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The Hanson Brick Company is North America’s largest brick manufacturer, providing nearly 18 per cent of the continent’s brick market, and based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The company’s market dominance was established after the merger of seven smaller organisations. The new company, however, was faced with a challenge. It needed to ensure that its current production data was always available and that its ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) application could be back online within 60 minutes of a site disaster or loss. At the same time, it had to certify compliance with the IT requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
The challenge to ensure data was always available came to a head as a result of the mergers. Before, if one of the smaller, distributed sites sustained an outage, then the impact upon the business as a whole was less significant. With the consolidation of the various organisations into a single enterprise, that changed. This is, in a sense, the price to be paid for operating much more efficiently by using a common ERP system. While it can co-ordinate everything from production to invoicing across 31 locations, spread across the US and Canada, it is also vulnerable to outages. Any downtime would result in the entire company grinding to a halt. Hence, the need for greater data protection.
The solution is a so-called “warm recovery site”, situated in Irving, Texas – a site in which data is available continuously and to which employees can simply walk to continue with their business. It replicates the corporate data centre, based in Morrisville, North Carolina. Hanson deployed the Topio Data Protection Suite (TDPS) to automatically and continuously copy ERP production data between the two sites, over an existing IP network.
The legacy data protection system had been based on tape technology. Again, this worked for the piecemeal situation of multiple, autonomous sites. But for amalgamated operations, it simply could not offer the near real-time disaster recovery required. “Tape technology is such that you either perform regular backups locally, or the most advanced that you can do is what people call tape vaulting, which is to perform back-ups several times a day,” explains Yoram Novick, the CEO of Topio. “In either case you cannot be sure that your data is up to date. Say you do a backup at midnight and the outage occurs 12 hours later. You will have lost lots of data that is critical to the business. It also does not provide business continuity to restore and recover in a matter of minutes. In most tape systems, the recovery may take days or even weeks.”
With the new system, the data is stored on a SAN (storage area network) at the disaster recover site, and is updated within seconds if a user alters any individual field. If production is lost in Morrisville, recovery volumes can be mounted on a new server and are up and running in the shortest possible time: because TDPS maintains an up-to-the second recovery-ready image of critical company data, Hanson can be back online in minutes in the event of a disaster.
In addition, this approach means that data protection processing power is offloaded to the recovery site. In turn, this ensures that recovery performance is high and does not slow the production system down. Even though the two centres are 1,500 miles apart, this is not an issue – another reason Hanson chose TDPS.
A SAN is more expensive than tape, but if you look at the total cost of ownership, accounting for all the costs associated with each, the argument is that SAN is not overall any less cost effective. “We have done some analysis with other customers where if you take into account the management, cost of the system, and remote storage, then tape may not be as cost effective,” says Mr Novick. “But when you need up-to-date data, then even if the cost is overall more, a SAN is a much better insurance policy.”
The other reason for the investment in this technology concerns regulatory compliance. ERP systems play a big part in initiating, authorising and reporting a company’s financial data. More and more state and federal laws in the US require that IT systems meet certain standards. For example, by providing consolidated disaster recovery and centralised management, TDPS helps Hanson maintain compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). SOX mandates specific levels of data protection. Among other things, a company has to archive some information for specific periods of time and have a proven disaster recovery plan in place. TDPS allows the company to be in compliance with these rules.
“In federal government, there are all kinds of guidelines set concerning continuity and recovery,” Mr Novick explains. “Hanson is located in multiple states and multiple sites. There are, over time, more and more regulations that companies must pay attention to. If you go back five years, everyone knew back-up was important but there was no enforcement. This has now changed. Regulation that started in financial services is now being applied to other industries. What is built into our system is the ability to eliminate downtime. What the regulation talks about is the malfunctioning of the business. So, the technology provides the company with the ability to meet various regulatory environments.”
In addition to addressing the need for ERP recovery, Hanson wanted a solution flexible enough to support new applications as their disaster recovery plans evolved. Recovery plans are defined for each of the company’s key applications, apart from the work done on the ERP system. In other words, when investing in TDPS, Hanson wanted to ensure that the extension of disaster recovery across its infrastructure could be ensured. “Hanson are looking into other areas that are almost as mission critical as the ERP,” concludes Mr Novick. “The e-mail system is another candidate because e-mail is seen as business essential: losing e-mail means you lose a lot of information. And, of course, Hanson is growing the ERP system itself too.”
By supporting mixed-vendor platforms and storage TDPS gives Hanson the flexibility to protect a range of applications and data, independent of where they reside. This will save the company time and money now and in the future.