to rebuild our internal system, a difficult-to-acquire tape drive and a network connection that would enable our people to keep working. Worse yet, restoring from tape is incredibly time consuming and rarely 100% successful.

To strengthen our disaster recovery, I evaluated a range of different backup options with different providers. A lot of companies offered tape backup similar to the system we were already using, although they included shipping and restoration. But when we looked at the big picture, it was clear that these providers could offer only a best effort restoration and too many things could go wrong. For example, because the tapes are fragile, they could be damaged or corrupted if shipping temperatures weren’t controlled or if they weren’t kept in a vertical position.

Following this analysis, it became clear that digital backup was the only viable option, so we began to look at data centres. We were already running a virtualized production environment and we quickly learned that storage was also getting replaced by NetApp technology. Because we were outgrowing our data storage network, we decided to look for a solution that could provide not only disaster recovery, but also data storage. We also wanted the ability to both send our corporate data to an offsite data centre and to retrieve it seamlessly in the event of data loss.

It didn’t take us long to settle on SunGard’s NetApp, and we were extremely pleased to learn that Allstream could implement the solution for us. We were already a long-time Allstream customer and I prefer to deal with fewer vendors rather than more. We were also very impressed with SunGard. They answered all our questions quickly and professionally and clearly understood our industry.

Making the case to our executives was also fairly easy because, realistically, I argued that we didn’t have a disaster recovery plan in place. When I explained the time and cost estimates involved with a tape recovery, the NetApp solution was an easy sell. In fact, it was so easy that the president asked me if we could implement it faster. After making my presentation, the installation timeline switched from sometime in 2013 to before the end of the second quarter. Thankfully, Allstream and SunGard stepped up to the plate to deliver to our timelines. They also helped us think through elements of our disaster recovery plan that I never would have considered—things like figuring out how to get hold of our people if corporate email went down. Having lived through the Calgary floods in June 2013, we particularly appreciated the opportunity to consider and resolve these issues.

Although many companies think they have a disaster recovery solution in place, I would challenge that they don’t. Having data offsite is really a small piece to a disaster recovery puzzle. If you’re not backing up your data in a geographically remote location, for instance, you could suffer real damages in a city-wide disaster. Aside from their unreliability, tape backups also can’t truly replicate an operating production environment. I think this is something more oil and gas companies should consider.

Download the full case study: Savanna Energy – When disaster strikes, it helps to be ready 

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